Do You Deserve A First Page Ranking?

by Nick · 46 comments

in SEO

Do You Deserve A First Page Ranking on Google?
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Think about it.

Does your content really deserve to rank on page one for your target keywords? Is it one of the 10 best, most informative, most useful pieces of content on the internet?

If not, the answer is probably no.

This post was inspired by this tweet from Russ Jones:

The first question you should ask a client is whether they are commited to creating 1 of the 10 best sites in their industry.
@rjonesx
rjonesx

This may seem harsh, but you know what – he’s right.

I really like this concept, especially since the days of link building seem numbered and the shift towards link attracting has already begun.

It’s not news that brands are winning the fight against Google, to the extent that there is a pretty obvious bias towards brands within the SERP’s. And as Aaron Wall mentions in his post, Eric Schmidt has been quoted affirming this suspicion:

Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. It must have a genetic component.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s Schmidt Says Internet ‘Cesspool’ Needs Brands

Beyond being a brand, there are a lot of reasons why your content may not be attracting natural links.

You Need to Be Worthy of Ranking

Back to Russ’s tweet, and why I think this is important.

The idea behind this concept is that the game has changed for the better. It’s no longer about gaming the system, it’s about being worthy of the attention that top rankings in a competitive industry will bring you.

Companies Websites ranking on page one who are not among the best in their niche are squandering an opportunity that would be better served by their competitors. If you are getting the right traffic but can’t make the conversion, you don’t deserve that ranking.

Furthermore, it is not good enough to think you are the best or say you will be. In order for this approach to take shape and drive results,  this commitment must flow through your organization from the top down. It is a mindset that must be accepted by every person on your team and they need to believe in it.

Part of this mentality is developing a culture of testing and constant improvement; where any day you are not getting better you are getting worse.

You need to evolve your goals and their supporting process to be more agile, you need to dissect your competitors, you need to shift from SEO to CRO, you need to obsess over customers

You need to be better.

Current State of The SERP’s

I wanted to go out and take a look at the first page of Google across a variety of vertical markets to see if after the Zoo Updates, only the best, most rank-worthy websites are holding the top spots.

I picked a variety of large, very competitive markets, to see how the big brands stack up against other websites competing in their space.

The verticals I’m looking at are women’s fashion, children’s products, technology hardware, software, and then some of the less savory verticals like credit cards, car insurance, and payday loans.

Google SERP for query “black dress”

Google SERP for Black Dress 092712

As you can see this SERP is dominated by all big brand sites, not too surprising for a search term with 288 million competing results.

Google SERP for query “childrens bicycle”

Google SERP for Childrens Bicycle 092712

As you can see from my red highlighted boxes above, this SERP contains some instances where the sites ranking are not major brand e-retailers or big box stores.

In fact, a deeper look at each reveals some interesting information. I personally had not heard of Meijer before, but upon clicking through their search result I arrived on their children’s bicycles page:

Meijer

which as you can see, is fitting of it’s 3rd position ranking; it is a well designed, well built website offering a lot of options for searchers looking for children’s bike’s and is a relatively established internet retailer.

Moving on to ibike.org:

ibikeORG

this page is quite the polar opposite of the retailer pages filling up most of this SERP, but due to it’s comprehensive evergreen content including a number of useful references and a very helpful age and size chart, it ranks appropriately.

Moving on to the final non-brand website in the SERP, ConsumerSearch.com:

consumerSearch-KidsBikes

Again, this is an example of another great content page. This particular page provides some really helpful advice for parents who are both shopping for a children’s bike and also some general information on sizing, quality, and what to look for.

Google SERP for query “laptop”

Google-laptop

This one surprised me at first. With nearly 1 billion competing pages, I figured for sure the first page would only be name brand companies, and for the most part it is, except for one. Geeks.com (pretty decent domain) is outranking officedepot.com.

Let’s take a look at the page:

GeeksCom

as you can see, upon a closer inspection, they are in fact in the Inc. 5000 list and on top of it their inventory is HUGE. Seriously huge… I had to crop the page (horribly yes I know) because it was over 20,000 pixels long.

Google SERP for query “email marketing software”

email marketing software

This SERP is a great example of what it takes to compete in a large software vertical filled with savvy technology companies.

These are all major players in the email space, and while domains like email-marketing-software-review.toptenreviews.com and massmailsoftware.com look spammy, the are in fact, legitimate. The previous you may have noticed is on one of the most trusted brand domains in the consumer review space; toptenreviews.com, and the other is the website for one of the oldest email software platforms, Atomic Mail Sender.

A Look at The ‘Less Savory’ SERP’s

Now I would like to look at SERP’s for some of the traditionally spam-riddled search verticals, and see if the ‘best of class’ brands still hold the top rankings.

Google SERP for query “credit cards”

credit cards Google Search

Not many surprises here, although there is one thing worth noting; the top ranked spot is not a brand at all… it’s an affiliate site.

So what’s the deal? If you take a look at CreditCards.com you will quickly realize why this website is ranking among the major brands in this space; it deserves to be.

This site is a well-built, well-maintained reference guide for any user looking to learn more about credit cards, offering detailed and accurate information on credit scoring, interest rates, types of credit accounts, and a slue of helpful tools to guide users toward making an informed decision.

Google SERP for query “car insurance”

car insurance query

Just like the previous example, the SERP for “car insurance” is blanketed with brand names less one site, carinsurance.org.

Taking a closer look at the website:

Car insurance dot org

Not only is this website a fantastic resource for comparing car insurance information, it has a comprehensive information center stuffed full of well written unique content and a large catalog of up to date statistics and nuances by state.

This website is better than some of the big brands and certainly deserves to be here.

Google SERP for query “payday loans”

payday loans Google Search

Yes, that is not a payday loans site ranking on page 1 in Google.

Not terribly surprising since payday loans are pretty much the bottom of the online lead generation barrel, but in the above SERP we see what appears to be a hack on a legitimate Neurofeedback firm.

If you click-through from this SERP to eeginfo.com, you will notice the page title is NOT “Payday loan in 15 minutes. $100-$1000 Loans.” and the meta description is NOT “Get your payday loans online in USA. No phone. No tax. No fuss…”

So what’s the deal? Why is this ranking?

A quick look at Ahrefs.com gives us some insght:

EEGInfo-backlinks

That’s a big jump in backlinks, I wonder what the anchor text looks like?

EEGInfo-anchor-text

Now this is starting to make a little more sense.

What’s not clear is why this domain was chosen; possibly due to something as simple as it being on a shared hosting plan and it was an easy target? Maybe the hacker was looking for an older site, as eeginfo.com is 12 years old, we can’t be sure.

What we do know is that this website has no place ranking in this SERP, and my guess is this will not last for very long.

What it Means to Be the Best

So you’re ready to make the commitment to creating one of the 10 best websites in your niche, where do you start?

Well this is going to have a lot to do with your type of business and your content strategy. If you are a content resource it means you have thoroughly researched, up to date, and comprehensive information on your topic areas. If your content is driven by your users (think Yelp, Trip Advisor, Facebook, etc.) it means you need to have an interface that makes it enjoyable to submit content and easy to share.

Things begin to look different when we move into Ecommerce… for starters there are some basics that you need, for example:

  •  An SSL certificate
  • Multiple payment options
  • A trusted merchant gateway or payment processor
  • Customer reviews
  • Shipping options

On top of these the ‘nice to haves’ that will set you apart from your competition are things like:

  • A money back guarantee
  • Warranty options
  • A loyalty rewards program
  • Coupons and discounts

Key Takeaways

Search engines and their users are demanding the highest quality experiences from companies and their websites.

If you are not ready or willing to make the commitment to be the best in your industry, you don’t deserve to be on the first page of Google’s search results.

Commit to serving your audience and the links and rankings will come.

This post is a bit more of a rant than I usually write, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

About Nick
Nick is the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Co-Founder of I'm From The Future an ecommerce consultancy, and the author of this SEO Blog. Follow Nick on Google+.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Shuey October 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

Great post Nick!

We ask this same thing in our sales process… Do you have what it takes to become a strong brand and build a business that is worthy of ranking on the first page of Google. If the answer is no, then we aren’t the firm for them.

The days are over when a business could hire an SEO company and sit back and watch their site rank. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from both parties to make it work and if a business isn’t willing to put some skin in the game, they don’t deserve to have a first page ranking… PERIOD!

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

Thanks Greg!

It’s great to hear that your agency approaches new engagements with this mentality, I think it needs to become the rule opposed to the exception.

Amen to that, especially so in the high volume / high profit / high competition verticals; if you aren’t the best content you simply wont hold the ranking or make the conversions leading to a lot of wasted time, money, and hope.

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Ian Howells October 2, 2012 at 10:15 am

This is probably the most overlooked piece of the SEO equation. A lot of us, myself included, can be too quick to give up on getting a client to agree to page additions/changes in order to actually have the best result.

That may have been ok pre-penguin. What you lacked in content you could just make up for with more links. That’s quite a bit harder to pull off now, so getting the 101 level stuff like “actually be a good search result” is more important than ever.

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

Exactly right, the ability to understand your rank potential based on content/links/shares/etc. vs. understanding how much effort it is going to take to engage your audience, understand your readers needs, and provide useful content that serves the purpose it is intended to are unfortunately oceans apart.

I think you’re right that this is so easily overlooked, it has never been talked about as 101 or best practice to ask such a simple question with such deep implications. I think this concept deserves significantly more visibility and feedback.

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Anthony Pensabene October 2, 2012 at 11:10 am

Another great one, dude. I’ve enjoyed getting to speak with you in person about strategies of late. I really like Ian’s comment above about being overlooked. I was writing the other day and included a Bruce Lee quote to better convey a message. I think it applies here as well.

“…a good fighter has no technique; he makes his opponent’s technique his technique. He has no design; he makes opportunity his design.”

It’s almost preposterous to plan without really peering into what’s at hand. The design of the vertical, competition, medium of search, budget, etc. creates opportunity for strategy.

Given the present structure of G and first-page SERPs, each vertical presents a different ambiance. Does a particular client have the resources to acclimate to the ambiance (speaking in first page terms). If not, what other strategies can be applied using the design at hand?

Keep it up, dude.

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 11:19 am

Yeah man – I have very much enjoyed the opportunity to hang out and pick your brain over the past couple weeks you’ve been around, and I actually just used your G+ idea this afternoon.

That’s a fantastic quote! I really can’t say it enough; more marketer’s (especially of the digital variety) need to look at the markets they plan to compete in and ask themselves the hard questions… sometimes the best thing you can do is realize you don’t have the product/money/resources needed, and instead of failing (or failing quickly) your time would be better spent pursuing opportunities where you have the potential to be something great.

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Emma Still October 2, 2012 at 11:48 am

I don’t typically comment on a lot of posts in our industry as I see far too much noise-making, empty praise, and ass-kissing, but DAMN. This is a great post. Relatable, honest, and with data to boot. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had this conversation and I can see myself referencing this post for a while to come. Thanks for writing.

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Well thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post.

It’s a conversation that I should have started having with EVERYONE; clients (past life), friends, colleagues, peers, etc. a long time ago. It was really Russ’s tweet that made me reflect on this as a mentality and inspired this post. Cheers!

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Kris October 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm

This is exactly my philosophy. Why do you deserve to be #1? Build a #1 company and experience for your users and you’ll DESERVE to be there. And you’ll also get links for being excellent. Maybe brand mentions even :)

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Hey Kris, thanks for your comment.

This is may be the longest path to rankings, but it is certainly the path of least resistance; build a stellar experience and your customers will evolve into advocates and do your brand marketing for you. Thanks again.

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Kris October 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm

It’s working for my clients. Their pages naturally get likes and shares. People naturally talk about it on facebook and twitter.

This really is the ‘secret’. Ofcourse you do need to do some PR and get your brand out there but that’s like anything. You do need to advertise a little to get some traction.

I think in one of the Mozcon or Distilled-cons? (lol I think linklove) When Rand went up against Will, Rand’s whole entire presentation was about DESERVING to be #1. I guess you can’t get more of a supporter behind your argument than that :)

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I’m not surprised it’s working, it’s seems almost self-fulfilling or the ‘build it and they will come.’ concept… I’m not down-playing the essential importance of basic outreach and promotion for which I think there is simply no replacement, but digital assets that resonate with their audience build steam that seems to snowball them to the first page.

I haven’t seen that presentation yet, and am off to look for it :) Thanks so much Kris.

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Kris October 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Yep, its so important to stand out.

Its a good presentation, Rand goes into examples about how it works. Its the ‘head to head’ series. If you find it please share which one its from!

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J.C. Kendall October 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm

This post is the new SEO bible, my friend. Just awesome, true and indispensable. Thank you for writing it. The combination of what you laid out, combined with inbound marketing of that content should be half the business battle for ANY business, irrespective of size. Nice work.

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm

J.C. – Wow man, that’s a heavy compliment; I can’t thank you enough. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

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John Bertino October 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Nick. Terrific post. This should be required reading for anyone looking to hire an SEO company.

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Jason Mun October 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Great post Nick! Bookmarked and shared.

Educate, educate, educate! Clients need to be educated on the importance and power of content and good user experience. Clients tend to get caught up with rankings without a clear understanding as to what it takes to get on page 1. Once they understand, you will get better briefs, better communication and a better working relationship.

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Hey John, thanks for reading. I plan to use this as a reference post for new SEO’s <– one of my leading motivations for writing it was to create the reference point. Cheers!

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Nick October 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Hey Jason – Thanks for the comment!

I couldn’t agree more; client education is the primary responsibility of any SEO worth their salt. If the client is disappointed with your results it’s your fault for failing to deliver; either the results or the education.

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Michael Cerny October 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Excellent blog post. It is common sense but I have never thought about. Number #1 position means the best of all results. Companies want to be #1 but without having the best content, website and “best” links.

Definitely great way to get people on board.

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Richard Hearne October 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Very good post, and I agree that building content that can compete and win is key. But you omit a key issue these days with SEO, and Google in particular – Algo changes such as Penguin don’t care how good your content/website is.

The other big worry coming out of your research is that unless you can build a top-10 site AND be a large brand the odds are very much stacked against you. I wonder how many sites on page 2+ of your examples actually offer more value to searchers, but lack the brand credentials Google desires?

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Nick October 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

Hey Richard – thanks for the comment.

Well… Penguin doesn’t really care about your content, I would say the opposite is true for Panda, which specifically targets ad-heavy and thin content.

Part of the research in my post shows that you don’t necessarily need to be a large brand to rank on page 1, you just need to be worthy of the ranking based on the usefulness of your content. Look at the SERP for children’s bicycle, there are 3 websites ranking that aren’t large brands with 2 of them not even being Ecommerce.

There was a great quote from Ryan Jones at SMX East yesterday that I think really speaks to how Google bias actually impacts results:

Google does not have a brand bias. Customers have a brand bias, and Google has a customer bias.

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Iain October 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I very much subscribe to this line of thought. I think I’m going to pull elements of this and of Mackenzie’s moz blog from earlier on and use them to redraft my documentation. Really incisive stuff, thanks.

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Richard Hearne October 3, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Hi Nick

Perhaps I bring a slightly different perspective. I’m Irish and I live in Asia. Comments about brands perhaps hold more weight in the US where branding is much more prolific, and I know for sure that I don’t want to get a SERP where 43 out of the top 100 results are a single US brand when I’m searching for something Thai-related.

The US is generally ahead of the rest of the world by 3-4 years when it comes to online, and that means that US Online brands are also more developed. What works well in the US doesn’t always translate very well to ROW.

Rgds and thanks for the good conversation!
Richard

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Nick October 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

Richard,

I think you’re spot on. The U.S. is roughly 3-4 years ahead of most international markets and in some cases I would even say 5. It is much harder to gain page 1 rankings for brand terms on Google’s U.S. index than it is in say India or Japan. As for domain crowding it is still pretty bad among the international indexes I work in, but has at least been improved in the U.S. to the extent that it is no longer as bad as it was in June to the extent that many people felt the SERP’s were broken.

As you’ve mentioned though I still find this to be the case in many of G’s international indices… to the extent that for some large brand terms I have had as many as 36 results from the same domain in the first 4 SERP’s.

I completely agree that strategies in the U.S. do not always hold up in the rest of the world, it takes a lot of testing (and failure) to find sustainable solutions to build rankings in each individual index.

Thanks a lot for the conversation and best regards,
Nick

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Jeremy McDonald October 4, 2012 at 4:31 am

Hey Nick,

This really is a great post. It’s find it hard to convince clients’ that sometimes their page isn’t worthy of page 1. When they want to rank for a term that isn’t relevant and potentially not directly related.

I’m also going to use this as a reference for new SEO’s. The ROI from building a ranking landing page, with thought about, user driven content is definitely worth the time and effort taken. Just need to get this across to more clients….

Thanks Again

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Nick October 4, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hey Jeremy – Thanks for the comment.

Client education and especially expectation management is probably the hardest part of the job for any SEO. Mackenzie Fogelson wrote an a great post on SEOmoz about her process for educating clients that I think can be used as a reference for any SEO trying to take steps to properly educate their clients to set realistic goals.

Thanks again for contributing to the conversation. Cheers!

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herrb October 4, 2012 at 11:25 am

But what if you are more relevant and you have good content. I specialize in clothes for premature & newborn babies. I carry nothing else. Right now big brands like Walmart who sells everything from toilet paper to screw drives is often above me.Stores like Sears and KMart heave all the tops spots. Then there is Carter’s and Kohl’s, sure they sell a couple of items of preemie clothes, but not anywhere close to what I have, yet they take positions above me. Is there no place for the specialty shops anymore?

I try to keep my content clean and to do as asked, but I just can’t see how I can ever get around the big brands. I am exhausted trying to keep up with what Google wants. I had a passion for these little babies born early, but Google is making it drudgery because all I do is beat my head against a wall trying to get myself into position of where I am found. I am trying to make a living, does Google care about the little guy anymore??

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Kris October 4, 2012 at 11:37 am

Herrb, do you have a brand? Also are all the top spots brands? You’re mentioning kmart, sears etc.

Also it seems they might be carrying with them some authority that you might not have? Maybe this might help…

Build your authority through branding on content that is relevant to your products?

Outsmart them. Are there forums for ‘preemie’ babies? Are there sites out there that help parents with premature babies? Go teach them something and brand yourself. You’ll probably get sales from it for 1. However you’ll also get links and the right kind of links you want? Niche relevant, that have traffic and can pass authority?

I’m not saying my advice is the best or is fool proof, its just one idea or a couple i’m throwing out there to help you :) I’m sure others will let you know if i’m wrong or if there is a better way.

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herrb October 4, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Kris, I have done that. People have written me up on countless preemie and newborn blogs and websites. People post about my website on all kinds of forums. There are only so many places that I can post about prematurity. But in the world of prematurity I am known, it’s a small world and niche but I am known.

Before Google did it’s thing at the beginning of this year, I was in position 5 page 1 under newborn clothes. Now I can’t even bare to look, I think I am on page 4 or 5, which means I might as well be on page 100. I was up front with all the little specialty boutiques, who specialized in clothing for babies. Now all of us have been replaced with the big brands.

I can never possibly compete with the size of Walmart’s website, not ever, ever. Where did the days of wanting to take people to quality sites that had what they were looking for go? Most everyone knows where Walmart is and they don’t have the kind of clothes that I specialize in. Neither does Carter’s, Toys R Us or any of them.

I have links, and I try so hard to find every little nook where I might be relevant, but none of it is enough. Not if I am being compared to Walmart, who includes in their analysis by Google includes the millions of backlinks going to the toilet paper, screw drivers, and a couple links going to preemie clothes. It’s insanity! I’m frustrated, can you tell?

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Devin Concannon October 9, 2012 at 9:14 am

Great post Nick. This reminds me of something that Brian Cosgrove over at TPG is always saying. Basically “Is your page the best source of information on the web for that topic?” We get so caught up in link building and algo changes that we often forget the “content is king” mantra that’s been thrown about over the last couple of years. This certainly has me looking at some of my pages and asking myself tough questions.

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Nick November 14, 2012 at 10:15 am

Herrb – I feel your pain. There’s virtually no room to compete in the SERP’s when the big guys can wave their hand and throw a half million dollars at the problem.

However, I believe Kris is onto something. I think if you take a holistic look from a large (think enterprise) content strategy perspective, you will begin to identify holes in the content that is available; places where you can shoehorn in your brand.

Another important point to consider is if you had the rankings, and took a dip of several pages (not just several rankings) you were doing something(s) that G didn’t approve of… have you taken any steps to diagnose these issues?

Furthermore, if you build a community around your brand, to the extent that you are offering stories, advice, and genuine help to your audience you don’t have to compete with the big dogs, you will have your own community of advocates (and potential customers) that will rally around your brand and more so, your cause.

In my experience the power of a network (or community if you will) far outweighs that of purely links and content. Connect with your audience, help your stakeholders (people who have and care about preemies) and the links and rankings will come.

Please feel free to send me your website, I’d love to take a look and see if I can provide you with any useful insight.

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Kris November 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Herrb, if you are ok with it you can send it to me too and I’ll take a look aswell :)

Nick if he is ok can you email me at this address? I’m on twitter too.

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tai game mien phi May 26, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Thanks for sharing this article with me, Nick. I’m struggling with fully understanding how Do You Deserve A First Page Ranking. I’m going to look around your site for some answers.

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webinar express June 2, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Hi Nick!
Really nice post. with the help of this article i now deserve the 1st page on google.
this was helpful, thanks!

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Spook SEO December 2, 2013 at 11:38 am

Well defined Nick. In everything that we do, it’s either we swing high or we swing low. If we want to make it to the top of the SERP we have look beyond the features of our product. We have to know the what and how it will benefit them – after all they buy products by what it can benefit them…makes them happy.

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Spook SEO December 6, 2013 at 10:56 am

Hi Nick,

Nice blog post title! Of course, everybody wants to be first on the page rankings. That’s the objective of every webmasters, SEOs and marketing czars.

The follow-up questions that should be answered are the following:

How to do it? When will be the expected time to get the results?  

We do all sorts of tests and still needs to keep on with Google’s updates. As marketers, we have products with specific brands to market. What exactly do we need to do to compete with the big brands? Anyway, this is a great observation. Thanks for sharing!

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Aracely January 27, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Excellent post. I was checking continuously this weblog and I’m inspired! Very useful information particularly the ultimate keyword phrase :) I handle such information a lot. I was looking for this certain information for a very long time.
Thanks and best of luck.

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