Lovin' Google Webmaster Tools Top Search Queries

  |  May 4, 2010   |  Comments

Top Search Queries shows us that positions in search results are fluid. On top of that, they are fluid by fairly significant factors. Here's a look at two examples that prove this.

Have you been spending time checking out the new extended Top Search Queries reports at Google Webmaster Tools?

If you haven't heard of this enhancement, it's a dandy. It shows things like impressions, click-throughs, and click-through percentage rate for many very specific phrases coming to your site via natural search listings in Google.

Those advancements are striking. Never before have you been able to see how many times your site was shown in natural search results. Until now, you only knew how much traffic you received from a phrase.

For example, let's say the phrase "running shoes store" sends your site about 1,000 visits in a month. You are probably pretty happy about that. But what if you discovered, through the new Top Search Queries report, that you had 100,000 impressions for that 1,000 visits? Suddenly, you might not be as excited about your 1,000 visits. That's only a 1 percent click-through rate.

But wait! There's more.

You can also click on these phrases and get some more amazing data.

The report then breaks down each phrase by "position in search results." So you will see how many impressions, click-throughs, and the click-through percentage for each position a phrase holds.

Let me show you some examples with phrases I've hidden the identity of.

Phrase A

Position Impressions Click-through % Click-through
Cumulative 49,500 1,000 2%
No. 5 480 36 8%
Nos. 6 to 10 260 <10
2nd page 40,500 720 2%
3rd page + 3,600 58 2%

The first row gives us the overall numbers for the phrase. On average, this phrase gets a 2 percent click-through rate.

However, in its highest position it gets an 8 percent click-through. But it isn't shown very often on that page. Mostly, it's on the second page of results and is given a 2 percent click-through rate.

Imagine how much traffic this phrase could get if its primary placement was on the first page instead of the second. An 8 percent click-through rate in position five for, say, 90,000 impressions would be 7,200 clicks. This is an incredibly targeted phrase for this site. How much effort would you be willing to put out for that kind of return?

Let's look at another phrase where they do dominate.

Phrase B

Position Impressions Click-through % Click-through
Cumulative 33,100 5,400 16%
No. 1 14,800 2,900 20%
No. 2 14,800 1,900 13%
No. 3 880 91 10%
No. 4 140 <10 -
No. 5 12 <10 -
No. 6 to 10 16 <10 -
2nd page 110 16 15%
3rd page + 28 <10 -

Honestly, I'm not sure what this tells us. It is consistently receiving double-digit click-through percentages...except in position four through 10.

Overall, it appears that this is a highly relevant phrase for this site. When someone sees this site for this phrase, they very often click on it. That probably accounts for why Google is giving it such high ranking.

I find the 15 percent click-through rate on the second page extremely interesting. Phrase A only has a 2 percent click-through rate on the second page. That probably accounts for why it doesn't rank very well overall. Maybe if Phrase A could increase its relevancy even on the second page, it might be promoted to a higher ranking.

We might be seeing a clue into another aspect of the ranking algorithm at Google. If click-through is low in a lower position, maybe your chances of getting a higher ranking are more slim.

But there is something else that is interesting here.

Since the beginning of ranking reports, we always viewed a site's ranking as absolute. One month you are in position number three. Then the next month you are in position number two.

These new Top Search Queries show that unchanging assumption as completely wrong.

Positions are fluid. On top of that, they are fluid by fairly significant factors. Sometimes a phrase is number one. Sometimes the same phrase is on the third page.

These reports tell us a great deal about our sites. But they also tell us a lot about how Google positions a site for a phrase and possibly why it determines where a site primarily resides for a phrase.

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Sage Lewis

Sage Lewis is the president of SageRock Digital Marketing. SageRock has been a leader in Web marketing since 1999, offering search engine optimization, paid search marketing, social media marketing, and analytics.

Sage speaks nationally with SES and other prominent Web marketing organizations. He is one of the most sought after speakers and coaches in the field of Web marketing. From coast to coast, Sage has trained, coached, and consulted with some of the largest brands and conferences in the country.

Sage is also "The Web Marketing Video Guy" with nearly 500 Web marketing videos published. Sage writes as an expert for ClickZ in the "Search Engine Marketing" section. He lives in Akron, Ohio with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

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