Advertising on the most popular search engine, Google can be done in two ways; either through organic “natural” listings as a result of SEO activity, or through paid listings as a result of paid search advertising. Many consider a successful online marketing campaign to consist of both (and other online marketing methods, such as email marketing and banner advertising).
The latest report released by Compete.com suggests that the top organic search position in Google receives 53% of clicks from search users, followed by 15% for position 2 and 9% for position 3.
Compete state within the report that:
“Compete analyzed 10s of millions of search engine results pages generated by actual consumers in our U.S. panel in Q4 2011.”
The U.S. panel that Compete refers to here is outlined on their website as follows:
Compete’s data comes from a statistically representative cross-section of 2 million consumers across the United States who have given permission to have their internet clickstream behaviors and opt-in survey responses analyzed anonymously as a new source of marketing research.
Organic search listings are on top
The report opens by introducing the split between the two different types of listings that can appear within a Google search results page – organic and paid. The data highlights that a staggering 85% of all search listings are organic, whereas a mere 15% of listings are from paid advertising.
Where do organic search users click?
One of the most interesting statistics presented within the report is where search users click.
Anyone working in SEO or indeed with even the faintest knowledge of SEO will be aware of the “top 3” listings being the Mecca for organic search clicks. The typical goal is to initially break onto the first page of Google, quickly followed by reaching ‘the fold’ and finally getting into the top 3 positions with the ultimate goal of being the 1st result. So why is this? Firstly it is of course common sense – people are lazy and generally will take the shortest route to get to their desired goal. In search this will be done by scolling as little as possible and having to read as little as possible, thus clicking the first results that are seen. Of course this is a subjective opinion rather than one driven by evidence.
So, where’s the evidence for this top 3 demand?
In 2006 AOL leaked data of some 35 million search queries, along with data about click distribution i.e. where search users click (although AOL was a different ‘front-end’ search engine to Google, at the time AOL was powered by Google data). This leak has provided the industry with the largest click distribution study to date allowing claims relating to the importance of the ‘top 3’ to be evidenced.
So how does this latest data compare to the 2006 study?..
(% of Clicks)
|Leaked AOL Data
(% of Clicks)
As shown, the Compete data highlights a significant increase in the number of search users clicking on both the first and second listings in the search results since 2006.
In recent years, Google has introduced both universal search e.g. embedded images, videos, news etc, and local search features in the search listings immediately after the first listing in Google. As these features create a void between the first and second results, you’ll be lucky to find search results in 2012 with more than a handful of organic search listings appearing ‘above the fold’. It is therefore likely to be a key reason as to why the first listing in Google has seen such a large increase in clicks.
Overall, with such a significant volume of search listings being ‘organic’ in nature and 77% of search users clicking on the top 3 search listings (87% on top 5 listings) this clearly reinforces both the importance of SEO within the marketing mix and the necessity for businesses to invest in high quality SEO services.
Paid search advertising
Interestingly, paid search listings only accounted for 15% of all listings on any given search results page, yet 55% of search results contained at least 1 advert.
Although it may be easy to overlook the importance of paid search advertising based on the 15% figure, with this small percentage given alongside the 55% figure it highlights the necessity to create highly focused and targeted paid search campaigns to avoid spending money on irrelevent clicks i.e. if listings appear 55% of the tme but only occupy 15% of the page, it highlights that few adverts will be shown on a search result page so any ads that do appear need to stand out.
Where do paid search users click?
The Compete report presents a very clear visual representation of where adverts appear on a page compared to the clicks they receive:
In addition, the study reveals the click distribution within the key paid advertising areas, highlighting user behaviour. This throws up some interesting results:
Rather unsuprisingly the first paid search listing at the top of a Google search result page takes the lions share of clicks at 59%, only 6% more than the clicks seen for the first organic search result. Rather interestingly however the top result in the right hand side of advertising space is stated to only receive 4% of paid search clicks, with a percentage decline with each subsequent listing. As an agency running paid search campaigns on a regular basis, the 4% stated here falls way out of line with what we expected from our own data.
Reliability of data
The data provided here by Compete is of course just one source of information and is presented as extremely top level so I wouldn’t suggest taking it as Gospel. There is no consideration/mention here for personalised search results affecting listings, regional behaviour, rich snippet inclusion (making them more attractive for clicks) and certainly no consideration for both keywords within different verticals and informational/transactional based searches affecting click distribution i.e. transactional search clicks could be scattered widely across the first page of result if rich snippets are showing product prices, whereas information based searches may result in 100% of people clicking the first link – our old ‘friend’, wikipedia!
In addition, recent changes by Google have placed stronger emphasis on giving brands prominence in the search results off the back of a brand driven search, with extended sitelinks presented. This would naturally allow for a greater volume of clicks to be placed on the first search result. Also, with Google reducing the number of organic search results from 10 to 7, some of the statistical data and percentages presented here by Compete will already be redundant.
The sample size used for this study is also of a fairly decent size at “10s of millions of search engine results pages” so I imagine there will be an upsurge in the number of agencies quoting these new figures when pitching for SEO and Paid Search activity. If however we consider that Google handles around 100 billion search queries per month unfortunately it does make a dataset such as that of Compete’s instantly lack punch.
The Compete report is certainly an interesting read and provides further insight for businesses and search marketing professionals alike to better understand search user behaviour. To download and read the full 8 page report for yourself head over to Compete.com and download the report here.
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