Matt Cutts: It’s a fair question. I think one thing you can do is send people to the page we have on Google about search engine optimizers and how to find a good search engine optimizer because I think we say directly no one can guarantee a number 1 ranking on Google. So you can say, “Right from the horses mouth, right from Google, no one can guarantee a number one ranking.”
The fact is that if you’re like a plumber you probably don’t want to rank number one for plumber because you’ll get calls from across the world and across the United States where you don’t even serve. You probably want to rank number one for the plumbing in Sunnyvale California or the specific city that you are interested in.
And the fact is that, can you rank my site number one on Google often leads to people doing slightly deceptive stuff. I could probably rank number one very easily for “Change my default printer on Firefox using Lennox Ubuntu” right? That’s a very long-tail phrase. Not many people are using all those different words so it’s not that hard to rank number one for.
So a few SEOs get into the mood where they say yes we’ll rank you for number one and it will be for a five-word exact phrase with very strange obscure words. And some people are like, “Oh I’m going to rank number one” and they don’t stop to think about are those the phrases they want to rank for.
It’s much better to rank number three, four, or five for a phrase that converts well, gets a reasonable amount of traffic, and is relatively targeted to what you’re interested in, compared to completely off topic stuff.
And I’d be happy to tell people that a lot of times if you’re a client of an SEO you don’t have the intuition to say what’s going to be the phrase that converts well? What are going to be the phrases that have buying intent? What are the phrases that you really should pay attention to as compared to the trophy phrases that you think you want to rank for?
So search engine optimizers have to deal with this a lot. If I had to say any one thing I would say look, don’t focus on ranking number one, especially if it’s a phrase that’s not going to be all that useful. Look for results that will stand the test of time. Look for building a great site, and then you can build into the results you really care about. And as a fall back feel free to point them to that Google page on search engine optimization, and then they can read Google saying the exact same stuff themselves.