SERP Position: It Ain’t Horseshoes

More than 90 percent of all search referrals are from the first search engine results page (SERP). If your website doesn’t rank for relevant terms on page one, you might as well be invisible.

If you’ve been running a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign for a while, and your site has just finally moved up to page two for the key terms you’ve been targeting, should you be disheartened by this news? Probably not. But if over 90 percent of search traffic emanates from page one, what’s the value of pages two, three, four, and so on?

Page one generates the vast majority of site traffic. Page two still nets you some traffic, but it’s negligible by comparison. Placement on subsequent pages doesn’t appear to hold much value, at least for text-based searches. But these placements aren’t entirely worthless. They’re your gems in the rough and should be thought of as just needing some smoothing out.

You can make that jewel of a page sparkle in an SEO campaign just by concentrating your efforts in the right places. Here’s how.

Polishing Your Page Two Results

Although a web page found on the second or subsequent SERP might not get much traffic, you want to make these pages some of the prime targets in your SEO campaign. We’ll assume the page content is interesting, relevant, and of decent quality. Although people aren’t finding it as often, this page has high value simply because the search engines are finding and placing it, mere steps away from the success of page one.

Think about it. Over 90 percent of search engine users never venture beyond the first SERP, but the search engines assign values to all listings on all the SERPs. Listings on page two are incredibly valuable — just not quite valuable enough to make it to page one. With a little work, however, they can easily place on the first page.

The same holds true for listings placed on subsequent pages. As I’m sure we’ve all had to explain to clients from time to time, getting indexed on the first page is not always easy.

“If you build it, they will come” usually doesn’t cut it online. If you have a web page that’s listed on page 3 of 1 million pages, you’re actually sitting pretty. You can identify the pages the search engines value almost high enough for top ranking and focus your optimization strategy on them. You don’t want to waste your — or your client’s — time optimizing pages that are already on page one. If you spend the bulk of your time on already successful listings, you’ll never deliver the massive growth in relevant traffic your client expects.

Find the site pages that list on the second or third SERP, and optimize and improve those pages. Small adjustments can bump you up to page one and will make your traffic soar. Get more pages moving up in the listings, and the effect on your website is cumulative. Do you honestly think all those Wikipedia pages are highly relevant to every query?

Pay Attention to Regional Results

Here’s an important tip in implementing this type of performance-based SEO campaign: Don’t use simple ranking software to determine which pages to target. Just because you’re on page two in Dallas doesn’t mean you’re also on page two in Denver. You might be on page one. I’ve seen instances when a site is on page one in California and page five in South Carolina.

If you target a page that’s on page five in South Carolina (where you’re located) and on page one in California, and you damage the ranking in California to bump up the rankings in South Carolina, what do you think will happen to your overall traffic?

Choose your pages carefully and strategically. It’s possible you’ll want to reshape some pages on page one because they’re slightly off the mark in terms of the keywords drawing traffic. But knowing which pages to target is the trick.

I’d never discussed page-two optimization as a defined strategy until I spoke with Search Engine Watch Expert Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting.

Enge and his associate John Biundo have been using the software I developed, Enquisite, to determine which pages were showing up on page two or higher, and not on page one, for relevant terms in target markets.

Using Enquisite to figure out which locations drove the most relevant and highest converting traffic, you can optimize your campaign to deliver strong placements on the most effective, high-converting pages on the site.

The strategy brings more traffic and better return on investment (ROI) and requires far less potential sacrifice.

Let me leave you with a thought: The value of that page one listing is much higher than previously thought. If you’re running a search campaign, are you compensating your SEO firm fairly? Conversely, if you’re an SEO delivering higher ROI and better converting traffic, are you charging your client accordingly?

This article was originally published in SES Magazine for the Search Engine Strategies Toronto Conference & Expo 2008.

Richard Zwicky has been involved in search marketing for 10 years. He started in the industry by managing the online campaigns for his own successful e-tail operation, which quickly led to developing Metamend, an SEO firm that he co-founded in 2000. As CEO for Metamend, he managed and led the optimization campaigns for web properties ranging from SOHOs to Fortune 500 sites. He spun off the Enquisite Search Analytics business from Metamend in 2006.

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