Posted April 7, 2008 9:31 am by with 19 comments

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Needle in a HaystackBy Michelle Greer.

You can have the most attractive website of all your competitors. You can hire usability experts, professional photographers, and the greatest PHP developers money can buy. If you aren’t on the first page of Google, you might as well be from Mars. Sorry.

Why? It’s not that we don’t value what you have to offer. It’s that we, the search engine using public, are too hard-pressed for time and/or lazy to bother to look for you. According to a study done by iProspect, 49% of us change our search terms and/or search engine after not finding our desired result on the first page. This compares with 40% in 2007, 42% in 2005 and just 28% in 2004. Only 8% of us actually bother going past the third page.

As useful as vertical search was, we really didn’t use that either until May of 2007. That’s when Google integrated the formerly hard-to-find vertical search results into their primary search engine results…on the first page. Since search engines began blending their news, images, and videos into standard search, we now click on more news results (36% vs. 17% before), more images (31% vs. 26% before), and more videos (17% vs. 10% before). So now that we actually care about this stuff, perhaps you should start caring too.

Why do we click on the news more frequently on the first page of Google than we would if we actually bothered to go to the “news” section? Apparently, being on the first page somehow indicates to us that you are big and important. In 2008, 39% of search engine users believe that the companies whose websites are returned among the top search engine results are the leaders in the field. This figure has grown from 36% in 2006, and 33% in 2002. Another 42% feel neutral on this question, with only 19% believing that the top search engine rankings do not automatically indicate an industry leader. We don’t understand backlinks or clean code–we understand “first”.

Does this sound unfair to you? Put up a page explaining how search engine results may not necessarily equate with a website’s relevance. Just don’t make it too hard to find, please.

To see more of iProspect’s findings on why being first in vertical and standard search results is so important, please see their recent case study on Blended Search.

About Michelle Greer

Michelle Greer is an internet marketer/geek out of Austin, Texas. You can find her writings about ecommerce at and her social networking blog at

  • Ah, nice article — additional proof that SEO is vital to ones business presence online!

  • Michelle, you hit it out of the part sistah! It IS an issue of time…none of us have any left to spare, especially when it comes to looking at other content sources. Heck, that’s why I have an RSS reader, so I don’t have to go hunt for this stuff.

    If we can’t find it within the first couple of pages at Google, it might as well not exist. You are absolutely correct.

  • I’ve noticed myself rewriting the query if I can’t find good results. I do have search results pages set to show me 100 results on the first page and I will scroll down quite a ways before trying a new query.

    I wonder if trust is an issue here where if we don’t find what we want on page one we don’t trust we’ll find it on page two or beyond. Could it also be the search engines have conditioned us to think they are so good at what they do that if something isn’t in the top 10 results it’s not them, but us and we need a new query.

    Could it also be that people are getting better at searching in general and after seeing a set of results they feel more comfortable creating a new and better query? Is search becoming an iterative process for the end user?

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  • Unfortunately its true and I find that I do the same thing in most situations. Being on page three or worse page 10 means almost nothing for search traffic.

  • Believe it or not, I have gone down to page 4 and up if I feel that the site on the first few pages have ugly meta descriptions or titles or bad url tails. Sometimes i’ll even randomly click on page 8 for the hell of it, because I know there are some gem websites that don’t get to the top pages but have great content! Plus it’s annoying to see the SAMMMMEEE webpages show up for different searches. I need some varied information.


  • While it is true many people do not look past the first page some could be mislead by wasting time on usability… You don’t say wasting time but imply it is the wrong focus.

    Some reasons why you might want to consider usability important:

    1) let even say you are on the first page of Google – just getting them to click on the results and visit your site is probably not the goal. You want them to do something. Not flee your site immediately.

    2) Search results are not your only source of visitors. Taking care of those that visit is important (so don’t think of search results as the only measure of your success).

    3) Inbound links can certainly be impacted positively by having a usable site with valuable content (which will increase those visitors mentioned in item 2) and increase your search ranking.

  • Agreed with John. Usability is actually crucial for SEO. As a blogger, I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to another blog to link to an article, but then cannot find the post I was looking for. So much for giving that site a backlink.

    I’m not saying that usability is a waste of time. It is pointless to send people to your site if they can’t figure out what they need out of it. The point of the post is that SEO is now more crucial than ever.

    I have not and will never write for a search engine. Good copy appeals to people and search engines.

  • I am so down with this post. I work in an industry (real estate) where some pundits still say SEO doesn’t matter and chase the long tail. I can tell for a fact we saw one agent who implemented simple SEO herself for short tail keywords go from 0 leads per day on the third page of Google to 5 leads per day in the second position on the first page to 30/day in the first position. I can’t even fathom how anyone could argue with such results. The only change- SEO. Google is the best marketing tool for people on a shoestring budget and some still ignore it.

  • So are you trying to say if your not ranked on SE’s you cant survive? I disagree. Search engines are only one form of traffic, I never see a myspace or facebook page in the SERPs and their websites does fine. Sure that is not the same as a etailer that would require search engine traffic, but to be dependent on the SE’s for anything in your business is a huge blunder. Look at all the websites that are going through issues with this latest Dewey update from Google.

  • Jaan,

    You would not see a MySpace or a Facebook page in SERPS because most individual profiles don’t get that many backlinks. MySpace has over 775,000 backlinks and Facebook has over 147,000, so I can’t imagine they have issues with search engines.

    If they do get backlinks, they get indexed. Type in any popular band in Google and you will probably find their MySpace page in the first 3 or so results.

  • Michelle my point was not about MySpace or facebook getting index or getting SE traffic. My point is they don’t need it at all and they do fine, which was a counter argument to your article point.

  • Jaan, I wouldn’t take the post too literally. I also can’t imagine the vast majority of online businesses can survive trying to imitate MySpace or Facebook’s successes. Google became a verb for a reason.

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  • Its so true. If I do a google search for anything I never go beyond the first page of results. If I dont find what I’m looking for I just change the keywords and look again.

    Eva White’s last blog post..Rising Hemlines.. Rising Stocks

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    Eddy Teh’s last blog post..Things we would like to see, aka dumb idea no.1 – yaskMicrohoo

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