Are search engines important?

Paul Boag

How do I become number one on the search engines? One of the most common questions I get asked. However, should we really care?

How do I become number one on the search engines?

It is amazing just how often I get asked that. For many website owners this seems to be the Holy Grail. They believe that if only they can be number one on the search engine for their particular product then somehow all will be ok. They also get angry because their competition (who are never as good as they are) are rated higher than them.

But are they right to put so much emphasis on search engine registration? Are search engines really worth all the effort? Well that depends on the business. Although we do a lot of work on search engine optimisation we do not always recommend it to our clients. Below are just some of the reasons why:

Delay in results

One of my biggest problems with search engine registration is that it takes too long to become registered. With so many sites jockeying for position, the load on the search engine providers to spider all these sites is overwhelming. As a result it can easily be months before you begin to see the fruits of all your hard work. This makes it hard to tweak and improve your marketing campaign as you go along. It also means that if you are looking to run a short term campaign, this route is almost certain to be entirely ineffective.

An unpredictable outcome

The second problem I have with search engines is that results are often mixed. You can spend hours refining keywords and optimising pages but at the end of the day you don’t know exactly where you will appear in the listing. Combine this with having to wait months to see your results and it makes it very hard to run any kind of effective marketing strategy.

The need for constant attention

With new sites being added to the database every day it is often extremely hard to maintain your position on search engines. Your competition realise they have been upstaged by you and so re-register themselves with improved keywords (probably lifted from your site) so appearing above you again. Maintaining your position on a search engine can turn into a never-ending quest.

A very passive approach

Yet another concern is that it is a very passive approach to marketing. What I mean by this is that basically you sit back and wait for the visitors to come to you. You are relying on a potential visitor waking up one morning and concluding that they want to buy a “widget” through the web. This person then has to select a search engine you have managed to get registered on and then type in exactly the keywords you have selected. It’s a pretty hit and miss business.

Design compromises

This probably isn’t the highest on my list of reasons but nevertheless is still a valid one. The problem with optimising your site for search engines is that it often becomes more about what the search engine will see than what your actual visitors will get. Making sure that a website is search engine friendly can often compromise design impact and, more importantly, usability.

Humans are hard to predict

Lets face it, despite what we would like to believe, we don’t know our customers as well as we think. People are unpredictable and just don’t enter the keywords we expect. I think part of the problem is that we have worked in our respective industries too long and have picked up jargon that the rest of the world just doesn’t use. What this boils down to is that despite our best efforts we will lose a lot of potential visitors simply because they don’t enter the keywords we have focused on.

So am I suggesting that search engines are not worth it? Not at all. We cannot ignore them completely. In fact there are occasions where I would actively encourage people to undertake search engine optimisation . This is particularly the case where they have a niche market with few competitors. I am also much more enthusiastic about paid search engine positioning such as Google Adwords, that is the subject of a seperate article .