Of all the questions I’ve heard in my few years in the business, there’s one I hear far more often than any other. And I dread it every time I hear it:
Can you make my website number one on Google?
Why does it bother me so much? I’ll tell you. It’s the wrong question. I’m not really interested in trying to make sure that your website rises to the very top of a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) just for the sake of being on top. That’s not my job. My job is to create a killer web presence for your company that tells your target audience who you are, what you do, and why they should care.
If you’re really interested in driving traffic to your website with a search engine, that’s only one of several different ways to get visitors to come to your website. Driving traffic to a website is a process in itself. Direct mail, radio ads, billboards, business cards, brochures, word of mouth, TV ads, newspaper ads, the yellow pages and other business directories, social media and sharing sites are some of the other ways to gain web traffic.
And I feel I should clarify something: the phrase “number one on Google” is nonsensical. Saying “number one” isn’t specific—what search terms do you want to rank number one for? In what geographic location? Did you know that Google makes incremental changes to the algorithm for their search engine over 500 times a year? Just because a website ranks well for a specific search term one day doesn’t mean that it will do the same tomorrow, or next week.
I think why this question bothers me so much is the audacity behind it. A great analogy of online search engine results is the New York Times‘ bestseller list. Can you become a number-one bestselling author by simply hiring a publisher and asking them to “get you to the top?” Nope. Although it certainly takes a talented publisher, it is incumbent on the author to create content that is so amazing and astounding that people will want to buy it and will want to share it with others.
When you hire me as your web designer, I’m very much like your publisher. Essentially, a web designer is a publisher—an online publisher. So I can help you reach some pretty cool places and a large number of people, yes. My statistics have shown that. But am I going to commit to trying everything I can to bump your site to number one in a Google search at all costs? No way. Because it’s not in your best interest.
I’m frustrated also by the fact that it seems to be people with smaller budgets who ask this question. I have no hypothesis for why this is (so far), but it’s an honest observation. I always try to remind people—most of the companies that have achieved #1 PageRank have worked hard for years, at considerable expense, to rise to where they are today. I mean, seriously? …do you think that a one-man shop who sells shoes locally is going to outrank Zappos.com just because he spends $2,000 for a website and asks someone to make his site “number one”? Not a chance. And can the mom-and-pop even handle that kind of traffic? A small shop doesn’t have the infrastructure or manpower to handle even 1/50th of Zappos’ volume. So sending that much traffic their way is pointless anyway, because visitors will be frustrated with your site’s downtime (cause your server will certainly be overloaded) and your small customer service department.
According to Yahoo!, way back in 2007, there were more than 19 billion web pages on the internet. That figure (as of today) is almost four years old. Who knows how many websites are online. There are billions of people exchanging a whole lot of information. Here’s my much more realistic suggestion: let’s start by trying to get a small piece of the pie first, and not just shooting for the top, all-or-nothing.
It’s a simple matter of business sense. Think carefully about any business—a company exists to make profit, and the way they do that is by serving their customers. Their customers. If you read Google’s Corporate FAQs, they specifically tell you who their customers are: “advertisers… who use Google AdWords.” Catch that? Advertisers who pay them money for sponsored links. So every business decision they make is going to benefit the pay-per-click advertisers that give them money. Their focus is not to make sure that each mom-and-pop local shop who builds a website gets a free listing on the very top of their search results.
You know what question I’d love to hear more often?
Can you build me a website that is so wonderful that my customers will love it and tell everyone?
And the simple answer to that question is: “Yes. I’d be glad to.” And after that has happened, let’s talk about sending traffic to you newly-minted, awesome, user-friendly site.
[What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below. I’m interested in all opinions. –Ron]