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Losing in the first place :: 1st place in Google isn’t always best

This discussion came about at work because I phoned a customer to discuss their goals for NetRegistry’s Search Engine Optimisation program. They told me in quite definitive terms that they wanted to be ‘Number 1’ for a keyword phrase. Their thinking behind this was that the number 1 position should mean they make the most money because they get the most traffic.

Of course, this may or may not be true, but a better goal for any online marketing strategy is really “making the website more profitable”. This could mean any number of things from increasing the price of the items you sell or it could be improving your rankings in the search engines. But let’s go back to why a number 1 position doesn’t necessarily align with their new ‘improved’ goal of making the website more profitable.

The ‘O’ in SEO’ stands for ‘optimization’, meaning-making ‘optimal’. So the best position in the natural searches is the position that makes our customer the most money. This is not always the top position and here is why.

Most online customers (much like your traditional shopper) will look around for the best deal. We need to assure ourselves that we’re getting the best offer available. Of course, this is much easier online where you can ‘shop around’ in a couple of clicks.

So let’s imagine our shopper is looking for a new bed. They’re going to do a search for the product and a list of results will come up. They’ll probably click on the first result, check out the price and the product range. Back on the search results page, they’ll click on the next link. They’ll probably find the price is fairly comparable to the first site and the range will also be comparable.

This satisfies them further as they know how much they’re going to expect to pay and what the features are. They’ll probably click on a third result. Again, presumably, the price will be comparable for the same or similar-looking bed. Now on the third site, they’ve established the cost of the item, compare brands and prices. Now unless there is an amazing price advantage back on the first site, there is no advantage in going back to the first site they looked at, they’re going to make a purchase from this third site.

When your customers will be shopping around, sometimes you don’t really want to be the first result – while you will get the most traffic you might not get the most sales.

Another important fact to consider about the number 1 spot is that the sites at the top at some point have usually compromised some loss of usability for the customer in exchange for better optimization in the eyes of the search engines. In all cases, it’s about being clear on your intentions and goals. Know your customers and continue to test as you go.

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