Something has been nagging at the back of my head for quite some time now, and with the recent purchase of a flame-retardant suit, I think I am ready to come out and say it in public:

Why does everyone want to rank #1 in Google?

This may seem like a silly question at first, but there is meat on them thar bones…

For many of the businesses I work with, appearing in the first place on Google’s result pages – for a general term like “debt collector” or “business loans” or “massage therapist” – would simply crush their business. Their web sites would be shut down for excessive bandwidth usage, their phone bills would skyrocket, their email inbox would flood, and they would be entirely incapable of even responding to 98% of the people who contacted them! The spike in costs (bandwidth, storage, phone bills) would most likely kill their business before they could even respond to most of the influx of inquiries, much less ramp up their operations to support the new business.

Last I checked, creating and running a successful business does NOT include upsetting 98% of the people who try to get in touch with you!

And yet people continually are focused on ranking highly in Google’s search results.

An acquaintance of mine, Gerald Grinter, wrote an article for Biznik that took the same stance as mine. Reading his article helped codify some of my thoughts, and also helped me get up the courage to swim against this particular stream of thought and speak my mind, as well.

Where Customers Come From

Ask any business owner what the most valuable business lead is, and the vast majority of them will say “personal referrals”. When Person A has a good experience with your business and they tell Person B about it, Person B is going to be an easy sell. They already know your product/service, they know someone who has had a good experience with you, and that person has recommended they contact you. That sale is pretty much in the bag.

Now compare that to when someone finds you via a random search on Google. My first thought when I see a site at the top of the list that I don’t recognize is “this is a scammer who has managed to game Google’s system and show up first in results”. So the first thing you have to do is get over this Berlin Wall of skepticism people can mentally erect outside your front door.

Once they actually click on your link, you are now one of literally 1,000 viable options. (Google my catchphrase – “business story teller” – and you get over ten million results.) So while they are looking at your web site with their skeptical goggles on, if they see a single word or phrase that seems “off” to them, a single spelling error, a graphic that doesn’t load… they close your window and choose the next link in the Google search results.

Bam. Gone. Never to return.

Rank <> Quality

I believe that this drive to rank on the first page of Google’s results is one that comes from a place where we subconsciously equate “high quality” with “first page of Google”.

Although, in fact, this is rarely proven out in our daily use of this search tool.

The first few links are not the highest quality hits. I can name 50 bookstores across 10 different countries that are superior to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, in every regard except the number of books immediately available.

Although if you tell Google to search for book stores, not one of these high quality stores will show up anywhere in the first X pages of results.

I have found this to be true for most searches actually, and so I believe that equating a high ranking in Google with quality is, therefore, flawed.

I don’t know about you, but if I am renovating my kitchen and I want some exquisite cabinetry and a unique counter top, I am not going to go first to Google.

I am going to ask my friends for recommendations.

After gathering suggestions and stories from my friends, I will turn to Google to see if others have had similar experiences with these particular contractors, and if my friends represented these people properly. In this case, I am using Google to research something I already have some information about. (And when typing in an exact company name, I am of course going to click on one of the first links that comes up because Google is so good at finding exactly the business I am looking for.)

Be The Best – Not First

We like to think that a huge influx of customers is exactly what we are looking for, and that it is a gift that will finally send our business into the stratosphere… but that just isn’t the case. Growing a business is a series of steps (or quantum leaps!) that cannot be undertaken lightly or – in most cases – quickly.

So when working with my clients I focus on their message, their integrity, their passion. I help them find a way to express that to their clients, friends, and fans, so that those people can spread the message. Because, after all, a personal referral is the most likely place to find a new client.