This post was originally written by one of our summer 2015 interns, Kelly Iden. Since things change pretty quickly in search engine marketing, we’ve updated and expanded the post with new stats and info.
The average web user won’t go past the first five listings on a search engine results page (SERP). According to a 2014 study from Advanced Web Rankings, more than 67% of all clicks on SERPs go to the top five listings. Things start to get grim when you look past those first few results. Research shows that websites on the first search engine results page receive almost 95% of web traffic, leaving only 5% for remaining search results pages.
Why Does SERP Position Matter?
Once a search engine result grabs web users’ attention, the logical next step for the user is to click through to the website to get additional information and potentially take some kind of action (such as making a purchase). Most people will click on one of the first few results because they’ve found what they’re looking for, don’t want to scroll further, are short on time, or some combination of the three. Therefore, the higher a company’s organic search ranking, the higher the click-through rate (CTR). A July 2014 Google organic desktop search study found a 71% CTR for page one results while pages two and three have a combined CTR of just 6%. You can see just how dramatically CTR declines by position in this graph from Advanced Web Ranking, which looks at searches from June 2017:
If those stakes aren’t high enough for you, consider the fact that Google and other search engines factor in CTR when determining how to rank pages. In other words, Google will recognize a page with a high CTR as one that is valuable to readers and is more likely to push it towards the top of the SERPs. Because high click-through rates correspond with powerful organic search rankings, many companies question what it takes to reach their optimal search engine standings for their most valuable keywords. Claiming the top organic positions for relevant keywords is not an easy accomplishment, but one that many businesses worldwide compete for. As companies improve their SEO strategies and Google updates its algorithms, search engine rankings constantly shift.
What Challenges Are Organic Search Results Currently Facing?
It’s not just competitors’ organic listings that search engine marketers have to worry about. Google frequently tinkers with its SERP format, and depending on the search query, the first organic first result may be pushed below a local 3-pack, a featured snippet, or up to four text ads. The presence of ads can make a huge difference when it comes to organic CTR. For SERPs with no ads, the average CTR for the first organic result is 30%, but that drops to 17.9% when ads enter the picture.
Here’s an example of what we see at the top of the SERP when we search for “Austin hotel:”
When we scroll past those ads, we see a local 3-pack before we ever get to the first organic result:
When businesses compete for long-tail keywords (a keyword phrase consisting of at least three words), they may also lose real estate to Google’s relatively new featured snippet. A featured snippet is a block towards the top of the SERP that pulls a few lines and a link from a high-ranking page in an attempt to answer a searcher’s question. Here’s a very meta example:
Featured snippets can cause a major nosedive for click-through rates because in many cases, the searcher can get the information they need without ever leaving the SERP. A study from Ahrefs found that there’s approximately a 25% drop-off in CTR for the first organic result on SERPs with a featured snippet. However, in many cases, readers will click the link for a featured snippet to learn more, which can lead to a significant increase in site traffic if one of your pages gets featured.
How Can You Compete for Organic Traffic?
As it becomes increasingly challenging to rank well for industry-relevant search queries, your business needs to invest in search engine optimization (SEO) strategies that will help your site achieve SERP visibility. Here are a few examples of things to try:
- Search for long-tail keywords with higher traffic and lower competition. The more competition there is for a keyword, the harder it will be to rank on page 1. By focusing on long-tail keywords that are specific to your business, you’ll have a better chance of getting in front of the web users who need your product or service.
- Identify questions that your target customers are asking (and that are relevant to your business). Provide in-depth answers to those questions in blog posts or knowledge hub pages on your site and your content may end up in a featured snippet.
- Work with a web development team to make technical improvements to your site. Improving your site speed and ensuring all your pages are Mobile Friendly