Don’t Ignore the Elephant: How to be Happy NOT Ranking on Page 1 of Google

Sep 11, 2018 · 13 min read

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every worthwhile business could rank on page 1 of Google? But the simple fact is that many (most?) of us can’t. Or, at least, we can’t rank for search terms that anybody will use more than once in a pink polka dotted blue moon.

I am no expert on SEO, SERP, TWERK, and all the rest of it. You can easily find experts (and even more who claim to be experts) on those topics. So I welcome you to approach my opinion with skepticism, and tell me in the comments why I’m wrong.

Here’s how I see the lay of the land when it comes to ranking highly on Google:

  • If your business is big, you have a good chance of ranking.
  • If your market is local, you have a good chance of ranking.
  • If your business is unique (or almost unique) in a way that’s relevant to Google, you have a good chance of ranking.
  • But if you’re small, your market is not local, and you’re not close to unique in a relevant way, then I suspect your chances are slim.
Colossus of Ramesses II at Luxor Temple by Than217 on Wikimedia.

If your business is big, you can pay an army of content creators to build your colossus of beautiful and useful content that will beat your competition and get you to page 1.

If your business is local (e.g. you’re a neighbourhood pharmacy or a plumbing business) you have less competition. And you don’t need an army to create better content than your competition. At this point, creating any content at all might be a way to outshine your local competitors. That advantage may not last forever, so get started now and make sure you stay on page 1.

If your business is (close to) unique in some way, then you can use your lack of competition to make sure you rank at the top of Google.

But if your business is small, non-local, and non-unique, maybe you can rank — but maybe you will never be able to rank. The point of this article is simply to persuade you to take that possibility seriously.

Goliath will typically beat David in Google rankings

Big companies have an advantage when it comes to ranking because they have money to spend on creating excellent content, in great quantities, in different mediums — blog articles, videos, webinars, podcasts, you name it. They have techies to run tests and optimize this, that, and the other thing, in order to improve ranking.

If your business is small (and non-local and non-unique) and you are dead set on getting a page 1 ranking, you’d better not sleep for the next few years. You are going to have to create a mountain of fantastic content — better than your Goliath competitors — to have a hope in hell of ranking. (You’re also going to have to do a whole bunch of other things. See below for the typical advice.) Maybe you could do it. But maybe your efforts would be misplaced. And your wasted effort will be wasted money for your business.

Local businesses can compete for a page 1 ranking

If you have a brick and mortar business, or if you travel only to local clients, or there’s some other reason your market is local, then focusing on ranking for local search terms in your industry may well be part of a sound marketing plan.

For non-local search terms that would be useful to me, as an unknown freelance writer, e.g. “freelance writer” or “content writer”, I don’t rank anywhere. Which is completely unsurprising. There are a bazillion other freelance content writers out there already.

If it was important to me to have a local clientele, I could put in a tonne of effort and I’d have a reasonable chance of moving on to page 1 for the search term, “freelance writer kelowna” (my home town). But my long term business goals do not include being a local writer. Eventually, I want big clients in specific industries, and they aren’t local. So I don’t think it’s worth my while hustling hard to get ranked on page 1 for local searches.

Ask yourself if it worth your while trying to rank for local searches. If it is—great! Go for it! But if your business is essentially non-local, it may not be worth your effort.

As I develop my writing niches, it may well come to make sense to put more effort into ranking on Google. But maybe it won’t. It may never make sense for me to chase after the Google unicorn. I’ll have to wait and see. For the time being, I will continue finding my clients, rather than hoping they will find me on Google.

Björk and purple cows can compete for a page 1 ranking

I suggest that you consider ignoring the hype and hoopla about ranking on the first page of Google, and think about what makes sense for your business.

I want to emphasize that I’m not making any general claims about what all businesses should or shouldn’t do. I am a joint owner of a second business, and right from the get-go it ranked on page 1 for some relevant search terms. That’s because it is genuinely unique in Canada. Great! In that case, it makes sense for us to focus on Google ranking as a useful marketing tool for that business.

A perfectly ordinary, non-purple cow. Photo by zelle duda on Unsplash.

You’ve probably come across a number of optimistic marketers telling you to develop your voice so you are original, so you can be unique just by being you. That sounds very lovely and heartwarming. But for most of us, I suspect it is bullcracker. Maybe you are special. Maybe you are the equivalent of Björk in your industry niche. And if you are, go for it! I don’t intend to put anyone off using their specialness to charm Google and the world. But — the chances are — you’re not unique in any way that matters to Google. Most of us are pretty ordinary, even if we excel in our business niche. And that’s perfectly OK. Contrary to Seth Godin, not all business owners are, or need to be, or can be, the equivalent of purple cows. All sorts of perfectly ordinary, non-purple-cow people make good livings as business owners.

Being ordinary or non-unique doesn’t mean we can’t be good!

I found it liberating when the lightbulb went on and I realized that pursuing a page 1 ranking probably doesn’t make sense for my business. It is information I can use to run my business more effectively. I can focus only on marketing goals that do make sense for me.

Of course, as business owners, we should still strive to be better in ways that are important for our businesses, even if those ways not visible to a Google algorithm. The quality of our products or services can be exceptional. We can make excellent personal connections with our customers so they come back to us again — and recommend us to their friends. We can make more of those connections — in real life and/or online. Our customer service can be outstanding. If Google can’t recognize our “ordinary” business skills and attributes, we need to focus on types of marketing other than a first page ranking.

Once you realize that you may never be able to rank on page 1 of Google for any useful search term, you’re in a better position to decide how much energy to put into chasing that form of marketing.

What hangs on not ranking for useful search terms?

Suppose I’m right and there is no useful search term you or I have a reasonable chance at ranking in. What then? What does that mean?

It means that there is one super powerful marketing tool that is not available to us. Ranking on Google is in the same category as buying a Super Bowl ad. They are both not going to happen.

Imagine searching Google, and all these links come up telling you how hard you have to work to get a Super Bowl ad… It might make sense for you to take that route and pursue the goal of having a Super Bowl ad. But it probably doesn’t. That’s unlikely to come as a shock to you.

The same thing goes for the Holy Grail of ranking near the top of Google: It’s unlikely to happen too (unless you fall into one of the categories noted at the beginning of this article: big, local, or unique). And that fact should be just as unsurprising.

But it might come as surprise to you that ranking on the first page might be an impossible dream because NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT THIS. There’s a giant elephant in the room dressed in flashing Christmas lights and, as far as I can see, nobody’s mentioning it. Make sure you don’t ignore the elephant!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. (No, I couldn’t find a picture of an elephant wearing Christmas lights.)

The elephant in the room

Let me show you how everyone is ignoring the elephant. If I do a Google search for “what can i do if i can’t rank on page 1 of google?” I get these results on page 1:

  • Simple do it yourself SEO — Boost your Ranks in CA (An ad. I don’t know why it’s written like that either.)
  • 15 Reasons Google Doesn’t Rank Your Site (And How to Fix It)
  • Top Rankings! How To Get To Number 1 On Google in 2018 Using SEO
  • How To Show Up on the First Page of Google (Even if You’re a Nobody)
  • 5 Reasons Your Website Isn’t Ranking (And How to Fix Them)
  • How to Rank Number One in Google in 2017
  • I’ve Optimized My Site, But I’m Still Not Ranking — Help!
  • SEO Rankings Drop: A Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery
  • Looking to Buy a First Page Ranking? 5 Questions to Avoid This SEO…
  • 14 Reasons Your WordPress Site Isn’t Ranking High in Google
  • How Do I Get My Website On the First Page of Google?

As you can see, these all give advice on how to get ranked on page 1.

I checked out the three I’ve put in bold, to see what they said. I wondered if any of them would say, “Hey, face it. There’s a good chance you won’t ever rank on the first page of Google. And maybe you shouldn’t pour energy into that, and perhaps you should focus on other marketing tactics instead.” But they didn’t.

The first one mentions all sorts of advice and handy tools to help you figure out what the problem is:

  • Use Campaign Deliciousness, a Moz tool
  • Use Keyword Explorer, a Moz tool
  • Compare your ranking to your competitors’ rankings using Moz Pro
  • Make sure your content is all shiny and wonderful (title tags, description tags, content)
  • Find and track featured snippets (I don’t know what that means either) with Moz Pro
  • Track the authority of your site (and others) using the MozBar Chrome extension
  • Use the Crawl Test (a Moz Pro tool) to make sure you haven’t over done it and have too many links on any of your pages
  • And don’t forget that Moz Pro is available free for the first 30 days! (After that, it’s a minimum of US$79 per month!)

This isn’t just Moz, of course. There are a number of companies you’ll find on the first page of Google that are in the business of persuading us that we need to break our butts trying to rank on page 1.

The third link gave all the usual information and advice:

  • Make sure your website is indexed by Google
  • Use Google ads (but consider using a pro, like the author)
  • Have lots of unique and useful content on your website
  • Get inbound links
  • Make your site mobile friendly
  • Make sure your site loads quickly
  • Research appropriate keywords and use them in the text and titles etc of your site
  • Start a blog (just like everyone else on the planet who is trying to get on the first page of Google, but make it original and more sparkly than anyone else’s in your niche!)

And, guess what? At the end of the article, the author tells us that his company will gladly take your money and help get your site ranked on the first page of Google.

Should you try and write a blog that’s better for ranking than everyone else’s in your niche? Photo by James Cridland on flickr.

The second example talked about the usual culprits that spoil your page 1 efforts:

  • Over-optimization (i.e. keyword stuffing)
  • Short content that isn’t useful enough
  • Not enough links to your site
  • Targeting overly competitive keywords
  • Changing permalinks
  • You haven’t yet written “the ultimate guide” to something that nobody else has already written, or you haven’t done it better than them
  • High bounce rate
  • Too much duplicate content

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay attention to those things. I think plenty of those things are problems for reasons other than hurting your ranking chances. But it should be obvious that your business might not win the ranking lottery because:

  1. Not every business can be on page 1. There are more businesses than space on the page.
  2. Your business may be small, non-local, and not unique in any way relevant to a useful Google search.

I also checked pages 10, 15, 20. Still, none of the article titles mentioned the possibility that maybe IT’S JUST NOT POSSIBLE! (Instead, the density of relevant links appeared to decrease as I went further down the listings.)

Then I wondered if would have something published that tells it like it is. So I searched “can’t rank on google” and got articles with these titles:

  • Want to rank your website On Google First Page?: Watch the video
  • Two Backlink Building Techniques That a Digital Marketing Agency Can Use to Boost Your Website’s SEO
  • 5 Common SEO Techniques That Will Ruin Your Google Page Rank
  • How to Use Local Keywords to Rank Higher on Google
  • How to Remove a Review on Google My Business

I also tried BuzzSumo and searched for “ranking on first page google” in the past year and this is what came up on the first page (the most shared, liked etc):

  • WordPress SEO tips for bloggers — how to rank on the first page of Google
  • SE Ranking can help you land your website on the first page of Google
  • How to Rank #1 on Google for the World’s Most Competitive Keywords
  • 12 SEO Ranking Tips to Keep Your Business on the First Page of Google
  • How To Get Your Website Ranked on The First Page of Google
  • On-Page SEO Techniques — How to Rank on First Page of Google
  • 11 Best On-Page SEO Techniques for First Page Ranking in Google
  • How to Make your Startup Rank on Google’s First Page
  • how to rank youtube videos on first page of google always rank 1 on youtube
  • 033: Use SEO to Rank on Google’s First Page
  • How to Rank YouTube Videos on First Page of Google — In 10 Simple Steps
  • How to rank your Business on the first page of Google
  • 5 SEO Tips To Rank On The First Page of Google
  • How I (easily) ranked on the first page of Google
  • Rank on Google First Page — GUARANTEED
  • Ranked On The First Page In Google Search Results!
  • Top SEO Tips To Rank On The First Page Of Google Search
  • SEO Blog Tips To Help You Rank Your Blogs On The First Page Of Google
  • How to Rank on the First Google Page If You Have a Low-Authority Site

Just look at that humongous list! There is no popular article that appears to talk about how ranking on Google could well be pie in the sky. I also searched for “don’t bother with seo” and “can’t rank on first page google” and got zero results for both.

You get the idea. There is a whole industry dedicated to persuading us and enabling us to chase after what — for you and me — might be as elusive as Bigfoot.

Photo of Bigfoot by Derek Hatfield on flickr. ;)

Should we give up and go home?

Does giving up on first page ranking mean we shouldn’t bother with having a website? We shouldn’t bother with content marketing? Does it mean we shouldn’t put useful content on our websites? No, of course it doesn’t mean any of that at all. (But, hey, I’m a content writer, so I would say that, right? Please feel free to put on your skeptic spectacles and evaluate what I’m saying on its own merits.)

There are benefits to having a website with useful content beyond trying to get a page 1 ranking. If you already have traffic to your website, then useful content will keep your visitors there longer, and help build trust in your knowledge and expertise. You’re giving your current website visitors something of value. If you’re lucky, some of your readers might share some of your content. You can promote your content on social media and try get your followers to visit your website. When a lead does find out about you — in some way other than the first page of a Google search — they need to be able to check out your website and find out more about you.

If you write a blog for your business website, and you have local customers, maybe you could print some examples on paper and hand them out to your customers, like an old school newsletter. If they find your content valuable, encourage them to subscribe to your blog (and save some paper). They may never do a Google search and find your blog that way, but they’ve found your blog via old-fashioned paper. You’re giving them value in any case, and that helps your customers appreciate you and your business.

Paper still has its uses. Clunky old typewriters, not so much. Photo from pxhere.

For my business, I’ve decided that it is not worth creating acres of content on my website, getting all nerdy about meta tags and the rest of that technical stuff, hustling to get backlinks instead of sleeping, in order to chase after a page 1 Google ranking. I will use other marketing methods.

There is a good chance you and I won’t EVER be able to rank on the first page of Google, in which case it’s not worth our time, energy, and money getting our knickers in a knot trying to do that.

Do you agree? Or have I missed something? Is it possible for small, non-local, non-unique businesses to rank highly on Google?

Zena Ryder

Written by

Freelance writer at Boudica Writing

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade