In 2018, Google recorded $116.381 billion in advertising revenues. A chunk of that revenue was spent by companies targeting their competitors.  Zendesk is a great example of how to punk a competitors Google ad spend.  The Google advertising and search game has changed dramatically over the past few years.  This post will go through the key elements of these changes and how they can impact your B2B demand generation efforts.

Zendesk Alternatives

One common Google Adwords tactic is to target your competitors’ branded keywords.  Zendesk, the SaaS helpdesk solutions provider, found a creative way to deal with their competitors who were targeting the search term “Zendesk alternatives”.  To begin with, Zendesk’s competitors were willing to spend a fair amount of money for each time someone searched for “Zendesk alteratives”:

Zendesk alternative google bid cost

Zendesk alternative was a fairly low volume search term, but some firm was willing to pay up to $30.00/click to win that battle.  Rather than getting in a bidding war, Zendesk came up with an interesting strategy:

“They’ve got plenty of competitors and often people search for “Zendesk alternatives” if they’ve already tried Zendesk and didn’t like something. Noticing the traffic that goes to their competitors from keywords “Zendesk alternatives” and wishing the users would give Zendesk another chance, the company came up with a brilliant idea. They created a website for a made-up alt-rock band called Zendesk Alternative. In the band’s description, there are lines such as “On the surface, it’s a collection of songs about customer service. Underneath, it’s about so much more.”


If you search for “Zendesk alternative” today you will probably see something like this:

Google zendesk alternative

Zendesk created a small website for a fictitious alternative music band named Zendesk Alterative.  It is a simple four page website, but is highly search engine optimized.  It is consistently the number one organic ranked site for the search term “Zendesk alteratives”.  This strategy enables Zendesk to recapture people who are searching for Zendesk alternatives at practically zero cost that Freshdesk or Slack are spending to try and capture the same traffic.

Google Search Game Has Changed

Getting your website organically ranked high on Google has changed.  Consider three versions of Google Search Results Pages from 2001, 2016, 1nd 2019:

Google SERP 2001

Google serp 2001

Google SERP 2016

google serp 2016


Google SERP 2019

google serp 2019

What are the Takeaways?

There are a few key takeaways from the evolution of the Google algorithms:

  • Google is focused on ensuring it gives users the search results they are looking for. 
  • At most, there are nine organic search results listed on page 1, but there are up to six paid ads. If you want your content to appear near the top of Google search results, you are going to have to pay for the privilege.
  • Additional Google features like Knowledge Boxes, Featured Snippets, Numbered Lists, & Bulleted Lists can all decrease the number of organic searches showing up on page 1
  • These changes Google makes help to keep users on Google properties longer so that more ads can be delivered.

Keywords Are Important

High keyword rankings translate into significant click-thrus and traffic :

Google CTR by SERP position

Being ranked #1, #2, or #3 will drive tremendous traffic – ranking lower than #20 and your content is basically unnoticed.

Keywords are an important part of Google’s ranking algorithm.  Keywords can be divided into a few buckets:

Google Keyword Search Demand Curve

But It Is More Than Just Keywords

There are a lot of other factors that Google considers when ranking your pages.  The Google algorithm is constantly evolving.  Google will sometimes announce that a change has occurred, but rarely goes into the details of why or specifically what has changed.  Google updates its algorithms a couple of times a year.  In 2018 they had five updates, in 2017 they had ten.  For a detailed review of the history of Google’s algorithm changes check out History of Google Algorithm Updates from the Search Engine Journal.  The ranking factors can be sorted into the following ten groups:

  1. Domain Factors
  2. Page-level factors
  3. Site-level factors
  4. Backlink factors
  5. User interaction factors
  6. Special algorithm rules
  7. Social signals
  8. Brand signals
  9. On-site webspam factors
  10. Off-page webspam factors

A great infographic on The Enterpreneur – A Look at Google’s 200 Search Ranking Factors goes into detail about the 200 factors.

For example, here is a list of the 48 factors Google uses to rank a page:

  1. Keyword in Title Tag
  2. Title Tag Starts with keyword
  3. Keyword in description tag
  4. Keyword appears in H1 tag
  5. Keyword is most frequently used phrase in document
  6. Content length
  7. Latent semantic indexing keywords in content (LSI)
  8. LSI keywords in title and description tags
  9. Page loading speed via HTML
  10. Duplicate content
  11. Rel-canonical
  12. Page loading speed via Chrome
  13. Image optimization
  14. Recency of content updates
  15. Historical updates / page updates
  16. Keyword prominence
  17. Keyword in H2 H3 tags
  18. Keyword word order
  19. Ooutbound link quality
  20. Outbound link theme
  21. Grammar and spelling
  22. Syndicated content
  23. Helpful supplemental content
  24. Number of outbound links
  25. Multimedia
  26. Number of internal links pointing to page
  27. Quality of internal links pointing to page
  28. Broken links
  29. Reading level
  30. Affiliate links
  31. HTML errors / WC3 validation
  32. Page hosts domain authority
  33. Page’s pagerank
  34. URL length
  35. URL path
  36. Human editors
  37. Page category
  38. WordPress tags
  39. Keyword in URL
  40. URL String
  41. References and Sources
  42. Bullets and numbered lists
  43. Priority of page in sitemap
  44. Too many outbound links
  45. Quantity of other keywords page ranks for
  46. Page age
  47. User friendly layout
  48. Parked domains

What Is the Magic Bullet?

There are no magic bullets for achieving high Google search rankings.  You can either spend what it takes to be one of the top three ads shown for a search term, or write highly optimized content and hope for the best.  There are over 80 million results for the search “How to rank #1 on Google”. 99.999% of these results are basically scams that optimize for a few things that may give you a temporary bump in rankings, but Google’s ever efficient algorithms will take you down eventually.  Perhaps the best strategy is to be like Zendesk and be highly creative in building attractive content that is relevant to what people are searching for.

There are some basic things you can do to marginally improve the search ranking of your content. These are not magic bullets, but traditional SEO best practices. These tactics include:

  • Increase number & frequency of posts
  • Explicitly target keywords where you could end up ranking in top 20
  • Apply basic SEO best practices
    • Keyword(s) in title
    • Keyword(s) in URL
    • Keyword(s) in post meta content tag
    • Keywords in first paragraph
    • H1 & H2 title tags. 
    • Keyword in 1/3rd H2 tags
    • All images have alt text, keyword in 1/3rd of alt text descriptions
    • Keyword/synonym density in text – 0.5% to 1.5%
  • Constantly review Google Search Console to see what searches are actually driving search impressions and click thrus.

I have applied these principles and achieved some modest success on this blog, as shown in its Google Search Console results:

DevelopmentCorporate Search Console Results

By John Mecke

John is a 25 year veteran of the enterprise technology market. He has led six global product management organizations for three public companies and three private equity-backed firms. He played a key role in delivering a $115 million dividend for his private equity backers – a 2.8x return in less than three years. He has led five acquisitions for a total consideration of over $175 million. He has led eight divestitures for a total consideration of $24.5 million in cash. John regularly blogs about product management and mergers/acquisitions.