The myth of guaranteed #1 ranking in search engine
June 3, 2003
You've seen the ads: Guaranteed #1 Ranking! There are no guarantees in
search engine marketing and website promotion. If anyone tells you different,
you should check quickly to make sure they don't have their hand in your
Suppose you sell widgets. You want to sell more widgets, and the way
to do that is to make sure that more people know about widgets, and that
you are the place to buy their widgets. You might decide to buy a half-page
ad in a national magazine to tell your story. When you place that ad,
you are "guaranteed" your position.
With a magazine advertisement, you know what the magazine's circulation
is, who reads it, and which page will feature your ad. The magazine can
guarantee all that, because they own the medium.
Search engine marketing is qualitatively different. When you work with
a search engine marketing firm to promote your website, they cannot guarantee
where your listing will appear. Certainly there are types of online ads
where there are guarantees in place: banner ads priced at "cost per
thousand impressions", pop-up ads, and so forth. These are like traditional
media buys, where you are working directly with the owner of the medium
where the ads appear, but this is not search engine marketing.
Even so-called pay-per-click search engines cannot guarantee your position.
In Google AdWords, for example, it is not just the price you pay for a
given keyword that determines where you will rank. They also bring in
other factors, including how often your ad is clicked-on, to determine
which ad will be listed first. Just throwing money at them will not necessarily
get you into the #1 spot.
The bottom line is this: search engine marketing professionals do not
own the search engines. They can tell you that you will achieve #1 ranking
on a given search engine, or they can tell you that the moon is made of
green cheese, but there is no way they can make either of those happen.
When you tell Time magazine you want your ad to be on the back cover,
and you pay them enough money, they will guarantee you the back cover.
If you tell your search engine marketing people you want to be #1 in AllTheWeb,
they cannot guarantee you that result. They can recommend changes to your
site that will increase the likelihood of your ranking higher, but that
is a long way from a guarantee. If you don't control the medium, you can't
guarantee the result. Since your search engine consultant doesn't control
the search engine, there is no way they can guarantee your position.
The ranking algorithms of the search engines are a closely-guarded secret.
The search engine wants to give top ranking to the site that is the best
match to an individual visitor's search query, not to the site that was
able to "beat" the system. That is where the value of real search
engine marketing comes in.
While the search engine marketing person cannot guarantee you a position,
what they can do is to apply years of experience to tell you what has
worked in the past, and to help you make it work today. In many ways,
"organic" search engine optimization is really a matter of editing
web pages or whole sites to make them the most search engine friendly
they can be. Making sure that a given page has just the right combination
of keywords, title, links, and so on, is really at its base simply a matter
of making that page the best web page it can possibly be. The page that
will rank the best in the search engines is also the page that will make
the most sense to the human visitor. Rather than relying on tricks to
try to make the page rank high, it is a matter of just making the page
the most focused and on-message that it can be. The bad news is that this
doesn't guarantee which position in the search engine rankings that page
will occupy on a given day. The good news is that the page will always
The search engines change their algorithms from time to time. If today's
rule, for example, is that just the right combination of text in the title
tag will make or break a site, and you know this is true, then all you
have to do is to tweak the title tag to fit within that rule, and you
will automatically rank very high. Today.
Suppose that tomorrow, however, that rule is changed. Suppose that now
the most important factor that the search engines use to rank a site is
the content of the META Description tag. All the work you went to yesterday
to fix the title is now useless. All of your attention is now focused
on fixing that description tag.
Clearly, over time the focus of the search engines will vary. The best
way to deal with this is to not deal with it! This means that rather than
tweaking a site one way today and another way tomorrow, the best way to
approach optimizing a page or a whole site is to not try to beat the system.
Instead of trying to "psych-out" the search engines, why not
add value to the site? A "common sense" approach to search engine
optimization, looking for long term results, is the way to go. When you
try to help a site rank better by making it the best it can be, everybody
|About the author
Dale Goetsch is the Technical Consultant for Search Innovation Marketing
a Search Engine Promotion company serving small businesses and non-profits.
He has over twelve years experience in software development. Along
writer and editor, with an emphasis on making technical subjects accessible
to non-technical readers.
Copyright © 2002-2004 Search Innovation Marketing. http://www.searchinnovation.com
All Rights Reserved.
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