Sometimes it just seems impossible to crack the top 10 in Google, Bing, or Yahoo for a keyword phrase. Even with extensive investment in on-page optimization and link building, your site may languish at the top of page 2 while cheap-looking sites dominate the first 10 listings. Despite all your spending on SEO tricks, there may be a very good reason that your site isn’t ranking better: It Doesn’t Deserve A Good Spot.
If you want to know whether your site is worthy of a first-page position, you can usually start by asking yourself the question, “Why would anybody visit this site twice?” If you’re trying to make a sale, you certainly want at least one visit, but after the sale is made, would someone really want to come back? Is there anything for them to do? Furthermore, is your site the type of thing people would recommend to a friend or stranger? If not, then you may want to invest in making your site a more useful or pleasant place to go.
Getting back to the cheap-looking sites that invariably occupy the top 10 for certain words and phrases, you can usually discover why these sites stay in top positions. For one thing, they may offer tools, widgets, templates, or fresh content that keeps people coming back. Whether you’re running a joke site or a news blog, it pays to stay current in order to keep readers, and those people will reference you with links and recommendations. If you have any kind of online service, you can host tools on your site that provide useful information or make someone’s life easier.
As a site owner, it pays to understand the average user, but the real dividends come from solving a problem that is common to your demographic. The tools that help retain and attract visitors usually fulfill an unmet need in the online community, or present information in a way that people can understand. For instance, Mint.com created a suite of personal finance tools that are available for free, and at the time of this writing it holds the #3 spot in Google for “personal finance.” This site launched in late 2007 and in 2009 it was sold for $170 million dollars. While you should not expect such dramatic results, Mint.com is a reminder that there are other good ideas out there when it comes to your industry.
How does this all translate back to SEO? With Mint.com, it meant that the site’s search engine position benefited from references in the online world. This site got a lot of links from individuals, news sources, and award sites because it had something to offer that was out of the ordinary, but clearly necessary. A site that features free templates, widgets, programs, or tools is going to get a lot of the “natural” linking and endorsement that a search engine is looking for. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a website with no special value that buys links and builds “SEO” content is not going to be able to perfectly emulate the “buzz” that happens when people genuinely want to recommend a website. As a side benefit, a truly viral or popular site that can get link popularity and search engine consideration may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create artificially.
Search engine optimization tricks have been helping people get high rankings on Google, Bing, and Yahoo for a long time. People have made a lot of money finding ways to outsmart the algorithms so their sites can hold a spot among high volume searches and thousands of long tail variations. While a solid SEO strategy is critical for ensuring that your site holds and keeps a top 10 ranking, there is no substitute for a good website that people really want to use. By turning your site into a “resource” that fills a need, you may actually become worthy of that top 10 ranking you’ve been pursuing, and you’ll also feel a lot better when you get there.