Why Topping the SERPs Isn’t Everything
Most of the SEO gurus and guides out there tell you to focus on getting your site to the top spot in Google for your keywords. It’s an admirable goal and it’s certainly something to strive for but being on top of the SERPs isn’t everything. There’s more to getting clicks to your site than just being ranked highly in Google. Take a look at this chart I swiped from one my sites using Google Webmaster Tools:
I cut out the search terms on left but this is for a varied bunch of terms that all rank number one in Google. You’ll notice that despite all the terms being ranked first, the click through ratio varies greatly from 100% down to 33%. That is because of other factors in the SERPs beyond just being the first result.
Some of these things you can change. Your onsite SEO is very important, like the meta info and page titles that appear in the results (if you’re using WordPress there are good plugins like All in One SEO that will do this for you automatically). Your site name is a factor- site names relevant to the keywords will be more likely to get clicks. The number and type of ads appearing above the results is a HUGE factor that unfortunately you can’t control without buying ads yourself. Relevancy of the other results is also a big factor; if your site looks like it matches what the searcher is looking for better than the rest of the results on the page (or with a more intriguing page title), you’re going to get the click whether you’re number one or number nine.
Here’s another chart I pulled sorted by clickthrough percentage; I chose a middle of the road percentile for demonstration purposes:
Notice that some of my pages that are ranked relatively low are still getting as good or better a clickthrough ratio than pages ranked in the first few results. After evaluating these charts, here’s what I do with the information to improve my site’s SEO and rankings.
I rank for over 10,000 different queries with this site, so I’ll usually download the table into Excel to make it easier to work with. First I look at results with the most impressions because unless it’s a very particular high paying keyword I’m striving to rank for, it makes no sense to do any type of work with such low traffic. Next I’d look at ones with a high average position and a decent amount of impressions. Anything ranking on page 2 or higher (position 20+) that’s getting a good amount of impressions is a keyword that has a high potential to do very well if I can get to the first page in Google. All 3 ranked higher than 20 on this chart would be good candidates.
Once I have my priority list established, I’ll go in and run the search for each keyword to see where my site ranks and determine which keywords are worth doing more SEO with. It’s important to look at what other sites show up in the searches. If I see huge popular authority sites that I have no chance of outranking ahead of me (ie CNN, Huffington Post, TMZ, ESPN, NYTimes, etc), I’ll simply tweak my onsite SEO if needed to make the result look more appealing and then move on to the next term. If the competition looks weak, I will work on link building as well to rank higher.
Against strong competition you should focus on your on site SEO. Against weak competition, off site SEO. Yes it’s sort of like picking on the weakest kid in your class but for this type of thing you really do need to pick your battles. Most importantly, don’t waste your time trying to top the SERPs if you’re not going to get the click anyway.