Posted on Sept. 7, 2007
When it comes to organic (not paid) search engine results pages (SERPs), there’s much more happening than meets the eye, literally. As users, we have the tendency only to consider the top ten search results that appear on the first page of Google’s results. Honestly, how many of us ever venture onto the second results page? The answer is almost no one.
Research shows that many Internet users never click to the second page of the SERPs because they assume (correctly I might add) that the first ten results returned for their search query are the most accurate and relevant, simply because they’re on the first page.
So we’ve all decided that the first page is the best place for our website to be. But is it? In a sense, yes. It depends where on the first page the link to your website is positioned.
As search engine optimizers and marketers, we’ve known this for years. But many of us assume that any placement on the first page of the search results is nearly equal. Sadly, this is far from the truth. Usability studies have shown that the human eye digests information in a top-down, left to right direction. So what’s the big deal? More importantly, how does this affect the amount of traffic sent to your website through the search engines?
Interestingly, the first several seconds of user interaction with the SERPs determines if you’ll get a clickthrough to your website or not. Why?
Like I mentioned earlier, human psychological behavior determines how we interpret an interact with the SERPs. We begin by anchoring ourselves in the upper left corner of a web page, like we would with any other print medium. From there, our eyes begin to scan the results page from left to right, top to bottom, and so on.
Therefore, users start their scan for relevance in the place where the top three results reside. Coincidence? Of course not. Google and the other leading search engines like Yahoo! and MSN are all well aware of this fact, and their SERP design and layout is evidence of this fact.
As you can see, there is a triangle formed in the area where we are psychologically programmed to begin scanning. This triangle has been referred to as “The Golden Triangle” by many industry experts or “The Area of Greatest Promise” by others because of the way we orient our eyes within this small area.
Studies known as “click heat maps” have proved this fact as well. The “hottest” or most clicked areas of a page are identified with red, while the “cooler” less clicked areas of the page are identified in green. Of course, the gray areas get no clicks at all.
Furthermore, a number of clickstream results studies show a similar F-shaped triangular pattern to heatmaps derived from eye tracking studies (Nielsen 2006 is one such study).
This confirmed that user click patterns appear to follow human eye scanning patterns, with the most active selected area located in the upper left corner of the page.
Not surprisingly, over 45% of all user clicks occurred in a region slightly larger than the upper left corner of the visible page (Weinrich 2006).
As we’ve seen, this research proves that you need to be in top five results (ideally) if not the top three. If you aren’t within the top five, your chances of being seen decrease exponentially. When you’re at the bottom, you’ll get the least amount of attention if you get any at all.
Youre chances of being noticed drop from 100% for the first three organic listings to only 60% for the fifth position. Positions 6-10 drop even further, with your chances of being found falling from 50% to 20%. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.
In conclusion, we all know that search engine rank and positioning are critical to driving targeted traffic to your site. In fact, an entire science known as search engine optimization (SEO) now exists with the sole intention of improving the organic rank of websites on the SERPs.
So what’s this mean for you and your website? Clearly, if you want to be found by searchers, you need to start performing search engine optimization and rank within the top ten positions if you can’t break into the first three. When searchers begin to scan the search engine results pages within the bounds of the Golden Triangle, you’ve got about a second or two to make yourself seen and capitalize upon that critical first click.
If you fail to get noticed, you’re wasting time, money, and valuable opportunities to bring users to your site. So don’t be digitally anti-social. Instead, start optimizing your website and reap the benefits of popularity found within the Golden Triangle.