Be smarter with your SEO targets

The biggest mistake businesses make with search engine optimisation is expecting too much. Even today, many companies are looking at improving their search engine performance for the very first time. “We’re nowhere in the search results for blue widgets”, they say, “so what will it take to get us above our competitor who’s number one?”.

The truthful answer is: “However much it would cost you to buy Google Inc. and fix its results in your favour”.

Many of the competitors currently sitting pretty in the search results have probably been working on their SEO for years. Yet that won’t stop ill-informed and over-optimistic sales directors from expecting their marketing managers to be able to somehow catch up years of neglect overnight. And an industry is born to feed their delusions.

The rational approach is to admit that you won’t be able to become the first result in Google for ‘blue widgets’, not within your working lifetime anyway. But you can do two things: make a start on catching up (your successors will thank you); and see if there’s any lower-hanging fruit you can gather up. The good news is that the second exercise may well help significantly with the first. So that’s where you should be investing.

By low-hanging fruit, I mean the searches which are more specialised and made less frequently, but which will be far less competitive. Indeed, there may be no competition at all.

For example, supposing I ran a consultancy which helped companies redesign their website’s home pages (I know, but bear with me). My sales director would probably say: “We need to be top in Google for ‘home page design'”. But some of the pages listed for that search will have been around for many years, and probably have hundreds of good quality links to them. It would be hard for anyone to break in there.

On the other hand, what would a potential customer be searching for? Maybe they’re looking for ideas on how to improve their home page. I could write a dozen searches they might make, many of them being questions. Any of these would be exponentially easier to rank for, and getting to the top of the results comes firmly into the realms of the possible. For example, they might search for “what do home page visitors want?”. And a single article could get you straight to the top for this.

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