Search Engine Rankings: Page 1 is Where It’s At

All the hype you continually hear about how important it is to get on Page 1 of search engine result pages turns out to be … right on the money.

In a just-released study from digital marketing company iCrossing, nearly 9 million “non-branded” search queries conducted on Google, Yahoo and Bing were analyzed, with the clickthrough percentages from the first, second and third pages of the search engine results (SERPs) tallied.

It turned out that more than 8.5 million clickthroughs were made from the first page of results – a whopping 95% of the total. The rest was just crumbs: Clicks off the second page came in under 250,000, while third-page clicks clocked in at a paltry ~180,000.

The results were essentially the same for the three major search engines (all at 95% or 96%) – so it’s a clean sweep across the board and clearly behavior that fits all across the spectrum.

What this suggests is that when searching on generic or descriptive terms, most people will not go past the first page of results if they can’t find a site link that interests them. If they don’t hit paydirt on the first page, they’re far more likely to try another search using different keywords or phrases until they find a site on Page 1 that does the trick.

Comparing this newest iCrossing study with research from a few years back reveals that Page 1 clicks represent an even higher proportion today; earlier studies from a few years back had it pegged at 80% to 90%.

The implications of this study are be clear: if you’re looking to attract visitors to your site via generic or descriptive subject searches, you’d better make sure your site is designed so that it achieves first-page ranking … or your web efforts will be for naught.

That being said, the recipe for success in ranking hasn’t changed much at all. Despite all of the tempting “link juice” tips and tricks out there, the main keys to getting high rankings continue to be creating loads of good web content … speaking the same “language” as searchers (however inaccurate that might be) … and maintaining lots of good links to and from your site to increase its “relevance” to search engines.

No doubt, it’s getting tougher to achieve Page 1 ranking when there’s so much competition out there, but it’s well worth the effort.

$100 cost-per-click on Google AdWords? It’s already here.

How much is one clickthrough to your web site worth? If you’re a legal firm specializing in bringing mesothelioma cases to court, it turns out it’s worth a lot.

In fact, the search term “mesothelioma” was the highest-priced keyword in the U.S. during the third quarter of 2009. That’s according to a recently-released AdGooroo Search Engine Advertising report.

Just how expensive? For Google’s AdWords program, the highest price paid for a #1 ranking on that search term was a whopping $99.44 per click. (Over at Yahoo, the high figure for this paid search term was a little less rich: $60.68 per click.)

One wonders how many times the advertisers have actually had to pay out this king’s ransom. Whether it’s for a few or many clicks, it’s clear that some legal firms recognize a highly lucrative revenue opportunity in filing mesothelioma lawsuits related to asbestos and lung cancer.

Interestingly, the highest paid search term in Bing’s paid search program isn’t “mesothelioma,” but rather “auto insurance comparison.” At $55.20 per click, the dollars aren’t as high, but it would seem like the potential payoff isn’t nearly as great, either. After all, there’s a pretty big difference between a multi-million dollar legal verdict and the value of an automotive insurance policy.

But beyond the eyebrow-raising stats of these extreme examples, the larger issue is how much more costly search advertising has become in recent times. A few short years ago, it was common to talk about search terms costing an advertiser 50 cents or $1.00 per click. Now, those same terms are far more likely to cost $2.50 or more.

Google, being the 500-pound gorilla in search engine marketing (SEM), has certainly contributed to the price inflation. That’s one reason why many are rooting for alternative search options like Bing to succeed (dream on).

More fundamental to the increase in keyword click pricing is the realization that advertising to people at the precise time they’re searching for particular goods and services is a far more effective way to engage customers and prospects and drive actual sales.

And that’s even more the case compared to trying to get their attention or otherwise “intrude” on them when they’re online for other purposes. The abysmal clickthrough rates experienced for banner advertising bear this out.

But paying $100 per clickthrough? That does seem excessive – even for ambulance-chasing lawyers!

Search … and destroy? Nah.

New statistics published earlier this month by Hitwise show that Google continues merrily on its way to even greater heights of dominance in the search engine field.  Despite the Don Quixote-like efforts of other search engines like MSN, Ask and Yahoo to take a run at Google’s position, the latest stats show that Google’s search engine is as popular as ever.

More popular, in fact.  The numbers reveal that Google’s share of search activity has now risen to 72% versus 67% a year earlier, whereas the others continue to decline.  Yahoo is in second position, but getting 21% of search share is about on par with H. Ross Perot’s vote percentage in the 1992 presidential election – all hat and no cattle.

More startlingly bad is MSN’s performance at around 7% of search activity, because they’ve been trying hard to make a dent in Google’s position. Keep on trying, gents.  Maybe you’ll break 10% share before long, although I doubt it.

Does any of this come as a surprise?  After all, people are creatures of habit. And when a habit gets as big as this, it’s really hard to break.

Also, most people typically take the path of least resistance. And when it comes to search, isn’t Google the easiest path?  Simple visual layout … easy to use … robust results.  What’s the point of going anywhere else?

UPDATE4/1/09 – As if on cue, another search engine bites the dust.  Wikia has announced it is closing down its Wikia Search project.  Introduced to great fanfare last year, Wikia was intended to be a user-generated, open search engine.  The problem?  Wikia Search was simply not generating any sort of worthwhile volume.  In fact, traffic was running about 10,000 unique users per month.  That’s just a blip on the screen — and certainly disappointing considering the success of other initiatives like Wikipedia and Wikia Answers.  Further proof that to be first in cyberspace with a good idea and good execution is a huge advantage … and to be fourth or fifth is considerably more difficult, even fruitless.