Ask most businesses what SEO success would look like to them and they'll likely tell you it would be a number one search ranking on Google for their keywords.
That's not a bad answer, but it's one I would challenge for a number of reasons.
The first is that search results can differ greatly by location, device, and user history. so, you can't really know whether you're always of the front of the line.
And second, a top search ranking doesn't necessarily mean you're getting the right kind of traffic. That's particularly true if you manipulate your messaging in an attempt to trick more visitors into arriving at your site.
Lately, I've added a third objection to that goal: because it might be possible to do better than a number one ranking...
Introducing Search Position "0"
Zero comes before one mathematically, and within Google's search engine listings, too. In fact, you probably look at a result that's in position zero on more than a third of your searches, even if you don't realize it.
This happens when Google suggests an answer - atop the actual search engine results - when it thinks it understands what you want to know.
For an example of this, try typing "what's the weather like in my city today?" into a search box, or using a Google voice-enabled app.
You'll almost certainly get an answer that doesn't point you to a website - instead, you'll get the information directly.
Google's algorithm features these kinds of results for thousands of different search strings, using natural language identifiers to separate questions that can be easily answered from traditional website requests.
How to Lock up the Real First Search Position
It's not difficult to see why there might be value in sitting atop search rankings by occupying position zero. Not only will your information be displayed before all the other results, but you'll get a bigger content preview than is available through a standard meta description.
So, how do you go about getting Google to put you in that spot?
The first thing you have to do is anticipate the kinds of questions your customers are likely to ask. What's something you would want to know if you were shopping for a product or service like the one you offer? How would you phrase it - particularly if you didn't necessarily have the kind of industry knowledge an insider or expert buyer might?
When you've made a list of those queries, you could add webpages or blog posts to your site that address them directly. Assuming you have several exact or near phrase matches, Google might crawl your page and display your info as an answer to a common search string.
Alan Biweise, a well regarded SEO expert, recently shared with me that earning visibility in Rich Cards and Carousels depends on a number of factors. Primarily: 1. Structured Markup language; 2. High overall quality, relevance and trust for the site specific to searcher intent.
Make Your Website Relevant and Authoritative
There's some evidence to suggest that Google will only draw quick answers from websites it trusts, so you should look for ways to make your site more relevant (within the context of your industry) and an authoritative source of information.
You can do that by providing lots of long tail content, of course, but also through the use of citations and other trust markers.
For example, if you're the author of several books, you may want to list this on your bio and reinforce it in your pages.
Likewise, it's going to help if you have a lot of visitor engagement with your pages, and if your site is free of obvious errors (like misspellings, broken links, and slow hosting).
Additionally, recognize that many natural language searches originate from mobile devices. There are already lots of reasons to invest in responsive web design if you haven't already, so this is just one more reminder that companies need to get with the times if they want to be visible on search engines in any way, shape, or form.
Making the Most of Search Position "0"
Before I wrap up, I should point out that there isn't always, necessarily, going to be any marketing advantage to holding down position zero on Google's listings. Using the earlier example of weather, being a trusted source for that kind of information wouldn't help my company in any discernible way.
However, there are a few details in here I don't want you to overlook.
The first is that many searchers are going to click on that link, even if the information they're looking for is displayed in a preview. Habit, or desire for more details, can lead them to your website.
Next, you could make an argument that showing up more often on Google's listings is always going to be good for credibility in traffic to your website. Even though somebody might not visit your pages right now, they could be more inclined to do so in the future if they've already seen your name a few times.
And finally, I've noticed that the websites with blurbs displayed in search position zero, also show up within the first two or three organic rankings. So, the things you do to attract searchers in that spot are going to help bring business to your website through all the normally established channels, too.
Most marketers never even think about the search position that comes before all others. Why not start building more search optimized content into your website so you can cut in line ahead of competitors?
This post originally appeared on the KAYAK Online Marketing blog.