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Oct 19, 2012

Good SERP Standing – What Does it Get You

The aim of search engine optimization is to rank within the top 10 (top 5 for the more ambitious) results in the SERPs. Just by being there, webmasters assume that they will capture a large percent of traffic and get a massive boost to their website. However, even before attempting SEO for your website, you should consider whether the benefits—as a click-through rate (CTR) of all traffic—are worth the trouble. There are two studies that look at this: 1) by Slingshotseo in 20111 and 2) by SEOmoz in 20122.

When combined and compared, the two studies build a really diverse picture with different results. Thus, it can be concluded that the different search engines have different click-through rates and that algorithm changes influence these rates. Furthermore, these results are aggregated from different industries and are not directly applicable to all niches.

According to Slingshot, normal keywords fetch a CTR of 18%, 10% and 7%, respectively, for first, second, and third place in Google. These numbers were half as high for Bing, at 9.7%, 5.5% and 2.7%. From these numbers, it’s clear that users do not necessarily click when searching, but consider a number of searches initially. Furthermore, for both search engines, the CTR after the fourth position levels off, meaning that there is only a very slight difference in search traffic for these positions. Finally, search queries in Google prove to be of higher quality because users are more likely to click on a result.

The 2012 study by SEOmoz distinguishes between different short keywords, such as product keywords, general queries and brand queries, and it breaks down the CTR for all of them. On average, this study also proves that traffic CTR starts to level off after the fourth result, but provides much higher rates as a whole at 50%, 31% and 28%, respectively. In other words, users click on at least two links before abandoning their search. Although there could be results bias, it definitely means that Google has managed to provide more accurate results in the first few pages.

However, it is interesting to see CTR of brand queries; there is a weaker correlation between the position in SERPs and the incoming traffic. All results, from 1 to 10, get a more than 20% CTR3, meaning that customers know what they are looking for and are not influenced by standing. This could have a profound implication for online marketing. It appears that building a strong brand is more important than SEO, and businesses with such a possibility should focus on brand building. Product and general queries also show very high CTRs throughout the whole first page, from 41% down to 10%, again meaning that users are not satisfied with a single result.

Long tail keywords have much higher CTRs, from 50% to 65% for first place (for 3- and 5-word keywords, respectively), and a total of 240%. Surprisingly, users visit more webpages when searching long-tails. Alternatively, Slingshot tried to determine whether there is a correlation between ranking for a keyword and the CTRs for long-tails that stem from it (for example, “cars” vs. “car full makeover”). It seems there is a correlation and these domains can access from 1% to 6% of incoming long tail search traffic.

Generally, paying for comprehensive SEO could land your website within the top websites in the SERPs, but using the numbers above can justify increasing or decreasing your online marketing budget. Furthermore, this proves that although Bing is the default search engine on Windows Internet Explorer, a lot of users prefer to search with Google even after they have conducted an initial search with Bing.