Why you shouldn’t try to rank number one on Google

April 19, 2024

I had a call this week from a prospective client. He was weighing up between investing in search engine optimisation (SEO) and Google Ads. He’d been told by an SEO agency that Google Ads was like “renting” space on Google, while SEO was like “buying” a property.

On that basis, he’d pretty much been persuaded to go with SEO. But someone had recommended he have a chat with me first. So, I offered my opinion – as follows.

The SEO agency wasn’t being 100% honest by saying SEO is like “buying” property on Google. It might seem that way, on the surface. Once your website is ranked highly for the relevant keywords, surely Google will then continue to bring you free traffic for many years.

Sadly, it’s not that simple. You are always, ultimately, at the mercy of Google. If they decide to change their algorithm, your highly ranked website could drop like a stone overnight.

In fact, the reason I’m writing this post is because I had another call this week from a business who has suffered exactly this fate. He’s been paying several hundred dollars a month to an SEO agency for a long time. His website has been ranked near the top of Google. And his business has been reaping the benefits. Nice.

But suddenly last week, his website dropped down to page 3. For no apparent reason. And the SEO agency has no answer. Apparently, Google doesn’t like some of the tactics they have been using, so they’ve been penalised.

I feel some sympathy for the SEO agency. But I feel far more sorry for the business owner who has seen his leads drop off overnight.

So, it seems SEO is not like “buying” a property on Google after all. If Google changes the rules – sorry, your property has just become worthless.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

About three years ago, I decided to move away from building websites. I was tossing up between offering SEO services, or Google AdWords (as it was then called).

During the past 15 years, probably the most common question I’ve been asked is “can you help me get ranked number one on Google” for some particular keyword. So, it seems, there’s huge demand for this service.

But I decided not to go down the SEO route. Instead, I put my eggs in the AdWords basket. And I’m glad I did.

Ultimately, there’s no such thing as “free” traffic on the internet. Not any more. One way or another, you need to pay if you want your business to stand out above the competition on Google. Just like the old days (before the internet) when you had to pay to advertise in newspapers, radio, Yellow Pages etc. – and you complained how expensive it was – the same is now true of the internet.

Another fact in favour of Google Ads, over SEO, is that Google is tilting the playing field in favour of people who pay to be at the top. The first four search results are always Ads. Then, there’s usually local business listings (maps).

Organic results are pushed down to the bottom half of the page. The common trend is people are focusing on the paid ads more than the organic listings.

So, should you give up on SEO?

No, I am not trying to paint a picture that SEO is useless. But I’ve come to the conclusion I won’t waste time thinking about each and every change Google is making. Because it’s out of our control.

It’s too hard to keep up with all their algorithm changes.

The answer, I believe, is to focus on the user experience on your website. Google is putting more and more emphasis on this when it ranks websites.

Google doesn’t want to rank sites at the top that are the “best optimised.” They want to rank the site that gives users the best experience. So, focus on providing that and, in the long run, you should rank higher and get more traffic.

Alongside this, Google seems to be putting more emphasis on brands, ahead of non-brands. So, a known brand will rank higher than a new, unknown entrant into the market. And ultimately, the best way to build a brand is to give people a great user experience, over time.


Yes, you want to continually improve your search traffic over time, but obsessing over whether or not a keyword is ranking number 1 doesn’t mean much.

If you do invest in SEO, choose a reputable agency who really know their stuff. Stay away from those cheap SEO companies that hound you with emails. The only agency you should trust is one that is on the cutting edge, and is not willing to risk your business by using short-term, underhanded tactics, which will ultimately backfire.