Why you may not need "The top spot" on Google Search

Much energy, thought and effort is put in to securing the TOP spot on Google, Bing and Yahoo search results.  While this was an important consideration for Web 1.0 when customers were new to the web and had not figured out how to use the medium we are now dealing with web savvy consumers.  Todays web researcher is more intuitive and has a more acute BS detector which is set for a very low threshold.  While SEO (search engine optimization) does need to be a part of a effective overall marketing strategy it is becoming less and less a priority to simply capture that top spot as a means to success.  Here's why....

SEO...It's part of a larger picture
Truthfully though I am starting to think (realize) more and more that SEO is less and less effective. SEO for natural placement and discovery is akin to print advertising in years past.  Remember those Yellow pages ads where everyone wanted to add "AAA Disc Jockey Service" in order to get that first phone call?  THAT is todays SEO thinking only the web offers much more opportunity to engage and inform than the Yellow Pages ever did.  That's good and bad. Top organic search placement now feels more like gambling than strategy. You are hoping that you are placing the right "bets" (keyword distribution, reciprocal links, relevant content, etc) and that those bets will pay off in higher natural search placement eventually leading to sales. The problem is that the recent estimates on the number of small to large firms making SEO placement plays for payment put SEO at a $19B industry. We are all getting calls and emails from companies who claim to be able to put us at the top of the natural search results for various keywords. If this can/could be accomplished all your SEO efforts are worthless if a competitors SEO ranking company still gets him/her ahead of you in natural search. Consider this...no matter how much SEO anyone dumps into their website thanks to paid search results on Google, Bing and Yahoo paid advertisers will always come up above them on any keyword relevant search.  If you believe that the results of the Cornell University "Heatmap" research on clicks from 2006 still holds true (which in itself is questionable) those who are paying for placement at the top will still always capture the majority of the clicks.  If you feel this research still holds true then get into the CPC game and save yourself a lot of anxiety.  Just be prepared to shift a large portion of your marketing budget to this end.  

Now add to that the fact that most people still feel that the sales funnel to "conversion" success (getting from click to booking in our case) hangs on the so called "last click" when all other metrics are equal (same service options, similar pricing, equal prior brand awareness) So showing up at the top means the consumer search will start with you, but the consumer will desire at least one comparison and unless they recall your website and or brand as being in some way superior they will go with the last comparable click through as the end to their search. This makes being at the top a less desirable place.  The emphasis on being the first name that a consumer sees has diminished as people have learned to use the internet to research rather than as a simple resource for names, telephone numbers and pricing.  If your website isn't "up to snuff" you will not benefit in anyway from top placement.  Even if your website is entertaining, informative and engaging in all likelihood the customer is going to want to have something to compare it to.  This means they will be clicking on the next listing in their search results regardless.  

I am not suggesting that you ignore SEO entirely but I am saying that you should worry less about getting to that top spot.  Consumers will seek out multiple companies to compare and contrast.  Your goal should be to rank well (first page) and then to provide a dynamic site that makes a lasting impression.

Consider yourself
Think about your own internet search usage. If you are seeking a product or service where do you start? Let's assume for the sake of consideration that you have decided to use the internet to search out a service. You type in your search to your favorite engine and get 1000's of returns. You click on the first organic listing and the company seems qualified and their pricing is within your budget. Do you stop there? I don't. I want to see what else is out there so I go back to the original search results and click on the next link from a different company. I then compare the information on that website with the information I gathered from the first. If the service options are the same and the pricing is better I move them up to top consideration but i begin to wonder if their may yet be a better deal. so back I go to the results for another comparison. I stop when I feel 
I have a good idea of what the costs should be in comparison to the service offered and the budget I have in mind. If that first click didn't blow me away and the last click offered equal service for the same cost...I place my call to the page I am looking at. No reason to return to the previous sites. If the purchase is one of importance I may seek out personal referrals (posting to Facebook or Twitter "Anyone ever heard of or used __________") or look into online services (similar to Wedding Wire, etc.) that offer testimonials.  Including these type of 3rd party authoritative resources on your website will enhance your credibility and further encourage internet searchers to remember your service as they seek to compare your options and pricing.

So now what?
I think it makes more sense to make sure that what a client sees on our websites is motivating and memorable. Your website needs to out do the competition in every way to remain memorable. The ranking or the order in which it was clicked is far less important than the level of interest and engagement that the customer experiences when they are on the site. Working to make your site engaging and "sticky" (makes people take actions that keep them on your site longer) is a much more effective strategy than simply trying to catch them first.  Including items that are searcher friendly will yield big returns in brand retention.  This can be as simple as a Facebook or Twitter follow or "like" button, a link to your blog that lets people subscribe, or on the extreme a plug in or graphic that compares your offering to the competition.  If you can offer something that no one else is offering you give the consumer a reason to return to your site once they have completed the research phase of their planning.  I HIGHLY encourage opt-in email opportunities that will allow you to reconnect with those who have visited your website.  These can be as simple as a monthly or bi-weekly newsletter sign-up, a Top 10 Tips download, or even an exclusive deal.  Integrating Social Media opportunities into these offerings can further increase your chances to re-engage with a customer in the exploration phase.  For example offering an "Exclusive" deal to those who "Like" your Facebook business page or who follow you on Twitter.  Just make sure that you remain active and engaged in these mediums.  An untended social media outlet can result in your appearing to be absent something no customer wants.  content on social media should NEVER be advertorial (this looks and feels spammy) but rather should contain useful information for the customer.  I have read and agree with using a 60%-40% content strategy where you post 60% of content from outside sources and 40% original content that you create.  This strategy is maintainable without being overly time consuming.  Finally ENGAGE these social media contacts on a PERSONAL level.  Welcome new fans by name and start a conversation with them.  Give them reasons to return and interact (polls, contests, etc) and when the participate RESPOND!  That's powerful marketing that is alive and can grow into a sale or booking.

So how do I get them there?
So if you're not getting discovered through search how are you getting customers to your website?  Well I prefer a higher percentage of return than the gamble of SEO.  That's why my business strategy relies on my past customers becoming EVANGELISTS for my brand.  So how does that work?  Ahhh...I'm glad you asked.  That's the topic of my next post.   Subscribe and you'll know when it's been posted!

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