World Champion gymnast, Beth Tweddle, won even more medals at the weekend and was celebrating her achievements on BBC Radio Five Live this morning. But in a revealing phrase she said it is “easier to chase the champion than be the champion.” Being “Number One in the World” at anything – whether it is gymnastics or Internet success – means there are only two options available to you. The first is constantly protecting your position as young upstarts try to unseat you from your throne – in other words, loads of hard work – or, secondly, accept that the only way is downwards. Achieving the pinnacle of success is really tough – but staying there is much tougher.
Online, businesses are constantly striving to be “Number One” in the search engine rankings for a particular keyword, or they want to “dominate their niche”, or they want to be “top” of any kind of ranking you think of. People are chasing Twitter followers like crazy because they want to be top of the list for their sector, or their area. Companies are spending millions on search engine optimisation with all kinds of promises made by SEO “experts” about getting them to the “top of the rankings”. You can download endless piles of books on how to dominate any niche. Everyone, it seems, wants to be number one. But as Beth Tweddle pointed out in her interview this morning, staying at Number One is tougher than getting there.
So, which is the “Number One” search engine in the world do you think? Chances are you were shouting “Google” at your screen just then. OK, search for search engine and see who is number one. Whoops…! It’s NOT Google, but “Dogpile“. Google only manages to be third on the list. If you become rather more sneaky and search for the exact phrase “search engine” you’ll discover that Google does not even feature on the first page of results. That’s not surprising – a recent internal audit of Google’s own SEO produced a rather poor result for them. It seems that Google – in spite of advising the rest of us – is not much cop at SEO itself. Google are doing OK, aren’t they, without being Number One.
To maintain the Number One position on the search engine ranking probably takes Dogpile a bit of time and effort. Bing is hot on their heels at the Number Two slot, having only been around for a year compared with Dogpile’s 14 years online. Google, however, rakes in more cash without being Number One on its own search engine for the very business of search.
But what about Amazon? Hands up who thinks Amazon is Number One? Yes, that’s right – it is the Number One online bookseller as well as being the Number One online shoe retailer, amongst many other Number One positions. Yet Amazon is not Number One in the bookselling world. Standard book retailers are Number One, with supermarkets at Number Two. Indeed, Tesco is selling more than £2m worth of books every week and is chasing the Number One spot in book retail. Meanwhile, plodding away at Number Three, rather happily, is Amazon.
It is so much easier for Amazon to concentrate on its core business if it isn’t constantly trying to be Number One in overall bookselling. Similarly, it is so much easier for Google to fiddle with their algorithm when they aren’t busy tweaking their 172m web pages for SEO. And, likewise, it is so much easier for you to get business when you aren’t trying to be Number One in the search engines or Top of your niche. Even if you do manage to get to Number One, there is only way way – DOWN. Being at Number Two, or Number Three is a great place to be – you constantly learn and emulate the Number Ones in your world, but leave them to do all the hard work in trying to maintain their dominant position.
Currently, the world’s Most Admired Company is Apple. It’s going to be tough for them to stay there as problems with the iPad start getting reported and as rumours circulate about the possible departure of Steve Jobs, the individual credited with turning Apple around and almost single-handedly making it the company it is today. With worries about no real follow-up to the iPad and a leader who is likely to leave soon, Apple will need to produce several metaphorical rabbits from hats in order to stay at Number One. How they wish they were the Number Two Admired Company – oh, sorry, that’s Google…!
So, what does this all mean for someone running a small business online? It means avoid putting significant efforts in trying to be top of the search engines, or number one in your niche or the best in your sector. Instead, settling for second is usually an excellent place to be; it is much less effort and often more profitable than struggling constantly to stay at number one.
And if you think that’s not true, just consider other words for “Number One”. An example is “premier”. And who is the current British Premier. Oh yes, that’s dear old Gordon Brown. Don’t tell me he isn’t struggling to be in that Number One slot – find out tomorrow…!
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+