Share of the ‘above the fold’ space in search engine results

We all know that Google makes the vast majority of its money from AdWords ads. Historically, due to the text based nature of the ads Google had to maintain a fair ratio of organic and paid listings in search results. As a result, you didn’t have to rank at No. 1 organically to get a fair share of available search traffic. Unfortunately these days are gone.

Whichever way you look at the development of Google SERPs it becomes obvious that the number of ads, ad extensions and Google’s paid-for comparison services exceeds the number of standard text-based organic listings. In fact, searches for competitive non-brand keywords in some verticals trigger so many paid for results that the ‘above the fold’ visibility of organic listings drops to.. 0%! Yes, that’s right. Searches for terms like ‘ps3 sale’ or ‘credit card’ don’t show organic search results above the fold on 19% of world’s computer screens – 1366×768 resolution (the most popular resolution as of January 2012; source: W3Schools.com Statistics for Higher Screen Resolutions).

Above the fold SERPs as seen by 19% of the world’s computers (1366×768)

Above the fold SERPs as seen by 19% of the world’s computers (1366×768)

So the end result is 15-20 expensive links above the fold and every single one of them related to Google’s paid-for services. Google has gone to great lengths to be able to do that without clattering search results, including moving search filtering options from the left to the drop down menu at the top.

Ok, so how do other search engines fare when the same search terms and screen resolutions are used? It turns out that other big guns are kinder to organic search listings, but not by much.

Search engine comparison: resolution 1366×768, keyword ‘ps3 sale’

Engine

Non-paid results

Paid results

Percentage

Bing

3

9

33%

Yahoo

2

10

20%

Google

0

15

0%

 

So what does it mean? Well, to start with, Google gets richer. Any link you chose to click on generates revenue for Google in one way or the other. Secondly, since the majority of paid ads in SERPs are generated by humans and are constantly maintained and optimised by humans, the results are more relevant (a kind of a ‘Holy Grail’ for Google). Thirdly, it is not good enough anymore to be third or fourth for your SEO target keyword. Despite the fact that recent studies of organic click-through rate are all slightly different, they all agree on constantly decreasing CTR numbers from top positions in organic search results. I guess it makes sense considering all this paid activity happening above. The thing is that CTRs of No. 1 organic results for non-brand search terms (e.g. ‘over 50 life insurance’) can now be in single digits. This means you can rank No. 1 and still only get 9-10% of the available search traffic.

Artur Jach Written by:

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