Ian Schneider

No, it’s not. If that’s all you wanted, have a good day and thanks for stopping by. Or, if you don’t want to read a bunch of (super awesome) discussion, just skip to the bottom of this article to see how much money a number one ranking could be worth. Spoiler: a lot.

If you do want to keep reading, this article covers some intermediate/advanced keyword and traffic analysis. If you’re still learning the ropes, some of it might be confusing or out of scope for your current experience.

But don’t run for the hills just yet. There’s an old saying that if you want to be fast, you have to run with the swift. So, give it a shot. I bet you’ll be able to pull out several things that will immediately benefit your blog.

If you want a quick primer on the basics of keyword research before jumping in, we’ve got you covered.

Read More: Beginner’s Guide to Free Keyword Research

The Ahrefs Question

The team over at Ahrefs posted a video discussing the benefits – or lack of benefits? – that come with ranking #1 in Google for any particular search query. The discussion they raise is interesting, and they conclude that the benefits of ranking #1 are probably overstated.

Ahrefs has a lot of data at their fingertips. They tapped into that warehouse to test about 100,000 different, non-branded searches. In their analysis, they conclude that the number 1 result gets the most traffic just 49% of the time. 51% of the time, a page somewhere in the #2 to #10 spot actually gets more traffic than the #1 result. Sometimes a lot more.

Here’s our homeboy Sam Oh breaking things down:

What Does Being #1 Get You?

So, according to the data from Ahrefs, the #1 search result gets the most traffic only 49% of the time. Which sounds kind of lame. Like it might not be worth it to rank in the top spot.

Position in Search ResultsHow often this position gets the most traffic
#149%
#222%
#312%
#47%
#5-1010%

But hold on.

That’s not a bad number, that’s a phenomenal number. Instead of saying “the #1 search result only gets the most traffic 49% of the time,” let’s flip the script. It’s just as valid to say that the #1 spot is more than twice as likely to get the most traffic, compared to its closest competitor (the #2 spot). Or, if you want to put it a third way, if your goal is getting the most traffic, being #2 is only half as likely to work as being #1.

And your chances of success plummet after that.


What The Ahrefs Search Data is Actually Saying

On the surface, the ahrefs video seems to be suggesting what this article’s title implies – that the benefits of ranking in the number one position are overrated, and that you might be able to actually get more traffic if you rank in one of the other first page results.

But, is that true?

No, probably not.

Here’s the problem – this video never comes right out and clearly states why the sites that aren’t ranking number one are getting more traffic. So, I’ll say it.

Look at this screenshot from the video.

This screenshot shows you

  1. the top three search results for the term “keyword research”
  2. the total traffic each of these top three results gets (circled)
  3. how many total keywords each of these pages ranks for
  4. what the top keyword is for each of these pages
  5. how much search volume exists for that top keyword.

Right away, you can see what Sam is talking about – the page that ranks #3 for “keyword research” gets way, way more total traffic than the page that ranks #1.

Why?

Because it’s getting all that traffic from totally different searches! The “total traffic” metric describes, well, the total traffic that a page gets, not the traffic that a page gets from only the single keyword search being examined.

The page that ranks number one for “keyword research” gets 4,939 total visitors, but we don’t know how many of those visitors are coming from the “keyword research” search – because this page also shows up in the search results for 92 other keywords. If that’s the case, then some of the “total traffic” has to be coming from searches related to those other 92 keywords.

This explains why the page that ranks number 3 for “keyword research” actually gets so much more traffic than the page that ranks number 1 – most of its traffic is coming from searches related to the other 1,976 keywords it ranks for.

In fact, when this video was made, the screenshot straight up tells you that “keyword research” isn’t even the best performing keyword for this page. The best performing keyword is “keyword search.”

Because I actually have an ahrefs account, I was able to pull a more complete traffic analysis for the page we’re talking about. By the way, you should totally get an ahrefs account. If you’ve moved beyond basic keyword research, ahrefs blows everything else out of the water. I know, because I’ve tried everything else.

Anyway:

First, you can see that things have changed a little bit since the video was made, because now the top traffic driving keyword for this page actually is “keyword research,” which wasn’t the case when the video was made (it was “keyword search,” remember?)

More importantly, you can see that this page is generating tons of traffic from other keywords. This is only a snapshot of the top 13 keywords that drive traffic to this page. There are almost 2,000 other keywords to consider.

So there’s your answer. The page in the number 3 spot for the search “keyword research” gets so much more traffic than the page in the number 1 spot because almost all of that traffic is coming from different searches.

Building Better Blog Posts

How do we use the knowledge in this ahrefs video to improve our traffic? They actually do touch on this a little bit in the video, but there is one big, actionable, take-home message:

Diversify your keyword rankings.

It’s clear from this data that breadth of coverage – covering more of the potential total keyword space – is a much stronger traffic driver than ranking well for a single keyword or keyword phrase. Even when you rank well for keyword with lots of search attention, you’ll probably get a lot more traffic by ranking “ok” for lots of keywords than you will by just ranking well for that one high traffic keyword.

How Many Clicks Do Search Results Get?

So, I think we’ve decided that the ahrefs video isn’t really talking about the value of ranking number one for a given search. If that’s the case, can we still figure out what the value of the top spot really is?

Sure. With science, yo.

A while back, the Ivy League nerds at Cornell did a study about search engine results. In this nerdy study for nerds, they explicitly set out to measure how much attention people pay to search results based on the position of each result in the list.

Now this data tells us something about the relative power of the different search result positions.

This Cornell study clearly tells us that the top ranking site is going to get most of the attention – clicks – from searchers. That’s kind of obvious. What isn’t so obvious is how searchers treat the other positions in the search results. While the top spot gets most of the clicks, positions 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 are all pretty close to each other.

This suggests that, though there’s a huge bump when you get to position number one, just being on the first page of results is pretty powerful by itself.

How Much Money Is Being the Top Search Result Worth?

Let’s construct a fake search situation to see how our position in the search results affects how much traffic Google would send to us, and how much money that traffic might be worth.

Pretend that we write a page on Green Hairy Monsters, and that we use some basic keyword research to figure out that the search term “Green Hairy Monsters” gets 20,000 searches a month.

We also know that “Green Hairy Monsters” gets some repeat search volume (thanks ahrefs), so the total number of expected clicks for this search is about 33,000. Cool. Well, how many clicks could we expect based on our position in the results?

Let’s juice it up a bit and also pretend that we can convince 2% of our traffic to buy our awesome Green Hairy Monster dolls, which cost $25 each.

Yowsers! Ranking #1 for “Green Hairy Monsters” is worth over $9,000 a month (of course I set up the numbers to be “over 9000,” fool) and ranking #9 is worth $200. That’s a pretty big difference. But, it’s not really surprising, and there’s no real actionable information in there except to say “Rank Better!”

However, it is interesting to know that just getting to the first page is probably enough to make some money with our Green Hairy Monster dolls. It makes the whole problem much more approachable – while it might be really hard to get to the number one spot, it’s probably much easier to just get on the first page.

When you’re running a business, that’s pretty important.

Your ultimate goal, obviously, is to make it to number one and thus collect that sweet $9,000 every month. But getting to number one is likely to be a long process. During that time, you’ll need to keep your business afloat, so it’s good to know that the much easier goal of getting to the first page of the search results will at least generate revenue to keep your train rolling while you optimize your content, build backlinks and grow your ranking to the top.

Interested in Marketing? Check out this cool article about Hacking the Sneaky Science Behind Blog Income Reports to Build Your Own Crazy Effective Marketing

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