Case Study: Pizzas In Chicago Show Why You Might Not Need SEO

January 17, 2015

Here’s a little brainteaser for you that will illustrate why search engine optimization on your site (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) are not the only ways to get onto the first page of Google. Once you solve this you’ll quickly start to understand that when you begin to think ‘off Google,’ the huge number of opportunities you’re missing out on become even greater. A real, complete, digital marketing campaign must take advantage of every opportunity, not just focus narrowly on one objective, such as building links for SEO.

Click here to download or view this image in full and see if you can spot the several potential opportunities to be on the first page of Google, as a pizza restaurant in Chicago, without SEO and without PPC and within days rather than within the months that SEO would take. Don’t repeat the search and visit any of the pages, the key is just to identify the opportunities that might exist on search results as you go through them and take advantage of them if you’re lucky enough to find one (the opportunity you spot here may not exist anymore but it would definitely have been worth investigating at the time).


I’m going to add a small gap here so you don’t accidentally read the answers while you’re thinking through the opportunities. Please spend about 10 minutes thinking about each opportunity and how quickly you might get a link if it turns out to be a good one before your move on to the ‘answers’.Listings Sites and Advertisers

Those of you who are experienced local marketers will have spotted the first opportunities easily as you no doubt spend a lot of your day fixing up listings on popular local listings sites (such as Yelp, and Google My Business). For those of you who are less experienced the key stages are to find out what the most popular 20 or so listings sites are in your vertical (for example Pizza restaurants clearly need to be on Trip Advisor, a vet wouldn’t). Once you’ve found these you need to develop profiles on each of these that are optimized as much as the rules on those platforms allow.

In this particular search the only site that aggregates reviews appearing near the top is Trip Advisor, but as part of your research you’ll need to compile the dozens (hundreds if you have time) of search queries that your users would typically be using and see what comes out to find additional opportunities beyond the main, well known, and often national sites that you have come across.

One interesting feature is that some major local listings sites will not show up in the organic part of the search results. These will often use Google’s PPC advertising to ensure they still get a slice of the action. You can see here that is advertising on this keyword. It may or may not be possible to get your restaurant listed on that page, but it’s definitely worth investigating what it would take. In many cases pages like this will be much cheaper or easier to get exposure on than paying for ads directly yourself.

Google My Business

Those of you who aren’t experienced at marketing your business locally might not realise but the map and the listings with the ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ etc next to them are not powered by Google’s usual listings. They are effectively Google’s equivalent of a yellow pages style listing. You’ll need to claim and update your Google My Business listing to ensure you can appear prominently there. Luckily one of our consultants, Garrett, has prepared a great guide to the Google My Business platform on Tech Function Magazine.

Forums, Press and Other Special Listings

Now some would consider fixing up your Google (and other) listings part of ‘SEO’ so let’s look at the one pure opportunity that most SEOs and marketers miss – the huge number of unusual results that pop up that are often only shown for one specific keyword. Listings like this one make it essential that you inspect the search results for each of the things your customers might be searching for.

These listings can take a variety of forms including (but not limited to) forums and the press. On this listing we can see that a Chicago Magazine article pops up at number two in the organic (not PPC) listings right under the ads and one local restaurant.

For this particular opportunity there might be two ways you can appear. Now, remember, the point of this study isn’t to find guaranteed opportunities, just to teach you how to analyze results for potential. There’s still work to do once you pick one out.

Opportunity 1: Google’s Managed Placements

You can actually run a Google Adsense ad on a specific page of a specific website if they are part of Google’s Adsense network. Many big publishers use Google’s Ad network to raise revenue for their site so the opportunities can be huge. Imagine being a cell phone retailer and advertising alongside articles about upgrading to a new phone and being able to hand-pick specific popular and recent articles to appear next to. If ChicagoMag used Adsense this opportunity would exist here. Naturally other Ad networks offer similar services so if you found they didn’t use Adsense, you would dig deeper and see if an opportunity to advertise on that page existed elsewhere.

Opportunity 2: PR and Outdated Content

Sometimes the press, forum mention, blog post, or other ‘special’ listing you find on Google’s first page for your keyword will contain out of date information. This allows you to do something interesting and get mentioned on that page. Take the 25 Best Pizza’s listing. It was written back in June 2010 – that’s almost four years ago. I definitely think, for a listing like this one, that it would be worthwhile checking to see if any of the restaurants listed have closed or if any of the pizza’s they tried are no longer on menus.

If there have been any changes, your restaurant has a great opportunity to produce an inspirational pizza, invite the journalist out to try it and consider including it if they think it’s worthy. Now you do still need to produce a pizza that lives up to the rest on the list, but if the list is outdated, and the page is showing up number 2 for such a prominent term, the magazine definitely has a motive for keeping the page up to date and considering new additions.


Even if we are looking just ‘within the Google universe’, hopefully you can now see that there are many, many ways you can take advantage of existing page one listings to get traffic for your business, even without your site appearing there itself. SEO to appear on all these pages might take months or years of hard work. PPC might cost a lot of money per click when your profit on a pizza isn’t high enough to justify it. Yet there are several opportunities that would be worth investigating on this page alone that allow you to be up there and getting visitors to your restaurant site within weeks or days.

Imagine you look at all the page one results relating to Pizzas in the town. Now imagine you start looking for opportunities to get visitors beyond the Google universe. Now you’re starting to imagine a real, broad, online marketing plan.

Header image via WikiMedia Commons –