Success in Google and the like is something which now materially affects the commercial success of an organisation.

However, the ‘why am I not higher in Google?’ question, so often asked, is not one to which a short answer can be provided – not least of all because of the many factors involved in getting good search results.

What often surprises companies that I talk to is that they are often higher in the rankings than they think they are. The key reason for this is that most people, when they are testing their own website’s rankings, use significantly different search strings than they would if they were actually searching for a site.

So, it’s not unusual to hear people say “I’m nowhere on Google” but find that they are trying to get to page one in the SERPs for the widest possible search term – for example, ‘Microsoft training’. Well, for that search term you are competing with a staggering 144,000,000 pages (just count those zeros) – and what’s more, you are never, ever in a million years going to better (for example) Microsoft’s own website when it comes to that particular search term.

But actually, that’s not how people generally search. Most people are aware that their search needs to be slightly more specific – perhaps ‘Microsoft SQL Server training in Leeds’. This ‘long-tail’ search is where you can score more highly, providing the content on your pages is suitably optimised. And believe me, these are the searches that matter.

So, when sitting down with a panicking organisation, I often find that actually their website ranks quite highly – not necessarily for those ideal long-tail searches (usually because no thought has been put into optimising the site to capture those) but for comparable, less competitive long-tail searches.

(Of course, we’ll set aside for now those sites that simply can’t get properly ranked because of the way they have been designed – that’s another story.)

A little research and effort will establish exactly how well a site is indexed and how well it could potentially rank if the content were suitably optimised. From then, it’s really just a logical process of understanding what the most important long-tail searches are and weaving those into the content. It may take a little while, but the results are often more achievable than the company believed possible – because the situation wasn’t as black as they originally thought.

It’s not that a site doesn’t have a search engine problem – but often that the problem is not the one which was initially identified. Understanding the problem correctly is essential in formulating the solution.