Google’s front page: the Holy Grail?

The other day I received yet another telemarketing call from a company offering to get my website on the front page of Google. And I wondered – how much money has been spent in pursuit of this Holy Grail of modern day marketing?

Earlier in the week I’d had a phone call from a client who was being pressured by an online directory that she was listed with to sign up with them for a campaign to get them on the front page of Google. It would only cost her $200 per week. Just $10,000 per year! Poor woman was so stressed about what to do as she just doesn’t have $10,000 pa to spare. And what are the guarantees? And what terms would she be on the front page of Google for?

We live in an area which is geographically large, but with a sparse population, so it’s very easy for any business in our area to get on the front page of Google. All you need is a few relevant terms in the first 20 words of text on your website and Google will most probably bring you up on the front page. For example, our holding company, Mosher’s Business Support, has this as its opening paragraph:

Mosher’s Business Support provides proofreading, editing, publishing, word processing (or typing), digital transcription, affordable customised websites, printing, copying, binding and laminating services from their offices in Hazelbrook, in the beautiful Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Now open a Google search page and type in ‘proofreading’ + ‘hazelbrook’. What’s the first entry you get? On the day of writing this blog, I get – surprise, surprise! If you Google ‘publishing’ + ‘blue mountains’ we are third on the front page list due to our membership of Publish! Blue Mountains, and fifth on the list under our ‘MoshPit Publishing‘ site. We are eighth on the list for ‘laminating’ + ‘blue mountains’ and sixth under a free Hotfrog listing for ‘printing’ + ‘blue mountains’.

You might be saying, ‘So? Eighth on the list for ‘laminating’ + ‘blue mountains’? Big deal!’ Yes, you’re right, it’s nothing to write home about. But the point I’m making is, we’re on the front page of Google, and we didn’t pay for this. It happens organically because the text on our website uses words that people are likely to be looking for. And if we spend a bit of time working on the rest of our text and our meta data (behind the scenes text), I’m sure we could bring up a few more front page hits for some of our other services.

But would I pay $10,000 pa to get on the front page of Google? Not unless it meant increased sales of $100,000 pa! And for us, that would be unlikely for our geographical market from this one source. 

So how does this relate to our client? She has a physical business located in the same geographical area as us, so it wouldn’t be too hard for her site to get on the front page for what she does in the village. And it shouldn’t be too hard for this online directory to get her on the front page for what she does in the Blue Mountains. And she has an online shop, so it could be worth it, as it might even bring her to a wider audience – one outside the Blue Mountains which can then add to her sales revenue. 

But when I search using the sort of search terms that you would find her business under, there is a bunch of other businesses coming up through directories in her line of business, and free directories, and other businesses of her type using all sorts of relevant search terms to get them in front of people. So how can this other business guarantee that by spending $10,000 she will come up on the front page? And how does she know that they’re not taking $10,000 pa from any of the other businesses currently on the front page?

Google’s front page has paid ads at the top, then ten unpaid ads underneath. And how do these unpaid ads get there ahead of other unpaid ads? Probably by paying someone for SEO. And is SEO worth it? Well, it depends what you want your website to do. And how you want to do it.

The bottom line, there are SEO experts and there are ‘SEO experts’, and if you’re going to risk your hard earned dollars trying to get on the front page of Google, you want to nail them to a timeline, nail them to the keywords and geographical areas that you want, and get a written guarantee that if they don’t do it, they’ll refund your money.

And you also want to find out how they plan to do it. Because if it means you end up with a website that just sounds like a sales pitch and you’re no longer proud of your website, then is it worth it? At the risk of being unkind, I suggest you Google ‘new kitchen sydney’. (Our client does not sell new kitchens, she is in another line of business. I just found new kitchens provided great examples for what I’m talking about.) Sydney is a large geographical area with a multi-million population, so getting on the front page of Google here is a pretty good thing for a kitchen company in the area. 

Now scroll down the page and have a look at some of the websites for the companies that land on the front page. In particular, have a look at Designer Kitchens Direct and Brindabella Kitchens. What strikes you about the difference between these two sites? Have a look at the text on Brindabella’s – it is laced with the word ‘kitchen’. There are 323 words in the body text of this page, and 36 of them are ‘kitchen’ – more than 10%. How boring!

Now compare that with Designer Kitchens Direct. The text on this page is minimal. In fact, it’s full of graphics – pictures of lovely new kitchens just waiting to be chosen for your place! The word ‘kitchen’ is there, but it’s in the meta tags behind the scene, and built in naturally to what little text exists on the front page.

So how is it that when I Googled ‘new kitchen sydney’ today, Designer Kitchens Direct was higher on the front page of Google than Brindabella Kitchens? Who knows? Maybe Brindabella has been climbing these last few weeks due to new SEO which is doing its job. But how do Brindabella know that the same company hasn’t been working for, say, Nobby Kitchens? Admittedly, Nobby’s don’t have the same volume of text on their landing page, but out of the first 57 words, six of them are ‘kitchen’! Again, more than 10%.

And then for comparison, have a look at Kitchen Connection, who appear above Nobby Kitchens as at today’s date. Their site is similar to Designer Kitchens Direct – images and limited text.

So which site do you prefer? A site that babbles on using the same word repeatedly and which by the end of the page doesn’t really tell you anything that any other kitchen company would be likely to tell you? Or a site that shows you what they can do? And that can still be high up on the front page of Google?

My suggestion is, if you’re thinking of paying to get on the front page of Google, list with as many free directories as you can first. Our client is on the front page of Google by belonging to one of these free directories. In fact, the directory she’s listed with comes up at the top of the first page, and that’s how she gets her sales. 

At the same time, have a look at the first 20 words of text on your website’s home page and make sure it says what you do and where you do it.

Then, and only then, consider paying to get on the front page. But look at your site, think about how you want to communicate with your potential customers, and make sure that your SEO expert understands this and doesn’t just generate your site with a load of keyword specific non-personality stuff that doesn’t showcase your business how it is. Unless you’re happy with that. 

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