“We want to rank first for that keyword.”
If you run a small business, I’m sure you’ve had that thought. It’s a great goal to have. And yes, ranking first for a specific term has its advantages.
But it also doesn’t mean what it used to. Take a quick look on Google today, and you’ll find that first position organic search results are now pushed down the page and below the fold by ads, local map packs, and other Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features. It’s likely your prospects could search Google for a keyword you rank well for, but never see your company’s listing!
To show you how dramatically this has changed, let’s take a look at a comparison of page one search results for the keyword “pool tables” back in 2008 versus the same search today, in 2019.
In the screenshot below, you can quickly see the first organic search result is highlighted in red for the 2008 search.
Back in 2008, Google served the top-ranking organic listings well above the fold, directly under three sponsored links (which are set apart by the beige background).
That’s a totally different story in 2019.
The screenshot below shows the same exact search for the keyword “pool tables” in 2019. Notice how the user now has to scroll past four ads, a map, and three local map results before ever seeing the true, first organic search result. In the example below, the first organic search result now shows up in the eighth position on the page!
Why This Matters
Google’s top focus is helping its users find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. When you do a search now, Google has developed a very convenient way to display the information you’re looking for “front and center” right in the search results. Clicking on the search results is no longer required in most cases to get the answers you are looking for. As a result, this has dramatically decreased the click-through-rate for organic search results.
Earlier this year, SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin and Jumpshot released data showing the decrease in click-through-rate for organic searches and the number of searches that yielded “zero clicks” on organic links or paid ads. On desktop searches in the US, the organic click-through rate (CTR) decreased by 2%. The story on mobile is even worse, with CTR going down 11% and zero-click searches (searches where none of the results are clicked) increasing from 55% to 62%.
It’s hard to foresee a future where these trends change, and one thing is clear when digging into the numbers (or just simply via the eye test), organic search should only represent a single aspect of your digital marketing strategy.
What You Can Do About It
If your goal is to increase visibility, your strategy needs to include more than just organic SEO. In order to do this, here are a few tools you need to have in your digital outreach strategy.
The best place to start regaining visibility on Google’s SERP is by claiming a space among the ad links that are pushing organic search results down the page. If Google shows ads when users search for keywords that are important to your business, there is virtually no way to outrank them organically. Businesses pay good money for this above-the-fold real estate, and if being among the first shown results is important to you, then there is no other option but to join them.
Google Ads are now a quintessential part of any digital marketing effort. What Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs) hope to achieve over time with organic optimization, Google Ads can achieve overnight. With the correct budget and a list of curated keywords to target, a business can begin appearing at the top of search results in mere hours. This means your business experiences instant brand exposure and immediate lead flow. If you are a local business hoping to expand your reach beyond the city you are located in, you can instantly appear in searches outside of your locality with Google Ads.
Google My Business
When Google launched Google My Business (GMB) in 2014, it served as a great opportunity for both local and national businesses to manage their online presence and communicate key information to their customers. Now, a well-maintained Google My Business page is a crucial aspect of ensuring your business is positioned to rank well, not only in organic results but also in the local map packs (shown below) that appear for people around you who are searching for your products or services.
How do we know that? Google tells users directly! According to their Improve Your Local Ranking on Google page,
“Providing and updating business information in Google My Business can help your business’s local ranking on Google and enhance your presence in Search and Maps.”
First, it’s important that you have claimed and verified your listing on Google. Verifying your business online helps both Google and people conducting searches online know that the information presented in the listing is accurate. Once your listing is set up, you will want to ensure the accuracy of all of the information on the listing, respond to any reviews that are left (even the negative ones), and utilize Google My Business’s post functionality regularly.
Want a real-world example of how Google My Business activity can impact search visibility? At North Star, we started to leverage GMB’s post functionality for one of our clients. We created two posts a month from July to February. When we went back and compared traffic coming to their website through organic search from the same period in the previous year, we noticed a 34% increase after implementing the GMB posts!
Want more information about how to optimize your Google My Business listing? Check out our blog post outlining how to win more local searches using this great tool.
Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Feature Optimization
Google has introduced several new SERP features in recent years, from shopping carousels and knowledge cards to featured snippets and the local map pack. They serve a wide variety of audiences and search intents, but they all have one thing in common; users see them before they see almost any organic search results. Their existence has spawned an entirely new arm of SEO, On-SERP SEO. The gallery below shows some examples of SERP features Google uses to present relevant information to searchers right on the results page.
Shopping Results: Shopping results are considered a sponsored SERP feature. Companies pay for placement in an image carousel, populated with rich information like pricing and customer ratings.
Stock Direct Answer: If you search for a specific stock or index, Google serves the stock direct answer SERP feature which allows users to quickly see a stock’s performance for the day.
Featured Snippet: The featured snippet SERP feature gives a brief preview of the contents of an article that Google believes may answer the searcher’s query.
Knowledge Card: Knowledge cards present a quick look at data relevant to a specific query. This includes semantic, user-generated data to data extracted from the Google Index.
Sports Direct Answer: The sports SERP feature can serve several purposes, from showing users scores and schedules to presenting information regarding standings and playoff brackets.
Due to their visibility, SERP feature placements (like the examples above) are coveted real estate. It’s important to identify which of these SERP features Google delivers for your targeted keywords so that you know how to optimize for them. If you want people to find your bakery on Main Street, your website will need to be optimized for placement in the local pack feature. If you are putting together a list article on tips for salvaging a burnt cake, you will want to develop content optimized for the featured snippet.
While optimizing for SERP features may not necessarily yield a higher click-through-rate (remember, these features are the reason zero-click searches are on the rise), regularly appearing for users in SERP features on a particular topic will increase.
Putting it All Together
None of this is to say that ranking first for important keywords in your industry shouldn’t be a significant portion of your online marketing strategy. On desktop, 61% of searches still result in a click to an organically ranking site. But if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, it is going to take more than showing up in the ten blue links on Google SERPs.
If you are interested in seeing what audiences you are and are not currently reaching and what strategies could have the most impact on your marketing efforts, reach out to us! At North Star Marketing, we offer a wide array of online marketing services, from local SEO to paid search management to content strategy development.
To get started, fill out this form to request a free local search audit. We can provide you with an audit and recommendations for ensuring that local prospects can find your business.