No, you're not the number one

July 2013

I have a question to ask Subway Sandwiches: Do your staff get in every morning, take a vote on who speaks English the worst and decide to put them on the counter? Seriously, trying to understand anything they are asking me is almost as difficult as listening to a Nicki Minaj song and not wanting to rip my own ears off. It wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many questions but as soon as you walk through the door they are demanding to know what you want. They seem to think people have the menu stored in their memory. Once you have made up your mind and have told them which sub you want, they ask if you want 6 inches or a foot long. It sounds like some sort of homosexual invitation. Last week I accidentally ordered a 6 inch Spicy Italian, which surely ranks in the top 5 most awkward moments of my life. They then ask if you want cheese or extra cheese or something (I’ve never actually understood what they are asking) and then they ask if you would like any salad and which of the dozen options available you want. Then they ask whether you want sauce. Then they ask whether you want a drink or a cookie to go with the sub. Then they ask if that is all. Then they finally ask for your money before dismissing you without so much as a “goodbye” or “enjoy your meal”.

I hate being asked silly questions, especially when I’m eating. It’s like going into restaurants and the waiter coming over every 5 minutes to enquire if everything is alright with the meal. Usually everything is alright apart from the constant interruptions of the annoying waiter. Even worse is when I walk into a shop and, before I’ve even got a foot through the door, an assistant is in my face asking if I need any help.

My job involves a lot of answering questions - usually stupid ones. One of the most common questions people ask after a website has been launched is “can you get me to appear at the top of Google?” Answering that question is like trying to explain quantum physics and the theory of relativity to a piece of cabbage. Now please don’t think I’m comparing any of my clients to cabbage, I am simply trying to make the point that it is a pointless exercise. Even if they could comprehend what I am saying (and cabbages can only comprehend 10% of the human language) it is a promise that simply cannot be fulfilled.

For instance, my company’s website advertises all of the products and services I offer on various pages. These services range from designing websites, programming, building and supplying web apps like shops, email marketing, e-invoicing and content management systems. I also offer writing and blogging services, social networking assistance and free doughnuts that can be emailed at any time. In this economic climate, I’m even willing to offer sexual favours to the highest bidder.

Anyway, in an ideal world, I would like to be at the top of Google’s search results for all of the above but that would be like a premiership football player also being an Olympic gymnastics champion and an Oscar-winning actor. I can only really target one or two key areas of a site and even then I am competing against literally thousands of other businesses offering exactly the same services. Also, no one other than the boffins at the helm really knows Google’s algorithm for indexing sites and, in any case, Google’s results will vary depending on things like your location and, if you are signed in, probably a combination of all the gubbins you’ve used on Google+, Gmail, Blogger and other searches you’ve performed as well as all the other information they and the CIA have on you. Therefore, it is genuinely impossible to know how to get a site more prominent than another because results will be different for everybody.

There are a lot of Search Engine Optimisation companies out there who will promise to get a website to number 1 on Google. I once took a call from such a company and the sales rep proudly informed me he had got many companies like mine number 1 on Google. His smugness was squashed when I enquired how he could possibly guarantee two similar companies top ranking on Google for the same keywords at the same time... In any case, all they will do is create a Google AdWords campaign to get you paid listings and charge you a million times more than it actually costs.

Even if you are lucky enough to appear at the top of search results, it isn’t going to guarantee you sales. A lot of people still think that a website is a magic tool that will make them millionaires. A website is simply the shop window to your business. My job is to make the website look as pretty and appealing as possible, which will encourage people to go beyond the home page. Once you have got them in, it is your responsibility to make the most of it.

Also, search engine optimisation is only a small part of marketing a business. You still need to do the old fashioned things like go to business events, advertise in industry publications and hand out business cards, brochures and leaflets like sweets. You wouldn’t open a highstreet shop and just expect all and sundry to notice you, so why would you think the Internet is any different? In fact, relatively speaking, the internet is the size of a large country so the chances of people finding you are considerably slimmer than they are on the highstreet.

So is there anything you can do to get your site number one on Google? Well yes. Pay for it. Sign up to Google AdWords and waste loads of money seeing your site appear above everybody elses for certain keywords. See it make bugger all difference to your sales. Alternatively, you could concentrate on getting good content on your site, making your prices competitive with your rivals, go to shows, network with real people and run the business how it should be run.

I really should take my own advice...