There aren't many ways a business could appear at the top of Google without paying. Whether in time or revenue, the investment will likely need to be made.
With that being said, there are low-cost options which could help you rank higher in Google. I'll cover them below.
Both are great strategies to consider. Both have their pros and cons (as with any marketing strategy). Both will require an investment.
The top positions of Google are sought after by millions of businesses across the world.
These kinds of rankings can be crucial to driving traffic, revenue and conversions. Depending on how competitive a keyword is will determine how easy (or hard) it is to appear at the top of Google.
You'll need to understand what kind of keywords you're trying to rank for. If you're trying to rank for highly competitive terms, it's very unlikely you'll get to the top of Google without paying. Or, if you do, it won't last very long before a company with a bigger budget comes and takes away your position.
Here are a few considerations that overlap both SEO and Google Ads.
The fast way is to pay for ads. These ads are run through Google's own platforms and there's a number of ways to run paid campaigns through Google.
The list goes on. These platforms require money in before you can begin appearing at the top of a results page. These type of campaigns can prove to be costly in the long run due to the constant need to spend budget on your target keywords to rank them. Google Ads are also built on a bidding system which means if your competitors have bigger budgets than you do, you're going to have a hard time appearing higher than them in Google.
The alternative is SEO. SEO is a longer-term solution but can sustain higher rankings in Google for longer. Often times with a smaller budget. Again, this is highly dependent on the industry your business operates in.
SEO will still require a budget at some point. Whether that's for content, PR or consultancy. However, the cost vs return over a period of months begins to level. This means once a business ranks in the top 3 positions in Google, you may consider allocating budget to another area of the site.
Whereas with PPC, your budget has to be spent on every keyword you want to keep at the top of Google for the entire duration that it makes commercial sense. SEO can be built to have a strong foundation and then maintained for a relatively low-cost in comparison with PPC or Google Ads.
If you want to rank higher in Google without paying - with money - you'll always end up paying in time. You'll have to learn these methods of ranking which can take years to achieve.
Meaning you end up paying with your time. It's important to remember that Google is a landscape for business promotion and competition. You wouldn't be able to build a brick and mortar business without costs and investment. The same applies to online marketing.
Your website is an asset. You should invest in that asset in the best way you can. Whether that's through content, outreach, PR, Google reviews or sheer hard work driving people to your website through places like Facebook or Twitter.
Like I mentioned above, ranking at the top of Google is extremely competitive for certain keywords. Without understanding where your customers are in their journey, means you're unable to successfully target the correct type of keywords. For example, a head keyword (things like 'SEO' or 'digital marketing') is going to be extremely difficult to rank for.
Not only that, but these results are normally reserved for companies with huge budgets. If you want to appear at the top of Google for phrases like this, then the budget is an absolute must. However, if your customers are using Google search for longer-tail queries or keywords, then you have an opportunity to rank your website highly without having to pay.
Phrases that are smaller volume but are more specific to a particular question (like this post for example) are usually less competitive and thus, easier to appear higher in Google without having to pay.
SEO success isn't a button you press and it magically generates you thousands of new visits from Google. It's a long-term strategy. The same applies to PPC. If you stop bidding on your keywords, your rankings drop. So, no matter which approach you go with, there will always be the need to sustain the strategy. Either through time or money.
If, for example, if you want to stay at the top of Google for one day a month, you're going to spend less (PPC) than if you wanted to compete for an entire month, your spend would reflect that. If you want to rank at the top for months or even years, then you need to have a content strategy focused around low-competition keywords that take a time investment; rather than financial.
This is a question most people should ask themselves before committing to either an SEO or PPC strategy.
If you're trying to rank at the top of Google without paying, you'll likely need to understand enough about the complexities of search engines to do so. Unfortunately, PPC is out of the question here. You'll always have to spend money (even if it's low). But with SEO, if you want to take the time to learn more about Google, how rankings work and how to optimise a website, it can be achievable.
However, getting it wrong can be costly. As with anything to do with online marketing or business, it comes with risks to people who don't understand what they're doing as much as a professional SEO might.
This is mainly aimed toward organic rankings. Are you familiar enough with crawling, indexing, rendering and ranking? Google has hundreds of ranking factors that even some of the top SEOs in the world don't know. We're not even sure if Google knows themselves what goes into their algorithms. Which is what makes SEO so damn tricky!
If you're familiar with website functionality, you could have a chance. If you don't, you run the risk of doing more harm than you do good.
Your website is your shop front. Your site structure, your landing pages, site speed and content all play a huge role in keeping your users (and Google) happy. There are common techniques to improving how your site performs (think technical SEO, CRO and UX) but again, they all require experience or a professional.
These aren't things you can learn in 24 hours and then hope to rank at the top of Google without actually putting anything into practice! I think the best thing to remember about Google is that it all takes a lot of patience!
If you want a real chance of being able to rank your website higher in Google without paying, then you need to consider SEO as your only option. It's the only feasible technique of ranking at the top without paying. As an SEO consultant, I have years of experience helping businesses achieve organic success; some with incredibly low budgets.
I'd be happy to review your SEO strategy or talk you through how Google works. You can book a free 15-minute consultation with me (using the button above) and use that time to ask me any questions about Google, your website, your SEO or anything else related to improving your rankings.
I would always recommend checking with someone first before you commit to anything. A free 15-minute chat could save you a lot of headaches in the future, trust me!