It’s a fair question. I think one thing you can do is send people to the page that 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 one ranking on Google. So, you can say, right from the horse’s mouth, right from Google.
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, you know, Sunnyvale, California, or the specific city that you’re interested in.
And the fact is that: Can you rank my site number one on Google? That question 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 number one, and it’ll 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 that they want to rank for.
It’s much better to rank number four, or five for a phrase that converts well
For a phrase that 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 usable. Look for results that will stand the test of time. Look for building a great site, and then you can build into the results that you really care about. And as a fallback, 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.
by Matt Cutts - Google's Head of Search Quality Team