First three Google ‘results’ crucial for online marketing efforts

2 Jul 2009

Welcome to Google SEO 101! An indepth study of user behaviour during Google searches reveals that users pay little attention to ads and are only interested in the first three results to come back.

The study, commissioned by Mulley Communications and carried out by the National E-learning Laboratory at the National College of Ireland, focused on 27 users ranging in age, gender and usage experience.

The users’ behaviour was observed and analysed using Begaze eye-tracking technology.

Two infra-red cameras located next to the computer screen scanned the users’ eye movements. After a short calibration phase, the software determined the exact gaze position. The gaze position was then matched against content on the screen.

The first thing that 70pc of the users looked at in the result page was the first result presented.

However, users paid more attention relatively, to the highest ranking result rather than sponsored links at the top of the page.

Most users ignored the sponsored link on right-hand side of the results page. The participants’ main attention was focused on the top three results only. The results show that participants paid very little attention to the sponsored links, recording only 1.58pc of all fixations.

The further down the result was presented on the page, the less likely the user was to look at it.

If users did look beyond the first three results, then it is likely they would explore the bottom of the page also.

If the ‘solution’ was not included in the top two results, users were more likely to fail finding it.

Neither age nor prior interest had significant influence on search behaviour.

Generally, gender did not have a big impact on search behaviour, though females viewed results in a more linear manner than males.

When asked to go to Bebo or YouTube, many users preferred using the Google Search engine to navigate to these websites, rather than typing in the URL in the Google address bar.

Damien Mulley, managing director of Mulley Communications, recommended that the study should be read by businesses hoping to get to grips with SEO.

“Everybody knows how important Google is for being found on the internet,” he explained.

“Until now, people were satisfied that if you were at least on the first page of Google that was fine and maybe an ad off to the site would sort it out. Now it is clear that if you are ever going to get noticed on Google you need to be in the top three search results.

“If you are good at search engine optimisation (SEO) you’ll be okay. Before it was competitive to be in the top t10en, now it is hyper-competitive to get into top three.

“The worrying result for Google, which makes US$32bn a year on advertising, is the percentage of people who glance at the ads is very small.”

But, with a growing proportion of marketing spend shifting online, what is the future of marketing? “Well, this study shows there will be an increased focus on getting into the top three search results,” Mulley said.

“But other alternatives are emerging such as social networking sites like Facebook where users are likely to pay more attention to ads that appear on their pages. Twitter’s potential as an ad delivery vehicle hasn’t been tested.

“As a businessperson, the one thing I take away from this is that you should always be looking at alternative means of marketing and getting attention,” Mulley concluded.

By John Kennedy