We're Number 1I’ve been doing online marketing, internet marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) – whatever you want to call it – for a long time now. It seems like it’s just a part of me to think about how websites affect the search engines, like Google, and how well those websites work for their business owners.

I’ve also been providing SEO training in my workshops for several years now. Any time someone talks to me about their website or their online goals, they all want to be #1 on Google for something. Many times it’s several keywords. Fair enough. That’s what everyone wants. When I wrote why keyword research is so important, people even want to be #1 for unrealistic one-word phrases too.

Whenever I teach beginner SEO workshops or advanced SEO classes, I always ask the participants one question: “What’s the most important page on your website to optimize for the search engines?” Invariably, many of the students say, “The Home page of course.” Then I ask, “Are you sure?” They just look at me like I’m a dummy.

Actually, the Home page is the last page I’m interested in optimizing, because it’s too generic. It doesn’t have much content nor does it speak to the searchers’ desires. It doesn’t address their needs. I tell them instead, “The most important page for you to optimize is the page that they want to find, which is NOT your Home page.” In other words, ALL pages are the most important page to optimize.

There Really is No “Page One” on Google Anymore

As I write this, I’m sitting on the plane coming back from Toronto where I attended a global conference with digital marketers from around the world. One of the speakers said something that struck me: “There is no page one on Google.”

Let me repeat that simple statement: There is no page one on Google.

This is profound, and it’s absolutely true. This fundamentally changes the way we think about Google and SEO. It used to be that there was one “winner”, and everyone else was second place for a phrase. Or it was good enough to be in the top five positions on Google (above the fold), or on page one of Google.

I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms, even though I fully understand that the search results are very fluid now.

Raise your hand if you have any Google account whatsoever. Gmail? Probably. YouTube? Yep. Google Analytics, Google+, Google Webmaster Tools? I could go on.

If you are logged into any of your Google accounts when you do a search, Google is quietly watching and collecting your data. What do you click on? What do you bounce back from? What do you interact with and +1? Google is amassing a history and building a persona of each and everyone of us. Some people think this is bad or “Big Brother”. Why would they do such a thing?

Simple: They can deliver relevant results to any search we do, because they know who we are and what we like or don’t like. Their job is to cut out all the meaningless crap that’s on the internet, and deliver exactly what we want.

Where Did Page One Go?

So what does this have to do with page one of Google?

As an internet marketer, it means that you can no longer reliably predict where your search results will be when someone does a search. Maybe you show up, maybe you don’t. It’s no longer about keywords and getting optimized for that phrase. Position reports are meaningless and not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Google is rearranging the search results that they display to YOU, based upon your history, and what they know of you personally.

You can’t even reliably see if you’re showing up on the search engines, because doing the search from your own computer has your own history built into it, and well, it’s a biased search. You’ve polluted your own data.

By the way, logging out doesn’t really help either. Don’t forget you have your browser history too, as well as all the searches you’ve done from your IP address, even if you go incognito on Chrome.

This means that there is no page one of Google any more, because you and I and everyone else has their own personal history of likes, dislikes, favorites, and so on. Google is going to give each of us different results from each other, every time we do a search. As marketers, it also means we have to create great content on every subject, and cannot predictably determine the results we’ll get from that content.

And that, my friends, will be some more fodder for the next post.