The Truth Behind Being No. 1 On Google (And How To Beat Your Large Competitors)

For years, we have all received or seen claims by Agencies that state they can ‘get you to number 1 on Google’ often for very low prices of say $250 per month.

Pre 2012, this was something that was relatively easy to achieve. Since Google made significant changes in 2012 and onwards, this is no longer the case. Getting to page 1 or position 1 in Google is highly complex, requires expertise, investment and time.

There are over 1.8 Billion websites globally and according to HubSpot Google searches account for 85% of all searches by users online. This means there is a huge amount of choice for people searching for an answer to their question, as well as a massive amount of competition to gain their attention by businesses and win their ‘click’ to their website.

In reality, a few hundred Companies, major organizations, account for the majority of websites and for attracting the majority of website traffic.

So how do you and your business win in this highly competitive environment on Google (Bing, Yahoo etc.?). In this article I am going to focus mainly on keywords, however, please note that keywords are just one important element of SEO, but by no means the whole of the puzzle that needs to be addressed to really get your website performing and converting.

THE MYTH | “Being number 1 on Google will get you lots of website traffic and customers”

Google ranking truth

In theory this is actually true, so why have I stated it is a myth?

In the Slideshare, at the bottom of this article, I show an example of a gym in London who are ‘number 1’ on Google for certain keyword search terms. It is clear from the analysis I carried out that these Terms resulted in NO website traffic.

I discussed this with the business owner, who wanted us to carry out SEO for them. After research and feeding this back to the owner they were adamant that they wanted to ‘rank for these keyword terms’ and were not interested when other, more advantageous terms were suggested.

The owner was focused on Keyword Terms that were:

  • Ones he’d ‘like to rank for’
  • That spoke about his services
  • That mentioned his company’s name

The problem was that these Terms were not based on research, but his ‘gut instinct’ and to a degree ‘wanting to rank his business name’.

The point of SEO is to drive customers to your business as follows:

  • Customers’ Intent (search words)
  • Match and Impressions (Google or Bing Results)
  • Clicks (from Google Results to a website)
  • Relevance (web page content)
  • Conversion (CRO or web page Conversion Rate Optimisation)

The problem with just being number 1 on Google is that, unless your websites keywords ‘match’ those being entered into Google you will not appear in Google results (Impressions) and the rest of the process then stops. Resulting in no traffic at all.

So, you may be able Rank in position #1 on Google, page 1 for a Term or Terms that no-one is searching for, but of course that is pointless!

And this is the Myth that a lot of low value, low quality SEO service providers are actually promising you. They WILL get you to number 1 on Google for your company name, Terms that ‘sound good’ but you are highly unlikely to ever get any website traffic or relevant customer potential.

THE TRUTH | Google Ranking is NOT About You Or Your Company 

As I have mentioned, success on Google is not about your business or its terms. It IS about understanding how to bridge the gap between a person searching for an answer in Google and providing a relevant answer.

So, ranking for a term like “Gym London” will of course get results in Google, but unless you have significant investment into SEO it is highly unlikely your local gym will get onto Page 1 (or even Page 10 of Google). The term is too broad and major competitors like Virgin Gyms, David Lloyd or Bannatyne Gym will dominate this search term.

Ranking for your own company name or variations of it e.g. YY Gym Norwich, are of no value to you at all. This is because, if someone already knows the name of your business, they will of course type your name into Google. They are likely to be an existing customer, so this approach is unlikely to give you new business opportunities.

Relevance Is The Key

The number of websites I see that have content that begins “At YY Company We Do This” is unbelievable. It is the wrong way to write content as it does not solve the enquiry the customer is looking for so if they ever reach your web page, they are likely to Bounce (leave the site) and refine their search in Google again.

Content should always be written, videoed, images created, in a way that solves the enquiry that the potential customer made in Google. This lends itself then to including keyword phrases that customers are really searching for and therefore increases your potential to get a share from Google of their web searches.

This means that your search result descriptions, keywords on site, website content and conversion pathways are all relevant. And relevance results in better positions on Google, ones where the customer traffic exists.

The other point about relevance is, depending on the customers’ stage in their buying cycle, they will need to see content that is relevant to them. So, for example if a customer is at the early stages of browsing, if they land on a ‘sales driven conversion page’ then they will be repelled. Keywords and landing pages must match by the ‘searchers intent’. 

How Google Results Pages are Set Up

Google used to have 10x websites shown on page 1 of results on a desktop computer. Gradually this has been reduced by:

  • Googles Own Selection – Top (see image)
  • Adverts – 1 to 3, top and side
  • Map Results – 3 results show
  • Google My Business – Right hand side

In many cases there are now only 3 SEO results that can be shown now. On mobile devices this may be even less, meaning that competition for these very few places is now more intense than ever before. 

Google results page example
Google results page example

Being Page 10 on Google Can Be GREAT!

All of us start a search in Google by typing in a few or many words into the Search area on Google. If we are at the beginning of our ‘search’ then we may type in a few words e.g. Find a Gym Near Me. Once we have looked at those results and perhaps a few websites, we often refine that search to be more relevant and specific e.g. Find a Gym Near Me That Offers Pilates Classes. Then more refined again e.g. Find a Gym Near Me That Offers Pilates Classes For New Mums.

As such the results are like this and the keywords marked in bold:

  • Find a Gym Near Me – 1000s+ results
  • Find a Gym Near Me That Offers Pilates Classes – 100s+ results
  • Find a Gym Near Me That Offers Pilates Classes For New Mums – 10s+ results

The temptation when working on your SEO is to focus on keywords terms that provide ‘1000s’ of results and thousands of potential clicks to your website. In reality, most businesses do not need 1000s of website visitors that get to their website, only to find nothing specific or relevant enough to them and who leave.

Volume website traffic like this is counted by Google as ‘website bounces’ and can drive you website further down Google results as you are not providing relevance to Googles’ customers from searches. And that is Googles’ objective to provide the best, most relevant and accurate results for people who use Google.

Whilst the result number 3. Is offering only 10s+ of searches, website visits potentially, it is highly likely that these enquirers are ‘closer to buying’. Why can I tell this? We tend to start our research as customers on a broad basis, then as we progress, we ‘add’ refinements to what we really want e.g. Pilates Classes, New Mums, disabled facilities, over 60s, under 30s. The longer the phrase that is matched, the closer to purchase we tend to be – we have satisfied our ‘search’ for the right answer.

You will have noticed how Google auto-fills and suggests related searches even before you have finished filling in the Search box, yes?

Here is how search Term 3, is likely, even if it is on Page 10 of Google to be GREAT!

As you start to type in “Find a gym near me…” Google starts to auto-suggest more options, normally around 3-10 just below where you are typing.

Google search
Google search for “Find a gym near me”

These suggestions are often from websites or content that is NOT found on Page 1 of Google. Users DO tend to click on these as they see something relevant to them and therefore driving traffic to websites lower down in Google.

Hint: You can use these ‘other suggestions’ as ideas to expand your keyword terms that you use and to grab some extra, relevant traffic for your business.

Please do not misunderstand me, getting your website to Page 1, Position 1 on Google is wonderful if it results in website visits, customers finding relevant results and converting to sales (calls, downloads, appointments, e-commerce).

But as you can see from this example simply ‘being on page 1 of Google’ is not a measure of success in itself.

Beating Your Competitors

There are hundreds of strategies and tactics that SEOs use to beat competitors and the larger the organizations the more in depth these become. I attend a specialist SEO Meet Up once per quarter in London where the top SEOs detail how they spend weeks or months on massive data sets to beat competitors. They have teams of 10-20 SEOs working inside a whole marketing team to focus on just this area of Google Ranking and beating their competitors for Keyword Ranking positions. They spend literally 100s of £/$000s to compete.

This is simply not practical or affordable for most Small to Medium sized businesses.

But before you stop reading and give up. There are ways to beat even the largest competitors, that are practical and can be implemented by you. 

Local and Refined Is Hard to Beat 

The major Players tend to focus on national results, large amounts of traffic potential and broad keyword terms (those with few words). This is the case for Virgin Gyms versus my potential customer with his superb local, low cost gym for students in a small post code area of London.

local refined search
Local search results on Google

Using knowledge of the area, the people who live there, their specific needs and so on, Virgin can NOT compete effectively with the local gym.

The reason being is that the local gym will be placed on Google Maps Local results, on mobile searches and if they implement my plan for them, focus their SEO on niche services that Virgin does not offer.

My customer doesn’t need thousands of customers, but 10s of customers joining every month. Sufficient to grow their business by 5x this year!

One way to get significant results, with little or no coding experience is to utilize Google My Business. Posting regularly and using relevant keywords, images, offers can result in some surprisingly good results. It also helps your business stay in the ‘3 Local Map Results’.

Other Factors to Success

SEO is complex and I have not covered much apart from the ‘basics’ but I hope it has helped?

Key steps that should always be carried out BEFORE developing your SEO plan or even considering purchasing a website should include:

  • Customer Research – deep, niche research.
  • Competitor Research – analysis, gaps, SWOT
  • Keyword Research – understanding niche terms, with low/medium competition
  • Technical Development – ensuring your website platform is solid in terms of SEO
  • Ongoing Development – content creation, adjusting, updating, link building, social media
  • And more….

Further Information

I presented this information to businesses in London recently and the slides show the gym case study I refer to.

It shows you exactly what I mean by ‘Being number 1’ is not always great and conversely how being on a page lower down in Google can still yield great results!

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Mark Elliott
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3 thoughts on “The Truth Behind Being No. 1 On Google (And How To Beat Your Large Competitors)”

  1. I agree Victor. SEO has got harder. Fundamentally it’s the same since 2013, but technically & against a huge growth in content vs. consumption it’s massively harder.

    In my view only 3 ways work: massive resources invested (the big Corps); super niches (local or unique/on trend) & luck.

    But for most small/medium sized businesses who don’t fit the above, they’re still being duped by unscrupulous ‘so called’ SEOs (cowboys).

  2. Good insights. As SEO gets harder and harder with each year, It’s really hard to rank in search engines so more and more businesses turn to specialized agencies for their SEO needs instead of hiring an in-house person, who might be not get as good results as an agency could.

    • Another consideration is the growing numbers of businesses and the increasing amount of content on the web that you’re now competing against for ranking positions. Whether you choose to have someone in-house or hire an agency, it’s good to have someone who truly understands the ins and outs and can stay on top of the latest trends. Thanks for the comment, Victor.


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