The coveted SEO rankings that brands, bloggers, and organisations hunt for may not necessarily produce the expected effects in the ever-evolving digital market. A prime example of this is the third spot on Google's Search Engine Results Page (SERP), which appears to be highly sought after.
At first blush, coming in third on Google seems like a noteworthy accomplishment. However, go further and the image of traffic generation drastically shifts, particularly for keywords that are in competition.
Top Listings Are Mostly Paid Ads
At the top of Google SERPs, sponsored ads are becoming a standard. Google Ads are typically among the first few results a user sees when searching for a competitive keyword. Although these items have a small "Ad" flag on them, users always notice them first because of how prominent they are on the page.
Let's take an example where you search for the "best running shoes." You will probably see at least two or three sponsored adverts from well-known shoe companies or retailers before you even reach the organic search results. Even highly ranked organic results become less visible due to the prevalence of these sponsored advertisements.
The Tricky Third Place and Its CTR
Several studies have shown that the average Click Through Rate (CTR) for the third position in Google's organic SERPs is a meagre 3.5%. This indicates that just 3.5 out of every 100 visitors that search for a keyword will click on the link that comes in third place. For a job that appears to be quite desirable on the surface, it's a rather small return.
As a point of comparison, the CTR for the first organic position can go up to 28.5%, while the second position often receives approximately 15%. By the time we get to the third spot, there's already a noticeable drop-off, and the descent just gets steeper from there.
Google Base Rank versus Google Rank
In this case, it's critical to distinguish between Google rank and Google base rank. The precise place in the SERP where your link appears is known as its Google rank. On the other hand, the Google base rank indicates where your link would appear in the SERP if organic results weren't being pushed down by sponsored advertisements or other SERP elements (such local packs or featured snippets).
For instance, you might be the top organic result (Google base rank) even though you are technically in the third place (Google rank) on a SERP. Because sponsored advertising takes up much of the top spot, your organic ranking is typically better represented by your base rank.
To clarify this, let's look at a real-world example. Consider utilising a competitive keyword search such as "online MBA courses." A university website is probably pushed down by the following even if it ranks third organically:
- Paid advertisements from several online learning portals.
- The direct-answering highlighted snippets on Google.
- Local pack listings (in the event that nearby universities have courses available)
Therefore, even though the university website is ranked third, a user may find it to be the seventh or eighth link they view. This placement further reduces the possible traffic.
While rankings are important, it's important to look beyond the raw rank number in the complicated SERP environment of today, where sponsored advertising and other elements compete for attention. Instead, for the best visibility and traffic, firms should concentrate on their Google base rank, plan to appear in highlighted snippets, and think about combining sponsored and organic initiatives.