It's obviously a question I am asked almost daily. The other one is 'Can you put my website in the top 3 of Google?'
I understand why it is such a rampant enquiry – there are no end of renegade SEO companies that promise such results.
So is it possible? Yes and No...
How to be Number One on Google
There is only one sure fire way to do this. Choose a keyword that no one ever searches and no other website is interested in ranking for. So if you went for 'wigglysquigglewoops' then yes you can be number one.
It will not bring you any traffic or business but you will be number one.
Some real life (and less absurd) examples where companies have actually been 'done over' by dishonest SEO providers are covered on our main site in the section SEO mistakes.
The Reality of SEO and Google
When Google returns search results it considers a number of factors including where you are (geographically) and your past browsing history. This has too very important consequences for those who own websites and are trying to figure out what position they have in the rankings.
Firstly, if you search 'bakery' and you are sitting in New Jersey Google will assume you want a bakery in New Jersey. I'll explain why this can mislead you in a moment.
Secondly, if you regularly search Google using the keyword 'x' to find where you rank and then click through to your website Google will assume you like that site (it doesn't know it's yours, only that you like visiting it.) That means the next time you search keyword 'x' Google will rank your site higher because it is trying to please you.
Both of these factors lead to the other very common question:
I'm number one on Google, so why no traffic?
Wrapping the above together the reason you are number one but without visitors could be:
- No one is searching for that keyword hence no traffic.
- You are number one because geographically you are the closest person to yourself (e.g. you are sitting in your shop searching for that kind of shop).
- You are number one but for you only because of your past behaviour. Go to someone else's computer and see the difference.
These issues are compounded if you are signed into your Google account because it allows Google to collect even more accurate data on you and skew the search results to a greater extent – all in the name of trying to offer you a better search experience.
So where are you really in the rankings?
The only definitive answer is to use Google Webmaster Tools which will give you an 'average ranking'. From this it's important to remember that reality will be slightly higher than the figure shown.
To explain this I'll take one of my old favourites from a website I have – mamdom.com. For the keyword phrase 'Land for Sale Poland' Mamdom is number one almost everywhere in the world but we only know this from trying it in multiple locations around the globe on random computers.
Google Webmaster Tools says Mamdom's average position for this phrase is 3 and you might even find that what I have just said is untrue when you do the search. Why?
Here are a few reasons:
- Mamdom may be number one on Google.com for this phrase but it may not number one on Google.ABC (where ABC is one of Google's may other sites – google.de, google.com.au, google.fr, etc.)
- To explain this I'll take one of my old favourites from a website I have – mamdom.com. For the keyword phrase 'Land for Sale Poland' Mamdom is number one almost everywhere in the world but we only know this from trying it in multiple locations around the globe on random computers.
- Google Webmaster Tools says Mamdom's average position for this phrase is 3 and you might even find that what I have just said is untrue when you do the search. Why?
How come some SEO companies promise top 3 on Google if it's not possible?
In the most part they know it's not possible but they will be working on a number of factors to fool you into thinking that it is and, later, that they have achieved it – especially those companies that have 'money back guarantees'. The most common three tricks are:
- talking you into optimising for a keyword that no one ever searches for.
- persuading you that if you click on your website a lot it will rise in the rankings (it will, but for you only).
- massive link building programmes that work in the short term until Google recognises the pattern and reduces your position to whence it came.
How can I see if a real SEO company is performing?
As mentioned above the most objective measure is Google Webmaster Tools which will tell you if your average position globally is rising or falling for any particular keyword.
You will also be able to see how often people click on your website when it does appear in the results and how often they bounce (back out again). But that is a totally different story which you can read about in our How to SEO Guide: CTR and Bounce.