Should You Try To Beat the No. 1 Listing in the Organic Search Results?

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When developing a long-term SEO strategy, should you focus on beating the organic listing just above you in the search results? Or should you aim to beat the No. 1 listing?

Those are good questions — I say the answer is “neither.”

In this article, I will explain:

Who Is the Real Competition?

Who is the true competition in the search results? Is it the listing just above you or the No. 1 position? I can see the argument for both.

However, focusing simply on one listing is too narrow of a competitive strategy. You want to look at the whole search engine result page (SERP) as a case study for what you should be doing.

And, as you are doing this, keep in mind that not every listing is going to be your actual competition in the sense that it is the “picture perfect” webpage that you should aspire to.

As outlined in our Competitive Research SEO guide, consider that there may be certain results that you cannot usually compete against. This includes things like a .gov website, a Wikipedia page, or a direct answer from Google.

Does this still make them your competition? Technically, yes. However, not in the same way as you might treat the other results on the SERP.

Now, let’s say, on the other hand, that you see one site ranking on top for all or most of your important keywords. This is a clue to dig deeper into this particular website.

In general, though, you can consider everything on Page 1 as your competition. And this includes other results, too – like video and images.

Taking a whole-SERP approach to your SEO strategy widens the playing field and gives you more chances to compete.

What the Search Results Can Tell You About Ranking

If you were to focus only on one search result to beat (like the listing ranking above you or the No. 1 listing), you would be missing the mark.

Not to mention the fact that algorithm updates can completely wipe out websites from the search results. If you were looking at just one listing as your competition, and an algorithm update wiped them out, you may be wiped out, too.

Here are a couple of ways to look at the search results for your SEO strategy:

Intent: The search results reveal what kind of webpages and content the search engines think are most relevant to a query’s perceived user intent.

But what if a .gov website or a Wikipedia page is ranking above you in the search results? Does this mean your webpage needs to model them? Not exactly.

Still, you might glean from those results that the .gov or Wikipedia page is meeting the needs of a search in some way … so what is that way? And how can you incorporate that into your site?

Review the SERP to get a sense of what Google thinks is relevant for a search, then include elements of those things into your SEO strategy. Depending on the results, in some cases, you might decide that you are targeting the wrong keyword and change your keyword strategy.

Ranking: Page 1 of the search results is a directory of websites that have met some of the requirements of the algorithm that has been applied to one search query.

I say “some requirements” because it is impossible for any webpage to optimize its pages perfectly so that they have met all the requirements of the algorithm for any given search query.

I want to make two points:

  1. Know that none of the webpages is a perfect example.
  2. Ranking on Page 1 does not mean that every webpage delivered on the same algorithmic signals the same way.

That means you can learn a little bit from every result on the SERP, rather than just focusing on one result to beat.

How to Be Least Imperfect

OK, so we know that no one website can ever be perfectly optimized and that you can learn a lot from every result on the first page.

Now what?

The goal is to be the least imperfect compared to the competition.

Being the least imperfect means:

  • You have optimized your website as much as you possibly can to make it easy for search engines to crawl and index it.
  • Your site offers a good user experience with great content.
  • You have understood the competition for each query and implemented changes so that you are as good or better than them.

Using SEO tools will set you on the right path. For example, our SEOToolSet® and WordPress SEO plugin can uncover optimization targets based on the averages of the top-ranking websites.

Of course, you will sometimes run into situations where beating the competition seems impossible – like when you are up against a giant.

But you will make decisions about your competitive strategy based on ongoing research, analysis, and wisdom.

For more, I suggest reading:

Final Thoughts

Remember this: Appearing on Page 1 anywhere is a win. If your site is on the first page, you’ve beaten millions of other results for a particular query.

At that point, you’re in the game. Now you can begin to tweak your website and SEO strategy so that your brand perhaps ranks higher or gets more attention in the search results.

And this will be based on the information that the whole SERP reveals.

Need help jumping to the front of the line? Sign up for a free consultation today to learn more about how to beat your competition with SEO.

FAQ: Should I focus on beating the organic listing just above us or aim to beat the No. 1 listing in search results?

The short answer is “neither.”

As part of your search engine results page (SERP) analysis, you must take an omnibus view. Competition resides throughout all results on Page 1. This omnibus view gives valuable insights from various sources and allows you to tailor your SEO strategy accordingly.

Consider that not all listings on a SERP are direct competitors of your website. Google’s direct answers, Wikipedia pages, or government websites could all serve varying functions that require different approaches if they’re to rank highly in search results. Analyze why these listings rank well and include pertinent elements in your website design.

Search results analysis is an effective way of uncovering vital information regarding user intent and search rankings. By closely inspecting SERP results, it’s possible to gain invaluable insight into which types of pages or content search engines find most pertinent to a given query. Use this valuable information to fine-tune your SEO strategy so that it satisfies both user expectations as well as search engine expectations.

Search engine optimization is nearly impossible to master, as no website can fulfill all algorithmic requirements. Take lessons from all SERP listings rather than focusing on just one to beat. Apply your knowledge gained to your SEO strategies so that your efforts match or surpass those of your competitors.

Focusing exclusively on organic listings directly above you or trying to reach the top spot is not the most effective way to optimize your SEO strategy; your results may not be optimal.

Instead, adopting a holistic strategy, analyzing SERP results, and continuously optimizing your website will help ensure high search engine rankings.

Remember — Appearing on Page 1 of SERP results should always be seen as a major achievement. Using the information gleaned from all SERP results can lead to continued success and should always be leveraged as part of that achievement.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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3 Replies to “Should You Try To Beat the No. 1 Listing in the Organic Search Results?”

Very informative and useful post. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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