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How Much is the No. 1 Spot on a SERP Really Worth?

Every online marketer, business owner, and entrepreneur knows that reaching the top spot in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) is the ultimate goal of organic SEO. Obviously, being #1 has its advantages, meaning its pretty intuitive that people are more likely to click and convert the higher up on the SERP you are. But, while being first is clearly ideal, how much is it actually worth in terms of traffic and conversions? And how do the other positions stack up?

Here’s what the research says:

Traffic

 – A recent study by the internet marketing firm Search Engine Watch suggests that the top spot in a SERP can expect to see an average of 36.4% of the clicks for that keyword. That means more than a third of all visitors choose the first result, and they’re taking their money with them as well. Even with low on-page conversion rates, capturing a third of the initial market for a keyword is a significant advantage. Imagine if you were capturing all that traffic and high a highly converting optimized page? Money in the bank.

When performing a competitor analysis, be sure to estimate their probability of ranking #1 or you might be setting yourself up for a costly failure.

If #1 gets a third of all traffic, where does that leave the rest? Well, it turns out that each spot down in rankings cuts visitors drastically. At the #2 spot, your traffic will likely drop to only a third of the top ranking at 12.5% of the overall traffic. #3 gets even less with 9.5%, #4 gets 7.9%, and #5 rolls in with a measly 6.1%. Coming in at number 5 will bring you a mere 20% of the first result.

However, being on the front page, even if not number one, is still a significant gain over page 2, 3, and beyond. The top 10 search engine results receive a shocking 89% of all traffic, meaning that if your site isn’t there, you may want to find a new keyword or dig your heels in and spend some time and money on SEO. And depending on your business, being on the first page could be enough to turn a profit. Whereas a lawn mowing business may rely on being #1 or #2 in rankings to be found, other business models can profit just by being in the top 5:

For example Glasses.com, is ranking number 1 for a ton of KW’s like “glasses, buy glasses, online glasses etc” and they get a ton of traffic from these keywords. Most of the time the homepage is ranking for these keywords. However, they actually make less than 50% of their monthly revenue from people landing on their homepage organically. Then where does most of their income come from? Its actually their Oakley prescription sunglasses page that nets them 30% of all monthly revenue. Crazy. The other 20% mostly from other branded landing pages like Ray ban. What are these branded landing pages ranked? 6 and 7 on average.

Another example, Thefront.com.au is an Australian camera rental site. The search volume for “camera rental” is very high, the problem is that in Australia most people say “camera hire” instead of “rental.” Originally the site was optimized for “rental” because that had the highest search volume, and was ranking in the top 5. The site was getting allot of traffic but almost no conversions. Because the people searching with “rental” were in different countries! Needless to say when they switched everything around the word “hire” even though they are not ranking nearly as well and for a KW with a fraction of traffic, conversions and revenue went way up.

Moral of the story, being number 1 doesn’t always equal more money. Even if a KW has high traffic volume and you rank no.1 for it, you need to take into account user intent i.e. what is the users purpose and mindset when typing in a kw?

Which brings me to my next point.

Conversions -

 Of course visitors are important, but what about actual conversions? Traffic without sales is a costly game to play. In fact, MOZ.com conducted research on a seasonal retail store and found that spots from 1 to 3 don’t have as much conversion per click through as the spots from 4 to 7.

So not only does the above example of glasses most likely attribute to user intent, but also across the board the top 3 spots generally don’t covert as well. Interesting.

This means that if you’re company is paying a significant sum to be ranked in the top 3, you may want to reconsider investing funds elsewhere, while hanging around the 5 or 6 spot. 

Becoming #1 in the search engines for a given keyword has become the obsession of many marketers and their clients. But before you spend all your time gunning for a no.1 spot take into consideration the cost to get to the spot, the time, conversion rates, user intent for the kw and other kw’s.

The no.1 spot isn’t always the “no.1 spot”.

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7 Responses to How Much is the No. 1 Spot on a SERP Really Worth?

  1. Gary January 19, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    Hi Robert. Great breakdown on what the top position means in terms of potential traffic. I spend a fair bit of time talking to customers about this very thing and why its not always worthwhile chasing the ‘golden keyword’. I actually wrote a post on it yesterday and can send you over a link if its appropriate.

    A lot of the time you are better off to focus in on other less competitive terms that are easier to rank for. Combine several of these terms and from a traffic point of view you may be better off with much less effort.

    Plus you can really focus in on terms associated with buyer intent which a lot of websites fail to do.

    Thanks for the content.

    Regards

    Gary

    • robertcordray
      robertcordray February 6, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

      Send the link! I am interested to read!

  2. Peter Fry January 19, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    These results are in relation to results that are not local i.e do not include a location within the search. The internet is now customer driven and results that stand out are those showing their Google 4 or 5 stars and this is what people are going to, reading customer reviews rates very highly and consequently doing reputation marketing is more important for a local business now

    • robertcordray
      robertcordray February 6, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

      Agreed, thats something that is effective and each local search is vastly different thus doing research on it is very daunting. I opted to leave that information out.

      Good point.

  3. Michael Wall January 19, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Robert, your article doesn’t make a big enough distinction between organic and paid traffic and I’m guessing that too many people it’ll just be confusing.

    • robertcordray
      robertcordray February 6, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

      see my below reply, I’m still new at the comment system

  4. robertcordray
    robertcordray February 6, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

    Michael the whole article is about organic traffic as that is what a SERP is. I don’t see how anyone could infer I am referring to paid traffic.

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