Like Curly in the movie, City Slickers said, "it’s about just one thing." Although Curly wasn’t talking about search engine optimization, SEO has historically been about just one very singular pursuit – that of rankings. While you want your company website to land on the first page of a search engine results page (SERP), there’s much more to optimizing for search engine placement.
It’s true, higher rankings do, indeed, lead to more clicks and visits from interested searchers. And that search traffic is uniquely valuable because of its high relevancy and timeliness – people search when they’re interested or ready to perform an action.
However, in the last few years, the relentless focus on rankings alone has ignored the reality of change in the world of search results, and the value of the clickthrough rate (CTR).
Today, search engine queries do not just return a list of ten blue, ordered links. They return results with images, videos, profile pictures, and all manner of meta data that help searchers choose the best result.
Years ago, a top ranking on a Google search result could bring upwards of 40% of the all the traffic to a website from a particular query results page. Today, that figure is less than 20%. Meanwhile, rankings in lower positions have gained some of those clicks. Here are a few reasons why:
Search engines are increasingly paying attention to searchers’ social media activity. Google uses information learned from their Google+ platform, as well as Facebook and other sources to enhance and improve their search results.
Google Direct Connect
Google+ Direct Connect lets searchers navigate quickly to a Google+ page, and even add that page to their circles, when using Google Search. For example, if a searcher types '+youtube' or '+pepsi,' into the Google search bar, they could be immediately taken to the YouTube Google+ page, or the Pepsi Google+ page, and given the option to add the page to their circles.
Google Authorship connects a piece of content with the Google Plus profile of its author. Inbound marketers can set up Google+ Authorship to display a small photo of the author beside their content when it shows up in a Google search. Authorship makes the linked headline more recognizable and gives the otherwise sterile listing a human touch that can make it more appealing to click.
Search engines also consider the date of the web page in their quest to provide relevant results to web searches. Recently published pages and blog articles are considered more relevant and are given more weight.
The Holistic View of Search Rankings
When optimizing for search traffic today, marketers can’t think just about rankings, they need to take a holistic approach to their search engine marketing by paying attention to the visibility and appearance of their listings.
Search engines consider much more than simply the title, keyword and description meta tags on a web page. Google+ author profiles, as explained, can make headshots appear alongside descriptions. Video XML Sitemaps can be used to show a video capture image. Rich snippets protocols can be applied to e-commerce listings for pricing, availability, quantity and other consumer friendly details. And these are only the tip of the iceberg.
A marketer who dives deep on this topic can find dozens of opportunities to enhance their listing and earn more traffic. Because these days, it’s not enough to rank. Marketers need to earn their clicks.