When I’m meeting with clients or prospective clients, I’m often asked how important it is to rank on page 1 of the search engines. It definitely is, and more on that topic in a minute. Then it’s typically not long before I’m asked how many keywords clients should rank for. That’s usually a longer conversation where I like to introduce the concept of the long tail (which I’ll be covering as part of this post).
I’ve written about the power of the long tail of SEO on my blog, including details for how to rank for long tail keywords, and my hope is that you’ll soon understand why I feel so strongly about it. In addition to discussing the importance of ranking highly in search and how powerful the long tail is, I often refer to the latest Google heat map study to reinforce my recommendations and to explain search behavior.
I find that if you start connecting the dots between high rankings, the latest heat map study, and the long tail of SEO, then organic search strategy becomes much clearer (especially for people outside of the Search industry). So, I ended up running an experiment recently and the results displayed a strong connection between the three elements I mentioned above. In fact, the results were so intriguing that I decided to write this post to detail my experiment! With that quick introduction out of the way, let’s get moving.
Organic Search and The Web Analytics Addiction
Like many of you reading this post, I’m fanatical about checking my web analytics reporting. I especially love digging into natural search reports and analyzing which keywords drove quality traffic to site, did those visitors bounce, where did they go on the site, did they convert, which type of keywords did they enter, did they use on-site search, etc.
My goal is to see how those visitors contributed to the overall success of the website that I’m analyzing. Several of the sites I manage use Google Analytics (GA) to track website activity and I’m definitely a big fan of GA. In early January, a blog post from Andre Scholten caught my attention. His post explained how to track where your keywords actually rank in Google within your Google Analytics reporting (on the fly). For example, seeing each keyword that led to your site, but also quickly seeing which page of Google it was listed on when people clicked through.
Keep in mind, I could use a number of tools to run a position analysis on target keywords, but that’s not feasible for long tail keywords, since you might be dealing with thousands of keywords at a time. In addition, you wouldn’t have ready access to deeper analytics reporting like you would in GA. So, I read Andre’s post and I quickly set up new profiles and custom filters for a number of websites that I manage. Needless to say, I was eager to see the results in Google Analytics.
It was only a few hours before I started seeing the results show up, and I picked up a trend pretty darn quickly. To be honest, it was a trend that I thought I would see, since I know the power of the long tail. That said, when you view it across a large number of keywords, and all at one time, it was definitely intriguing. Then as more and more keywords showed up, the trend simply got stronger.
Yes, It Is Important To Rank On Page 1, To Say The Least
I’ll cut to the chase. Almost every keyword I saw in the reporting ranked on page 1 of Google. I started scanning more keywords, clicking through additional pages of keywords, and an overwhelming amount ranked on page 1…
So I checked the other sites I used for this experiment and saw extremely similar results. I started manually checking keywords, head terms, torso, and long tail terms. It was incredible to scroll through the reporting and see page 1 rankings for almost all of the keywords. But here’s the rub, just because the final keywords that led to each site ranked on page 1, that didn’t mean it was the person’s first query…
That could have been their second, third, or fourth refinement. The long tail was absolutely in effect and was easily revealed. It clearly showed the importance and power of targeting long tail keywords and what that can mean for the volume of quality traffic. Sure, there were several head terms that ranked on page 1 of Google and those keywords did send a good amount of quality traffic to the sites I tested. But, there were terms that easily could have been the result of someone refining their query after not being happy with the search results.
For those of you unclear what a long tail keyword is, here is an example from my own blog: