Lots of Misdirections About First Page Ranking

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There has been a rank craze in the past decade or so among online businesses as a result of marketing companies dumping complete nonsense into the brains of business owners. How many times have you heard the following: “if you are not on first page of Google, you do not exist”, and so first page ranking has become the holy grail of running (the online part of) a business. This myth has become so bad that numerous statistics have been produced to emphasize not only the importance of first page ranking but the importance of what position you are on the first page. If you are number 1, you own X percentage of the clicks, on position 2 this is only Y (much smaller than X) and if you are number 10, do not even bother because nobody will click on your link. Now, take a deep breath, stop watching the news and think about it for a second.

What does it take to run a successful online business? The truth is it takes a heck of lot more than first page ranking. However, let us look at the issue at hand in greater details. Here are some of my objections to the theory:

  • Search experience. Search engines were invented for people to search not to accept the first result that comes their way. Search engines put visitors in the driving seat and help them find what they are looking for, or help them browse the Internet for interesting and useful results. The meaning of the word “search” implies that visitors want choices and want to compare the results based on their needs and desires. This also means that the order of the results is irrelevant; the visitor will rearrange them anyway based on her requirements.
  • Men versus machine. The search engine is an algorithm which cannot replace human thinking and creativity. It will give you the results based on some pre-programmed indicators. There is no way that an algorithm can match every visitor’s desire, i.e. it is almost inevitable that you, as the visitor, will have to try different words and visit countless pages until you find what you are looking for. It is also a possibility that you may never find the product or the service you need.
  • Reverse psychology. I do not know about you but I hardly ever click on the first position during my first visit. I despise the fact that a machine wants to tell me what is the best for me. I always click somewhere at eye level and chose the links based on relevance of their short descriptions. Then I do my research and search as deeply as I have to, which implies that I go as far as page ten, if I necessary.
  • People are smart. The premise of first page ranking craze is that visitors are dumb and they take the first entry the search engines dish out for every keyword. I think people are a lot smarter than that: they know that the right column results are paid for (commercials), the top colored results are paid for, and the organic list is also paid for (to the Internet companies that pushed them to the first page). Commercials are a dying form of connecting with customers: they no longer want to be talked at, they no longer want you to find them, they want to find you!
  • Bargain hunting. One of the powerful things about the Internet is that it allows you to go bargain hunting. Shopping has become a two-step process: (1) go to the mall and check out the item in the store, and (2) go home and purchase the item on-line for a huge discount (and with no sales tax). Taking the first listing on the search results page is everything but bargain hunting. The best restaurants are never on main street, they are in the site alleys. Similarly, the best deals are hardly on the first page, you must drill a little deeper to find them.

The above arguments are matters of a subjective view and you may agree or disagree. The question to be answered: is there a more quantitative evidence that first page ranking is not as relevant as some companies want you to believe? I grabbed three of my web sites and looked into the statistics of web traffic using a snapshot of the last 100 visitors. The first site is a B2B solutions site (PR=0 Age=6M), the second is a site of an individual (PR=2 Age=6Y) and the third is an online magazine publisher (PR=5 Age=6Y). Here are the results:

URL access- 76%- 68%- 71%

Organic search- 11%- 9%- 0%

Branded search- 3%- 22%- 28%

Stumbled upon- 10%- 1%- 1%

Although the data represents a snapshot of the past 100 visits, based on years of watching this data, the percentages are quite accurate. That is, only about 10% or less comes from organic search, the rest of them comes from direct URL access, branded search or indirect access from other web sites.

A few words about branded search. First, it means that visitors are searching using your brand name or product. For example, if you want to purchase a book, you would type into the Google box “amazon” and not “buy books online”. The brand name becomes the keywords. Second, once you are a brand and visitors constantly go to your site, your URL is marked and hence it becomes another form of branded search, i.e. the URL becomes another keyword, and third, as a direct consequence of your brand, organic search becomes irrelevant because your brand name and product becomes part of the vocabulary of search engines. This is another compelling reason to focus on the brand online just as much as offline.

In conclusion, your focus on building your business should be on brand engineering not on high-flying ranks. Good visibility is important, however, without the trust of the customers in your products and services this visibility becomes a lethal weapon. A bad reputation with high visibility can take you down faster than you can say “cat in the hat.” It is better to work on your brand with quality and credibility, and then move up on the visibility scale gradually.

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