Journey to the Top of the SERPs

Have you ever wondered why everyone seems to make such a big deal out of search engine optimization (SEO) and reaching that coveted top spot in the search engine results pages (SERPs)?

Well then, new data from Compete may just enlighten you, as a recent study of tens of millions of consumer-generated SERPs from Q4 of 2011 shows us just how massive the difference between a first and second place listing can be to a website.

According to the data, approximately 85 percent of all the listings shown are organic, with 15 percent appearing as paid search listings; they also found that 55 percent of all SERPs have ads.

But the more telling information comes from looking at the clicks on organic results. Compete says that 53 percent of those clicks go to the top organic listing, and the number decreases significantly from there. The second link gets 15 percent of the clicks, while the third gets nine percent, the fourth sees six percent and the fifth is clicked on just four percent of the time.

Being on top is also beneficial for paid listings, as well, though having the number one spot in the ad block is less important than simply appearing in the block at the top of the page. The study shows that about 61 percent of paid search ads show up on the right-hand sidebar, but they only account for 13 percent of the paid search clicks with the top listing getting just four percent of all paid search clicks. In contrast, the third listing in the top ad block receives around nine percent of all paid search clicks; in fact, the ads in the top block see an impressive 59 percent of all the paid clicks.

The report also shows that around 24 percent of the ads on a SERP appear at the top and make up an impressive 85 percent of the clicks, while 15 percent of them appear at the bottom of the page and get a paltry two percent of the clicks.

In other words, this report wants you to know that it pays off (big time) to invest in getting your site at the top of the SERPs. But as we all know, that's easier said than done.

Just a few weeks ago, Google released a list of 65 new changes to its search engine algorithm from August and September, many of which may have direct implications for how websites and pages will be able to move up in the SERPs. Here's a look at six of the most important updates; webmasters and SEOs take note.


The Role of Authority


One of the updates from August focuses on page quality and intends to help searchers find "more high-quality content" from sources that the search engine trusts. This means that building that kind of trust is crucial to improving your search ranking. You can do this by receiving (and giving) links from trusted and authoritative sites, creating a sitemap, lowering your bounce rate and not "over-optimizing" your content.


Matters of Location


Two updates now look more at location to determine a site's place in the SERPs. The first now determines relevancy of pages for queries containing locations, and the other "nearby" change improves the precision and coverage of relevant local Web results, helping it better identify results that are localized for each user (and ranks them appropriately). To better find these local, relevant searchers, optimize your site for local search by registering with a search engine's local business registry, getting links from local directories, developing location-specific landing pages and adding geographic keywords into landing page content, and <h2> tags and metadata.


The Return of Keyword Density


The changes also included an update to term-proximity scoring, which means it would behoove you to improve the keyword density on your site. You can do this by inserting keywords into page titles, headlines, ALT text, page URLs, rich footers and, of course, your copy.


The Importance of Freshness


Being fresh is crucial, and the last two months saw a number of changes aimed at rewarding sites with fresh content. Now, Google will apply a more granular function based on document age, and also seeks out and favors the latest content from a given site when two or more documents from the same domain are relevant to a search query. So make sure you're continually adding fresh content to your site, and if you're busy schedule makes that difficult, don't be afraid to ask for guest contributors or even press releases that you can publish. Anything to keep your site from just sitting there and getting stale.


Title Tags in Focus


It's difficult for Google to generate preview snippets for pages that it does not crawl because of robots.txt, so now a replacement snippet will be included that explains that there is no preview because of robots.txt. To prevent this, include titles and descriptions in the metadata of your Web pages.


Universal Intent


In addition to all of this, Google can now show improved Universal Search results through a better understanding of when a search has strong image intent, local intent, video intent, etc.

Take these key updates into consideration as you continue to optimize your site for the search engines (and maybe take a look at the other 59 changes, as well), and before you know it, you'll be movin' on up the SERPs.