There’s an old sporting saying (probably by an Australian!) that coming second makes you the first loser.
In the race to the top of the search engines, though, this isn’t always the case – in fact SEO is one of those areas where it really is more about how you play the game than where you finish (well, almost).
This was illustrated recently by SEO update meetings with a couple of clients. Both were very pleased with how their SEO work was going, but both also picked up on the fact that for one of their main keywords they “only” appeared as the second search result in Google.
The fact that in both cases it was their major offline competitor that occupied that precious place above them certainly didn’t help.
But in both cases we looked together at the competitor pages which had pipped their landing-page to the post, and drew the same conclusions.
In our clients’ cases, the sites had carefully optimised landing pages indexed at number 2, so potential customers got straight to the products they were looking for when they made their Google search with minimal fuss. They were also able to action their searches immediately – adding to basket or making an inquiry, key goals for the page.
In the case of the competitor pages it was clear that all their SEO efforts had gone into a single, catch-all page. The pages were full of text – not keyword stuffing, but dense, user-unfriendly text nonetheless. There was no immediate way to find the product you had Googled and after making an intelligent search in Google (whose interface users understand) you were then being asked to make another search using an interface with which you were not familiar.
Cue the back button.
It reminded me (and helped soothe the clients) that too often people see SEO simply in terms of rank. Yes, you want to be in the top few results, and ideally first. But successful SEO is not about being found, it’s about being used.
If 1000 people find you because you are top of Google but only 2 people use you, that’s bad SEO. If 400 people find you because you are the 7th result on Google but 200 of those use you, that is good SEO.
In the case of our clients’ competitors, they had “bought” position one at the cost of probably putting off a large percentage of potential customers. That’s not a price worth paying – position without conversion is simply poor SEO.
Optimising your site, creating compelling copy, making life easy for your users, focussing on conversion, writing good description text that makes people want to click through – these are all every bit as much a part of SEO as link-building, page rank and position.
In SEO, it’s not about being first – it’s about being the first winner.