Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Search Insider: Minor Miracles And Major Feats of First-Page Rankings

Minor Miracles And Major Feats of First-Page Rankings

VIDEOS ARE MORE LIKELY THAN text to get on the first page of Google's search results, according to Forrester Research's Nate Elliott. This is a huge story, but there's an even bigger angle: getting on the first page of Google's search results is really, really hard.

I missed Nate's initial blog post, but fortunately caught the subsequent NewTeeVee analysis. NewTeeVee reported, "Videos are 53 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than text pages..." In a single sentence, this sums up the need for the importance of including videos as part of a search engine optimization program. Done -- I'm sold.

Read the comments to Nate's post for a few other perspectives, like Max Kalehoff describing how the viral nature of great videos makes them search engine bait, and Billy Ye noting how video results have a relatively fleeting presence in the top rankings compared to Web sites that maintain their authority more consistently. All of this matters, but if you have any video assets, you must consider how you're optimizing them. Say Nate's analysis is off and the real effect is 23x or 10x instead of 53x. Would you treat the study any differently? I wouldn't.

The numbers grew even more staggering. Nate blogged, "There were an average of 4.7 million text pages competing for a place on results pages with an average of just 9.4 text results -- giving each text page about a 500,000-to-1 chance of appearing on the first page of results." Odds are, since you're reading this, you probably have a professional or deep personal connection to some Web site or another. I'd say the odds of you Googling that site from time to time are pretty high too. If you Google a popular query and the site ranks on the first page, you're witnessing a minor technological miracle, and a marvel of dedication by the rocket scientists you have working with you.

Nate looked at 40 of the most popular queries, so his study is focused on terms that are extremely popular. These are areas where there are massive amounts of content developed, both intentionally (to compete for prime search engine rankings) and organically (almost as a rule, popular queries will also be popular subjects for people and businesses to naturally create content around).

The research makes certain case studies seem all the more remarkable. One of my favorite SEO practitioners is a doctor in Dallas who has been optimizing listings around Google long before many of his patients were finding him that way. As I was writing this, I ran a search on "dallas botox," a popular and competitive term; Google Trends notes that five of the top-10 cities in Texas indexed for searches on "Botox" are in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. This doctor appeared as the top local business result and four of the top-10 organic listings, translating to five first-page rankings. I didn't see any ads for him this time, presumably because he calculated that with five first-page rankings, he can allocate his budget elsewhere.

Google says 92,700 results are competing for a spot on the first page, and while I'll allow Nate to calculate the odds of the doctor's feat, Dr. Adelglass should be pretty proud of himself. The odds of getting just one first-page ranking are daunting enough, but five? I'm not just applauding him because he's my father-in-law (if I really wanted to kiss up to him, I'd plug his main site, Skintastic.com, which is all about "making you more beautifulĂ‚™"; on that note, please don't ask for the slogan of my father's gastroenterology practice). I just happen to be related to a guy who epitomizes what you can achieve in the face of these now quantifiably insurmountable odds.

There's a lot you can do with Nate's research. He provides a roadmap for the opportunity for video optimization, and you can go to town supporting your video strategy with YouTube Insights, as I described in a previous column. As with any research study, I also keep thinking of the follow-ups I'd like to see. How well do videos appear in the less frequent mid-tail searches? And what if this was applied beyond video? What are the odds of a business ranking on the first page of Google above the main natural search results in the local index, as my father-in-law does? And then there are books, images, products, and news, to name a few other universal search categories.

After reading over Nate's work and the related coverage, I'm left amazed by the odds against marketers, and it gives me even greater appreciation for this field I've been involved with now for half a decade. I'm even all the more impressed with the Skintastics out there who saw this coming long before "Google" was a verb.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at dberkowitz@360i.com, and you can read his blog at MarketersStudio.com.

Search Insider for Tuesday, February 17, 2009:

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