The Limitations of Search Engine Optimization

October 30, 2010 by  Filed under: SEO 

If you’ve got a website, search engine optimization (SEO) certainly seems like a sensible thing to do. And following the precepts and guidelines that tend to improve your website’s ranking is certainly a good idea-it costs virtually nothing to follow them. But search engine optimization is harder to achieve than it might first appear-and may not be worth the expense of hiring a company to do it for you.

Some companies have to appear in those coveted high positions on the first search engine results page (SERP)–why can’t they include your website? It’s possible, but (despite what most SEO companies say) you have little or no control over it.

First of all, the odds are against you–like playing the lottery. Let’s say, for example, that you have a company that offers search engine optimization services. Let’s do a Google search for the exact phrase “search engine optimization” or the abbreviation “SEO” and the word “company” or “agency” or “firm” or “services” on a website with a top-level domain of COM. How many results? About fifty million! (Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are really about fifty million search engine optimization companies in the US–this is just a count of pages, not sites. Some sites may have many pages that fit the search criteria, and some pages may match the search without being on the website of such a company.) But even if only one percent of the search results represent unique companies offering SEO services, that’s still about half a million US companies. And they should all land at the top of the results–after all, they’re all presumably experts. But wait a minute–that’s impossible!

By default, Google lists no more than ten natural results per page, and virtually no one changes that default setting or looks past the first three pages (in fact, most people don’t even look past the first page). So, all things being equal (which, of course, they’re not), the probability of your website appearing in the first thirty results of most searches is effectively zero.

SEO is heavily oriented toward e-commerce–despite the fact that, according to the Open Directory Project (, e-commerce (“shopping”) only accounts for about three and a half percent of all websites in the US.

Although it’s reported that more and more people are using search engines even to find their most important service providers–for example, doctors, dentists, psychologists, and tradespeople such as contractors, plumbers, and painters–most people still don’t. Do you? Most people still rely instead on recommendations from people they trust-resorting to a Web search only if they don’t get any personal recommendations. Of course, once they have a referral, they may use search to locate a name that was recommended to them, but they’re likely to ignore all the results but the one they’re looking for.

And what if you or your company offers a service that your target market hasn’t yet heard of or realizes that it needs? What if your prospects aren’t searching for it at all?

Given these realities–that the overwhelming majority websites can’t land at the top of search results; that most people still rely on personal referrals for many of the services they use; and that most people only use search when they know that they’re looking for the product or service being offered–the vast majority of businesses with websites rely on those websites to support marketing efforts of other kinds-personal referrals, public speaking, networking, business alliances, advertising, and so on. The website serves to add credibility and information about a business that the visitor has already heard about through other channels.

It’s undoubtedly worthwhile to do what you can to improve your positioning in search results–after all, it couldn’t hurt–but if your business doesn’t depend on being found as a result of a search, you’re better off spending your attention elsewhere.

Peter Kassan is the Principal of The Effective Website (, which provides a variety of services ( to evaluate and improve the effectiveness and usability of your existing or planned website.

Peter has decades of business and technical experience in the fields of software products, websites, writing, and usability. As the President & CEO of Wink International, a unique web-based business that repurposed websites to produce on-demand printed booklets, he analyzed literally hundreds of websites, as well as overseeing the design and implementation of Wink’s own website and writing its content.

As Executive Vice President of Isogon Corporation, a privately held software products company that was sold to IBM, he was involved in virtually every aspect of the company.

Earlier in his career, he was the manager of technical writing for several software products companies, and served as a programmer, systems analyst, and technical writer. He holds a BA in mathematics and is the author or co-author of several software patents.

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Peter Kassan - EzineArticles Expert Author

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