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The Cost to Be Ranked #1 in Google

How much will it cost me to be #1 in Google? I get asked this question frequently. The answer is – almost nothing! That is, if you want your web site to be ranked number one for an obscure search term like “oscillosprocket”. (Try a search for that phrase…)

There are number of major issues to consider. Search engine rankings are dependent on the search phrase used, and on how much competition there is for that phrase. By competition, I mean how many other web sites are using that term somewhere in their site.

So if you want to be #1 for “low cost oscillosprockets”, we can pretty much guarantee success because there is zero competition. The problem is, there are also zero people searching for that term so being #1 isn’t going to do you any good.

On the other side of the coin, if you want to be ranked #1 for “furniture stores”, forget about it. Whereas “oscillosprocket” is used on exactly one web site on the entire World Wide Web, there are seven billion web sites which use the term “furniture store”. This is just one reason why no SEO firm worth their salt will promise you #1 for any meaningful phrase. Search engine rankings for competitive phrases are a lot like a school of salmon swimming upstream. There is much you can do to compete, but even if you do everything right it’s quite a challenge to be the first fish to reach the spawning grounds. (One important technique is to find a smaller school of fish. More on that shortly.)

So… “How much does it cost to be #1 in Google?” Turns out, it’s the wrong question to be asking.

Let’s take a step back for a minute. The real goal with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to make your business more successful by driving more qualified visitors to your web site over time. Being #1 for any particular phrase is a lot less important than getting more prospective customers to view your products and services, and ultimately, to buy them.

I can’t emphasize that enough. If your web site is selling products or services, your goal should be to increase profits, not to have any particular rank for any particular search phrase.

So how do you add another comma at the bottom of your balance sheet? You start by optimizing your web site for a range of search phrases, not just one. When my company provides SEO services, we spend quite a bit of time researching keyword phrases using on-line tools we subscribe to, as well as checking out your competitors’ web sites. In consultation with you, we will come up with a list of highly effective keywords. Some will be obvious and popular, but will have substantial competition. The best phrases will be less obvious, are being used by real searchers every day, and won’t have a lot of competing sites (here’s your smaller school of fish). We can compete well for these phrases, and optimizing for a number of them will bring more traffic to your web site.

Will you be number #1 for some of those phrases? It still doesn’t matter. Really. Even if you are ranked #1, you probably won’t be for long. Search engine rankings change every day. For example, over just a three week period on the MSN search engine in January 2008, my company ranked 2nd, then 1st, then 3rd for the search phrase “web site design fort collins”. In Google we were ranked 3d, then 5th, then 6th in the same time frame.

Does this concern me? Not at all. Results are what matter. In that time frame we had three times as many inquiries for our services as the same period a year ago. Search Engine Optimization is like the stock market. If you watch it on a daily basis you’ll drive yourself crazy. If you keep the long term goal in mind, put in effort on a regular, steady basis, you will get excellent long term results.