The statistic or something similar to it has dominated the sales pitches and marketing materials of search engine optimization companies for a very long time. I just saw a mention of it in an article from 2005 and it’s been reiterated again and again ever since. Nearly every study seems to come to the same conclusion. Nearly every study is wrong, at least from a business perspective.
If you torture statistics long enough, you can make them say anything you want. I could go into a long-winded breakdown of why this is a completely bogus statistic, but I’m going to appeal to common sense instead. If you take a second to think about it, the reality of search engine optimization becomes very clear.
If you include all searches, the number is probably accurate. The problem is that the majority of searches should not be considered when judging the importance of the top ranking in Google. They aren’t the type of keywords that need to be optimized. For example, the top keyword for 2012 was “Facebook”. It was searched for over 3 billion times a month in 2012. People wanted to go to Facebook, so they searched for it in Google. It’s the safest way to avoid the challenges of typos that take you to the wrong place, so they search for it. Guess what the first listing is for that keyword? What percentage of those 3 billion monthly searches do you think clicked on the top listing?
The second most searched keyword was “YouTube”, followed by “Hotmail”, and then “Google” (yes, people searched for Google in Google). Again, the top listing gets the lion’s share of those searches.
From a business perspective, the top keyword for the vast majority of companies will be by name. People who do a search for Dell with find dell.com at the top and that’s exactly what they’re going to click. People who search for “Richmond Ford” were looking for Richmond Ford and will click on the top listing which is.
The other searches, the important ones that people type in when they’re looking for something other than a specific company or website, are the money terms. They’re the ones that you will want to rank for in order to drive additional traffic to you website. These are the searches that drive down the numbers from being so high (near 100% when people do a search for Hotmail, for example) all the way down to 42%. Why? Because when people do these types of searches, they’re looking for choices. They’re not looking for a single website in particular. They’re looking for the right website. They will scan the listing and pick out pages that seem to match their needs.
People who are searching for “Richmond Ford” know what they want. People searching for “Virginia Ford Dealers” want options. It’s easy for richmondford.com to rank at the top for “Richmond Ford”, but the ability to rank at the top for “Virginia Ford Dealers” is the key to moving the needle. For those searches, the top listing does not get 42% of the clicks. The top listing gets more than the second listing, which gets more than the third listing, which gets much more than the fourth and fifth listings, which get much more than the next five listings. I’m not saying that being at the top isn’t important.
I’m saying that the right search strategy for the majority of businesses that have a diverse range of keywords that can drive relevant traffic to their site is to get the top spot for as many keywords as possible, but also top 3 listings for other keywords and even top 5 listings for others. Getting more keywords is more important than getting the top listing for fewer keywords.
The same effort that it takes to get the top listing for a challenging but semi-relevant keyword can be used to get top 3 or top 5 listings for dozens of other keywords. This is where the needle is moved. This is where the traffic is increased. Once the wide strategy is in place, it’s good to go back and move them up even further, but don’t get hung up on getting the top listing for single keywords. It’s good for ego but not necessarily for traffic.