SERPs: battle for the top unlikely to abate

The Web’s unlimited shelf space is a myth. In reality (argh!), the Web is a battlefield and companies fiercely compete for scarce premium positions in organic search results because consumers have neither the time nor the patience to explore the millions of other choices. That’s why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is still obsessed with the first page (i.e. top 10 search results) among Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Research shows that this won’t change better soon.

Optify Average Click-Through-Rate (CTR) by Search Results Position Curve

Optify Average Click-Through-Rate (CTR) by Search Results Position Curve

Research from Optify, cited by Le Journal du Net shows that the top 3 results on Google’s first page still concentrate nearly 60% of average Click-Through-Rates (CTRs), with 37,2% on the first position alone. The average CTR on the first page is more than six times higher than the average CTR on the second page. The data is US-only and pre-Panda.

Optify compares this data with AOL’s 2006 US data. In 2006, the total share of CTR on the first page was 89.7%, with 4.5% for the second page and the remaining 6.8% spread on all other pages. Optify does not give directly comparable data for 2010.

First and Second Results Page Click-Through-Rates 2006 vs 2010

First and Second Results Page Click-Through-Rates 2006 vs 2010

A comparaison of average CTR in 2006 and 2010 shows only a very small reduction of average CTR on the first page from 8.97% to 8.90%. But within the first page, the first position looses 5 points, dropping from 42.3% to 37.2% average CTR in favor all other positions but the 10th. The middle positions 3 to 5 show the stongest increase in average CTR.

There is a small but significant improvement of average CTR for the second page. It is tripling, even though from a very small base. Average CTR used to be 20 times higher on the first page than on the second page.

Why not a bigger change in four years? Haven’t users become more demanding? I believe they have. But search results have improved at the same time. Quality improvements such as the search suggestions that automatically appear as you start typing a keyword might explain why most users still click on what they find on the first page.

Optify’s complete research report here: The Changing Face of SERPs: Organic Click Through Rate. The report shows interesting data on Long Tail versus Top Tail searches.

** Last edited July 21, 2011 **

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