Is Ranking First on Google All That Matters?

Is Ranking First on Google All That Matters?

Let’s face it, when it comes to online marketing and improving search results, there’s one Holy Grail for businesses and marketers: Ranking #1 on a Google Search. Achieving that first organic result is what everyone hopes and dreams and works for. It’s the pinnacle of success, particularly for the SEO consultant. And there’s little doubt that higher and higher search results are better for a website and business.

But is ranking first on Google all that matters?

To think about it another way, would you assume that the #1 listing on all Google search results gets 100% of the traffic? What if I told you that, on average, a #1 listing gets just 18% of the click-throughs? And that even the first page of listings gets less than half of measured click-throughs?

These are just some of the results from a recent study and survey by Catalyst that we’re going to dive into. The goal today is get a clear picture, as business and website owners, of how search users behave in order to gain more insight into how best to serve them and be rewarded with not just higher rankings, but traffic and the kind of traffic that delivers interested customers and buyers.

Understanding Google Search Basics

Before we jump in, there are a few terms and concepts we should define so that we’re all on the same page.

Clicks are each time a user clicks a website listing within the search results for a particular query, while the Click-Through Rate (CTR) refers to the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click.

While Google may display 1 - 3 Paid Listings at the top of each page of results, along with paid listings in the right sidebar, clicks and click-through rates only refer to Organic Search Results - the ten results which appear naturally on each page, just below any paid listings.

And finally, we’ll often refer to SERP which is the Google Search Engine Results Page. A Google SERP contains both the paid and organic elements mentioned above.

What Drives Click-Throughs

What’s interesting about Catalyst’s report is that they analyzed close to 17,500 search queries for 59 brands over a 9 month period, and noted not only how users clicked, but whether those users cam from desktop or mobile, where the differences are more pronounced. The study also compared the searches themselves, taking the intent of the user into consideration. Were they looking for a branded or unbranded keyword? Coupons? Asking a question? All of these matter.

And as we mentioned earlier, the analysis clearly shows that only a fraction of search users click the first result. That means that there are a number of situations and elements which can lead to click-throughs even if they’re not the first result.

Catalyst breaks these elements into two logical groups: those under Internal Control, and those under External Control:

Internal Control

  • SERP Position - ranking first may not be the only driver, but it certainly does help!
  • Title Tag - what’s the title of the page, and does it interest the user?
  • Meta Description - what’s the description of the page, and does it explain enough to encourage a click?
  • URL - does the link have a logical folder structure and keyword usage?
  • Rich Snippet - has the page set up authorship, reviews, etc.?
  • Brand Awareness / Brand Trust

External Control

  • User Query Intent Mismatch - when a user’s search returns unintended results
  • Paid Search Ads Capturing Visitors
  • Blended SERPs - listings that include authorship, images, video, etc.
  • Personalized SERPs - tailored results based on Google+ Circles (more on this in a moment)
  • Authoritative Competitors
  • Non-Ideal SERP Snippet - when Google pulls in page content rather than Meta Tags for the listing
  • Search Abandonment

Actionable Items for Businesses

Catalyst has done an outstanding job of delivering actionable conclusions and items within their report.

For instance, based on the data, it’s clear that the more words that are used in the search query (4+), the more likely a user is to click on the top results. This is typically due to users adding two or more words to a search to more carefully refine it. The takeaway? Research and target long-tail keywords for your business! Determine what those 3 - 4 word phrases are that people are searching and write and optimize your site for those results.

And as suggested above, having a rich snippet appear as your result listing not only increases the likelihood of a click-through, but it’s an element completely under your control. Google Authorship simply requires that you have a Google+ account, and that your page and site content have been properly configured to display your linked profile information.

Speaking of Google+, remember those personalized SERPs I mentioned earlier? We’ve talked about personalized search before, but to recap, any user who is logged into Google at the time of their search (and between Gmail, Google+ and YouTube, who isn’t logged into Google?), their results may include personalized search results. The personalization comes from other people that they’ve circled and connected with using Google’s social layer, Google+.

This means that personal brands and business pages that have more connections and followers on Google+ will stand a higher change of being listed among the first results of a given SERP for their followers.

In other words, if I have circled your Google+ Page and am doing a search related to a topic you’ve discussed, it’s possible that your post or page will appear among my first results, leap-frogging other pages that would normally have ranked first.

To further illustrate these findings, take a look at this infograph:

Is Ranking First on Google All That Matters?

So while many of these factors can help a listing achieve higher results, it’s also clear that implementing these tactics can result in click-throughs, even if your listing isn’t #1. For a closer look at the analysis and detailed findings, download the Catalyst report here.

This was a sponsored article, but the opinions and observations expressed are 100% my own.

Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner

Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner, Blogger and Author in St. Louis, and the Chief Marketing Officer at SiteSell. He has been working with websites and the Internet since the early '90's, and is active on all of the major social networks. Mike teaches a holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blog content, social media and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales.

Mike is the author of, "The Unofficial Book On HootSuite: The #1 Tool for Social Media Management", "The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect LinkedIn Profile.", and "Blog Promotionology, The Art & Science of Blog Promotion."

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