Lots of businesses these days want to be “first in Google”. Who wouldn’t want that? I know I do. The problem is, there is no such thing as ranking first in Google. Or at least, it’s much more complex than that phrase suggests. Here’s why, and what you can do to combat it.

Ranking fluctuations

Google can be more turbulent than a Boeing 737 landing in windy Scotland. When thinking about keyword rankings, you have to bear in mind the daily, weekly and monthly fluctuations which no one can directly control.

Rankings change position all the time. There are so many factors to consider, like what other competitors are doing when certain websites get crawled, and how continuous algorithm updates affect positioning. Check Moz Cast to see how up and down this can be.

“Google can be more turbulent than a Boeing 737 landing in windy Scotland.”


Google is currently available in 123 languages with different TLDs (top-level domains) for various countries around the world. For example, even if you’re searching from France in English, your default search engine will be Google.fr. Different versions of Google serve different results. To explain further, this means that your website could rank in position 4 on Google.com for the keyword phrase “weather in Scotland” but in position 14 on Google.fr.

Local listings

Many search queries produce what’s known as the ‘local pack’. This is a section on Google which is made up of a map, three local businesses and the option to click on ‘More places’.

These local snippets show things like reviews, company address, phone number, website and directions. When the local pack appears for a search, “first in Google” becomes buried lower down the page.



Every time you search for something on Google, it learns more about you. Using what are known as cookies (not the edible type sadly), Google can record websites you have visited in the past and serve them to you in higher ranking positions than it does for other users. Search Engine Land explains this well below:

“By watching what you click on in search results, Google can learn that you favour particular sites. For example, if you often search and click on links from Amazon that appear in Google’s results, over time, Google learns that you really like Amazon. In reaction, it gives Amazon a ranking boost.

That means that everyone’s Google results are different depending on what they have searched for in the past and whether they are signed into a Google account like Gmail or YouTube.

Google Adwords

Statista says “In 2015, Google’s ad revenue amounted to almost 67.39 billion US dollars. That year, advertising accounted for the majority percent of the online company’s total revenues.”

For as long as advertising makes up the largest part of Google’s revenue, ranking first in Google organically will never be possible.

As reported by Search Engine Land, back in February 2016, the big G released a new SERP (search engine results page) design which said goodbye to the ads on the right-hand side of the page and brought in one extra listing into the pack of ads above the organic results.

This means that for some search queries, the organic results will be pushed down one more position compared to pre-February 2016.

Google Adwords Turnover

Various other SERP features

Gone are the days when Google SERPs (search engine results pages) were simply ten blue uninspiring links.

Now, nearly every pixel is full of more eye-catching snippet types. Depending on the search query, we can expect video results, photos, news, maps, instant answer boxes and local listings as explained above.

This is brilliant for the evolution of Google and its users, but not great for businesses relying on standard organic search results only as it means “first in Google” is again below the fold (out of view unless you scroll down). The result? Reduced click through rate and less traffic.

Position zero

For 15% of all search queries globally (desktop), Google serves what are known as Featured Snippets (also known as answer boxes).

For those 15% of queries, the actual organic search engine results page listings are pushed down even lower below the fold. Running theme here, right? In these cases, first in Google again becomes even less visible and the Featured Snippets gobble most of the clicks.


Okay okay, you get the idea. So, what’s the solution to this dilemma?

Part two: 8 things you can do about it

Despite the doom and gloom I’ve painted above, I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim to rank first in Google. Of course, you should. I’m just saying that it’s more complex than that overly used phrase suggests.

There are lots of things you can do to make sure you’re getting maximum visibility for your web assets. Here’re eight things to consider.

1. Scrub the phrase “I want to rank 1st for…”

Instead of thinking like that, think more along the lines of “I would like to aim for a 50% lift in organic traffic for year one”, or a 50% lift in sales, etc.

Those are much more meaningful goals. Ranking 1st for keyword X on search engine Y doesn’t necessarily mean increased traffic and sales and isn’t a true measure of success.

2. Do your research

Find out which keyword phrases are going to bring the most traffic to your website and build a content and link building/earning strategy around your findings. If you don’t know how to do that, hire a professional to do it for you.

Here’re some keyword research tools you can use to get started:

3. Find out what your competition is doing

With regards to SEO, your competitors are not necessarily the other companies who do the same things as you. They are the websites ranking higher than you in organic search. In some cases, that can be websites you would never have classed as actual competitors.

Hone in on what they are doing better than you regarding on and off page SEO and up your game. Look at their website design, user experience, on-page content and links pointing to their sites. Pay close attention to what they are doing and make sure you are doing it better.

4. Advertise

You can only truly be at the very top of Google consistently if you pay for it. Yes, some Google users don’t click on ads and will scroll straight to the organic results for each search query they make, but millions do click on the ads, and it does bring revenue for businesses advertising there.

Not to mention how much paid ads blend with organic results these days. The untrained eye can hardly notice the difference…

“Organic results look virtually identical to the untrained eye – that is, the eye of your typical sales prospect.” ~ Straight North Blog

Bring paid advertising on Google Adwords into your marketing mix to make sure you’re driving instant traffic to the site while your inbound marketing strategies roll out and develop over time.

5. Optimise for position zero

If Google serves instant answers for around 15% of search queries, surely it’s worth trying to grab some of those lucrative spots?!

Recently, the Wizard of Moz, Rand Fishkin published this White Board Friday (vlog) on how to optimise for position zero. Click the image below to watch the video.


6. Optimise for local listings where possible

First of all, make sure you have a verified business listing on Google My Business. It’s free and easy to set up.

Making sure your business citations are accurate across the board is vital to having a strong presence in the local pack. Moz has another great tool (we’re not affiliated I promise) which is called Moz Local. Using this SEO tool you can check and update hundreds of business listings across the web which will contribute to a stronger positioning in the local pack.

7. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket

Relying on organic search traffic as your only source of business is a dangerous choice. Future proof your business by investing your budget in multiple digital marketing channels.

Every buyer’s journey has multiple touch points; sales should be attributed to multiple channels, not just one.

Depending on the type of business you run, I’d start with a blend of the following, then test what works well/what doesn’t do well and scale from there.

  • SEO
  • Paid advertising on Adwords
  • Content Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Paid amplification on social media
  • Email Marketing

The great thing is that all of these marketing channels work together to provide multi-channel funnels to your business goals.

Variety is the spice of life (and marketing).


8. Get help from a professional

Okay so now you’re thinking “we don’t have the skills and expertise to deliver all of those things in-house”.

When it comes to delivering these kind of services, doing it badly can cost you a lot, result in poor performance and mean your goals aren’t met. Under optimised and wrongly targeted campaigns will hurt your pocket and your head.

I agree firmly with the phrase…

“If you think it’s expensive hiring a professional, wait until you hire an amateur”

Hiring a professional digital marketer or reputable agency could be the best thing you ever do for your business.


In one sentence: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Organic rankings are inherently unstable. You must understand that you may be able to rank first in Google for certain criteria after lots of blood sweat and tears, but you won’t always stay there, and there are no guarantees that you won’t drop in positioning or any certainty that your ‘first place ranking’ will bring you extra business.

You need a great search engine optimisation team working for you. They will do everything they can to ensure your website gets maximum organic search engine visibility.

May the force be with you.