Exploring the Curious Economies of Top 10 Rankings

Curious economies of rankings

SEOs tend to obsess over #1 spots in organic SERPs, not without a reason. Top ranked sites get to skim the cream of search while the rest sip on watered down clickthroughs.

But what happens (as it often does) if you wake up one day to find yourself ranked # 2, or #5, and is there a difference between the two?

Here is the classic line of thought running through the industry: “# 2 rankings have a better clickthrough rate (CTR), and are therefore more SEO-valuable than # 5.”

Let’s take a look at the curious economies of top 10 rankings to find out why it’s not always the case.

So How Much Are Organic Rankings Really Worth

Based on some rough estimates (much more precise if you track your own CTR data):

  • # 1 ranking – gets 40% of all the clicks
  • # 2 – gets 12 % clickthroughs
  • # 5 – gets 8.5% clickthroughs
  • #11 – gets 1.11% clickthroughs and 140% less traffic than # 10

Clearly, #1 ranking is where you want to land since you are likely to get clicks no matter what behavior searchers exhibit. Although here is an example when this doesn’t hold true.

  • Users searching for the airport and googling “jfk” will not click on the Wikipedia entry (about the president) even though it’s ranked #1.

So the kicker is that in certain search scenarios, ranking #5 can be just as good as, say, #2. Here are some more examples:

  • When users refer to search engines for comparison shopping (e.g. “toyota yaris reviews”), or for research (“reverse osmosis”), they tend to click through multiple search results, so a site ranked #5 is as likely to get clicked on as the site ranked #2
  • When users try get to a specific site, and your site is not “it”, they won’t click through, even if you are ranked higher than that site, as in the above example with JFK
  • When users look for universal search items such as ”simons cat”, the user won’t click through unless it’s a video result, preferably YouTube

These are just several examples but the bottom line is clear: CTR changes with users’ search behaviors.

3 Search Behavior Types You Should Know About

Here is a handy study on search behaviors conducted by Andrei Broder, Yahoo’s VP for Computational Advertising. He has separated search queries by intent and classified search into three taxonomies:

  • Navigational“give me the URL of the site I want to reach”
    The intent is to find a particular (usually previously visited) website. Users tend to click through only once, having found the “right” result (usually top listed but not always).
    20% of all web searches are navigational.
    Examples: “amtrak”, “apple”, “reuters”, “jfk”
  • Transactional“show me the sites where I can perform a certain transaction”
    The intent is to reach a certain website to shop, download a file, find a map etc. User will keep clicking on more than one site only if unhappy with the transaction terms (price, download speed etc.).
    30% of all web searches are transactional.
    Examples: “plane tickets”, “timberland shoes”, “cnet”, “ebay”
  • Informational“find me the sites where I can learn more about this topic”
    The intent is to get familiar with the search term. Users tend to click through more frequently and more evenly throughout the SERPs.
    50% of all web searches are informational.
    Examples: “costa rica”, “diabetes”, “first world war”, “reverse osmosis”

To Wrap-up

Find out what types of search behaviors are typical for your target visitors. It will help you hone your keyword strategy and alleviate blind obsessions over rankings. At the end of the day, search is about users, right?

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  • Kerrigan57
    May 5, 2011

    Solid research. The part that stood out for me was about the search behavior types. So important. I guess I’m more of a type 1. Carry on with these great posts!

  • Jessy198
    May 5, 2011

    Thanks for sharing these tips! So many website owners are focused on getting to the VERY top, while it turns out #5 is sometimes even better than #2.

    • admin
      May 6, 2011

      from my experience #10 is also a sweet spot

  • Always10 - Top 10 List Collection
    December 16, 2011

    I always love all 10 lists and love this post. I need to change my SEO posts since it’s been out date. Would like to study further more on this list. thanks.

  • Always10
    March 10, 2012

    I always love all 10 lists and love this post. I need to change my SEO posts since it’s been out date. Would like to study further more on this list. thanks.

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