posted on September 9th, 2011

Why High Rankings on Google May Not Result Into Website Traffic?

Ranking is one of the most highly used, overused and abused SEO metrics. While most of the SEO experts are responsible for over-hyping this SEO performance measurement technique, the role of clients seeking higher results for every possible keyword, cannot be undermined. Clients or SEOs, everyone seems to be obsessed with higher rankings and we are yet to find a performance evaluation where rankings are not the first metrics to be reported.

Some result-oriented type SEO firms combine this with tools that predict SERP CTR rates. A SERP is a search engine results page and CTR refers to Click-Thru rate. While it is true that higher rankings bring more traffic, trying to predict accurate percentage traffic which corresponds to SERP position, usually leads to failure. Due to their relative positions on a SERP, rankings 1 to 5 get much more visibility as compared to the 6-10th ranking. Eye-tracking studies and leaked papers from AOL click-thru reports were used to predict ranking to traffic measurement numbers. Moreover, X or Y% increase was further translated and projected as future expected inquiries and sales for clients.

While everyone was looking happy with this so called perfect trajectory, a lighting of realization struck companies when the traffic figures didn’t match the predicted numbers. The reality to prediction numbers were so wild that there was nothing that businesses and their SEO’s could do apart from scratching their heads and tossing their prediction files into secret bins, so that they never have to see them again. Factors Affecting Click-Thru Rate on SERPS

While now you know what a SERP is and what CTR is too, it is the time to understand the most important factors that will make the predictions careen wayward. Remember that one or more or all factors might be at play together and it largely depends on the kind of keywords that you are targeting.

Searcher’s Intention

The search intentions vary from person to person and it varies a lot when the queries are short. A person typing in “Web Designers” might be looking for anything from web design services to looking for where web designers get work, to the most prominent web designers in their area for an interview and so on and so forth. The intentions can be numerous and so can be the choices for clicking. If you are a web design firm which wants to capture the attention of the visitor and the visitor is actually looking for a web designer, you might get lucky. If not, a job site which is listed just below or above you might attract the visitor or something else.

If you rank at the top for the searcher’s query but the intentions are different, you may just not receive the expected number of clicks. The predictions of the first result getting 45% clicks might prove wrong. Moreover, a lot of effort is involved in ranking your website at the top for short queries. You only realize that the keyword is not doing enough for you after you reach the top 3 on Google for that keyword. This is true for exact match domain names too. It is better to have your due diligence done before you invest heavily in a premium, exact match domain. The returns may be well below your expected numbers based on calculations of SERP CTRs.

Brand Names Competing With You

As SEO experts, we have observed more than one time that when the searcher’s query has a navigational intent (search engine used to reach a particular website) or if a brand name outranks you, chances are less that you will fall in the “click brackets”. Even if the brand does not outrank you, but is listed just below your result, your CTR will be badly shaken. We know that Google prefers brands, and user intentions prove that they are correct. It seems like people have an inclination towards businesses and products that they know of already, or are at least familiar with.

Local Search Results

Many of us have seen the Google’s 7-pack shown above the organic results when the search query has a local modifier in it. The results are pulled in from Google Maps and links exist to the “Place Page” for the businesses along with their reviews on review sites like Yelp, Judy’s Book, Insider Pages and other comparison shopping sites/Internet Yellow pages. Towards the end of 2010, Google rolled out a significant change in their algorithm promoting local results with a very high prominence that is hard to be missed.

An example search for “lawyers in New York”, gives this 7-pack result with a map of lawyer locations in NY, making them very conspicuous on the SERPS.

Universal Search

While nothing affects SERP CTR performance as local search results, Universal Search too plays a big role in affecting the SERP CTR distribution. Google introduced Universal search back in 2007 with an aim of covering as many intentions as possible. If someone is searching for cars, it is hard to tell what they require. Google comes to the rescue and show car pictures, news about new car models and even videos on Youtube. This mixing of results from alterative indexes is known as Universal Search. Searchers may enjoy a car video or the latest Volkswagen car and may want to see how the interiors look like. If yours is a text based result, get ready for seeing some discrepancy in the number of clicks.

On the other hand, Universal Search presents a lot many opportunities to businesses as well. A properly crafted content strategy with images, videos and presentations may compensate for the CTR loss on text results.

What this blog post brings forth Is the fact that forecasting may be good for number crunching, but is not an exact science when it comes to SERP CTR. Your SEO company might have their own reasons for showing you how more hours translate into more keyword traffic, but it is advisable to take this with a pinch of salt. When looking at SEO results look at them holistically and try tapping as many channels as possible. Get on-board with Video promotion, Google Base promotion, local internet marketing and web analytics/conversion optimization. This complete strategy and various channels to tap will prove much more beneficial for you in the longer run than an overt focus on a couple of short keyword queries.


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