Long ago, we talked about why it matters where you rank in the search results. Simply put, when someone throws a query into a search engine and hits enter, they are far more likely to click on the pages that appear near the top than they are to click on the ones at the bottom. If you’re not on the first page of the results, the chances diminish even further.
However, this takeaway is oversimplified. While it gets the main point across—you want to be at the top of the rankings for targeted search queries—there’s a hint of nuance to appreciate.
The Simple: 55% of the Clicks Go to the Top 3 Sites
Our earlier blog post, from way back in November, 2015, related a statistic about the click-through-rate (CTR) for a site’s organic ranking in the search engine results page (SERP):
Thus, 31% of the traffic from a SERP goes to the website that appears first in the listing when the user clicks through to it. Meanwhile, the five sites that are ranked 6th through 10th on the first page share less than 4% of the clicks, while all 10 sites on page two share a similar amount.
Complexities: Paid Ads, Clickless Queries, Branded Searches, and Long Tails
A red flag appears, though, when you notice that the percentages don’t add up to 100. These numbers only include clicks that go to organic results, not to paid ads at the top and bottom of the SERP or to queries that do not produce a click, at all. Additionally, if you read our blog or are closely in tune with the issues in search engine marketing (SEM), you know that not all searches are the same: Top rankings for informational searches—especially long tail searches—are likely to have a lower CTR than a navigational query or branded search.
These 4 issues are likely to change the CTR that your law firm’s website is supposed to enjoy, given its placement in the SERP rankings.
Paid Advertisements: A Bit of a Niche Market for Law Firms
Google makes money by selling ad space at the top of highly-trafficked SERPs. When users click on these paid listings (called Pay-Per-Clicks, or PPCs), the owner of the site pays Google a fee for bringing in the traffic.
The generally accepted number, though, is that these PPCs only attract around 6% of the web traffic. Worse, stats indicate that only about 4% of the people who click on a law firm’s PPC ad end up converting into a paying client.
However, there are silver linings and nuances to these numbers: Because they might not realize they are clicking on an ad, unsophisticated search engine users—like those over the age of 65—tend to click on PPCs more often than other demographics. If you do wills or estate law, PPCs may be a good investment, despite the low numbers.
Clickless Queries: A Growing Problem
A surprising number of queries are ending without a click, at all, leading to no web traffic for either organic or paid listings.
Why? Because Google is increasingly trying to resolve queries on the SERP, itself. According to Moz, nearly 40% of searches are no longer leading to traffic for the sites on the results page, in large part because Google adds knowledge panels, answer boxes, and featured snippets, and allows for extended meta descriptions that might negate the need for a click.
These SERP features can be a double-edged sword: They’re unique opportunities to reach interested clients directly from the SERP if you play your cards right. However, if you’re not in a featured position, your firm will lose lots of traffic.
Branded Searches: Even More Clicks for the Top
A branded search is a query designed to bring the searcher to a particular page or business. An example of a navigational query, branded searches are done by users who already know where they want to go—they’re just using a search engine to get there, rather than put the site’s URL.
For example, you would conduct a branded search for our site if you brought up Google and entered “Myers Freelance” in the search field.
Search engines are good at branded searches: They often bring users to a results page that has the intended destination at or near the top (for example, our domain is ranked 1 through 3 on a branded search).
Therefore, the CTR on branded searches should be significantly higher than for other kinds of searches. New stats from Smart Insights back this up: In branded searches, the first result attracts 5% more clicks than non-branded searches. The second position in branded searches is in line with non-branded queries, but then the CTR falls below the norm, highlighting the importance of being at or very close to the top for branded searches for your law firm.
Long Tail Searches: More Traffic for Everyone
A key detail of a search query is how specific it is. Vague queries of 1 or 2 words produce general results that lots of players are fighting for… as well as plenty of SERP features like knowledge graphs that take traffic away.
On the other hand, long tail searches involve several words and aim to answer a more particular question or issue. Figures from Smart Insights show that long tail searches—which it defines as those with 4 or more words—distribute traffic deeper into the rankings: The CTR is below average for the first result, but significantly above the normal rate for the rest of the first page, particularly sites in the second, third, and fourth slots. The CTR for organic listings, in the aggregate, is well above normal because paid ads are less likely to siphon off traffic and Google is less likely to have a knowledge panel or a featured snippet to hoard the traffic by making a click superfluous.
Conclusion: The Top is Still the Best
Of course, the general rule of thumb still holds: Being at the top of the results for your targeted queries should still be the goal of your search engine marketing efforts, because that’s where the traffic gets funneled. However, there are nuances to the statistics that support this rule. Knowing where that wiggle room exists and then utilizing it can give your law firm a critical advantage over your competition.