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The importance of being ranked

It's common knowledge that if you don't get your site ranking in the first few pages of a search engines results, then it isn't likely to attract much traffic for that search term. Research in the US in 2006 has now identified the likely traffic volumes for the first 3 pages and compares this to previous results, demonstrating that the top 30 results are essential places to be.

Online research conducted by Jupiter Research and sponsored by US search marketing company iProspect, asked over 2,000 web users a series of questions about their search behaviour. It found that 62% of search engine users click on a search result within the first page of results, and a full 90% of users click on a result within the first three pages of the search results. This clearly indicates the importance of a ranking within the first 30 results for any relevant search term - either through the natural listings or sponsored results.

Compared to similar research in 2002, these figures were just 48% and 81% respectively, which seems to indicate that searchers are becoming more lazy, more sophisticated, or that the search engines have become more effective at delivering the desired results. Unfortunately the study does not investigate these distinctions but suggests that users have indeed become savvier because 41% of users who do not find satisfactory results in the first page of results either change search term or search engine, compared with 28% four years ago.

This seems a simplistic approach to explaining these statistics, since there are so many factors that would affect the differences in behaviour reported in 2002 versus 2006. During those four years, companies like Google and Yahoo have become household names with a massive influence on the search market, so nowadays you would expect to find what you want in the first three results pages, or you might assume that your search term could be improved. However, the point remains that people are either becoming less willing to - or just don't need to - delve down into the search results beyond the first 3 pages and therefore the concentration and competition for these high positions becomes more intensive.

Another interesting finding that came out of this study is that 36% of the users surveyed believe that companies whose websites appear at the top of the natural search results are the top companies in their field. To put that finding in context, slightly more people (39%) felt neutral about this question and 25% said that top search engine rankings had nothing to do with market or brand leadership.

This is particularly interesting if you consider yourself a brand leader and are not highly ranked, or in contrast, if you have a top ranking despite not being a brand leader. Either of these two groups would know the correct answer, but understandably many people believe that free-market principles would dictate that the bigger the brand the bigger the budget, and so the top ranked company should be the brand or market leader. It's not always the case and as long as a top ranking site delivers what the searcher is looking for, then it has achieved the most important requirement.

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