Every company wants to rank on the first page of Google.
The problem is, Google doesn’t really prioritize the “best” companies, or the “best” products. The search engine (and a phenomenally powerful one at that) prioritizes businesses who have budgets. If you have the money to hire someone to write really great content for your site, you’ll rank well. If you have the money to buy backlinks and Google Adwords, you’ll rank well. If you have the money to optimize your website, and keep things updated every year or two as Google’s algorithms continue to change, you’ll rank well.
And if you don’t, well, you’re out of luck.
For example, if you are searching Google for Airbnb, the very first thing you’re going to see is an ad for Airbnb. The second thing you’ll see is an organic link to the website for Airbnb—and that’s happening across the board in every market and industry in the world. Even the biggest companies are paying to be listed, even when you are specifically searching for them.
Money always comes first on Google.
My personal belief is that more companies deserve a fighting chance at being discovered by prospective customers. Platforms like Product Hunt are helping do this by democratizing consumer products. And our hope is to do the same for enterprise software products with Clearfind. But the reality is, Google is still responsible for driving the vast majority of search intent on the internet—and right now, it’s not the best products or newest innovations that end up being seen and heard.
It’s the industry incumbents who have been around for so long, and accumulated such a large amount of “digital real estate,” that competing with their marketing and messaging becomes an incredibly difficult battle.
To help you understand why, here are 4 big reasons mediocre products end up ranking on the first page of Google, and really great products end up failing.
1. Some of the biggest directories on the internet are actually “pay to play.”
One of the most popular visibility strategies on the internet is to have your company or product listed on credible, industry-related websites.
Sites like Capterra and G2 have built entire businesses around the desire for your company’s listings to rank higher than others—and if you don’t spend enough money, then you won’t rank in any sort of meaningful way. It’s an extremely controversial business model, but it’s the way of the world right now.
For companies with big budgets, this isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s an advantage, in the sense that they don’t really need to hire, train, and deploy meaningful resources toward building any sort of assets or executing any creative marketing. All they need to do is purchase listings on these directories. For other companies, especially startups or bootstrapped businesses, these directories aren’t even part of the equation. They don’t have the means to compete—and so they usually opt to deploy their resources elsewhere.
As a result, older and longer-standing businesses and products usually remain at the top of these directories, which also spills over into Google search results.
2. Paid lists on high-ranking websites with better SEO.
If you’ve ever found yourself reading a “Top 10” list on Google, there’s a good chance that one, multiple, or all of the companies on that list paid to be there.
This is a popular PR and content marketing strategy: linking newer companies and products to older, more established companies and products to provide instant credibility. For example, if you were to google enterprise accounting software and land on an article titled, “10 Best Enterprise Accounting Tools in 2020,” chances are someone on the list pays to be attached to that specific search term.
The way many of these articles end up ranking is largely a result of SEO budgets. If a company has 3x the budget of their competitor to spend acquiring backlinks meaning other websites link to your content, validating to Google that your site is “the most credible” source of information), their footprint is going to grow dramatically larger, faster. And eventually, nearly every search term that could be associated with a certain industry will lead customers to the same company and content over and over again.
3. Broad search results favor incumbents.
If you are searching for a company by name, chances are, you’ll find what you’re looking for—regardless of how big or small the company is.
The reason is because a big part of Google’s algorithm measures search intent. And if you’re searching for a company by name, then Google knows to present that exact company to you, first. (Some savvy competitors know this, so they actually buy Google Adwords and target their competitors’ names.)
However, unless you know exactly what company or product you’re looking for, you are probably going to find yourself searching more broad industry keywords and looking for clear markers of credibility. You’re going to click on websites you recognize, brands you’ve heard of before, and most of the time, you won’t even click beyond the first page of Google.
This is where, again, incumbents tend to dominate for quite a while—until newer startups are able to start growing and expanding their digital footprint.
4. Limited spots mean limited companies.
Ranking on the first page of Google is a competition.
And on the first page, there are only ten slots. Even the first two pages of Google, 20 slots. If you take an industry like enterprise software, there are hundreds if not thousands of products. That’s a very small amount of real estate considering the number of options there are for customers to choose from.
In particularly competitive industries, the reality of this situation is a hard pill to swallow. For example, if you’re trying to rank on the first page of Google as a life insurance company, good luck. The industry is so competitive, with so many big companies trying to outspend each other, it’s nearly impossible for any kind of new life insurance company or product to rank highly for relevant search terms without spending a ton of money.
Since Google is so heavily weighted in this way, I believe for many new companies it’s important to find ways to use different, emerging channels to cut through the noise—instead of trying to go head-to-head with these large, established companies.
That’s how you get traction, and are ultimately able to grow to a point where you can eventually compete with the established players in a meaningful way.