When can a well written title tag beat out a #1 ranking? Impossible you say? Not really impossible at all. When it comes down to it, how do you know if that #1 ranking if more valuable than a #3 ranking? How do you really know what kind of traffic is clicking on the #5's ranking as opposed to clicking on the #1's traffic. Unless you have a tool like Hitwise to let you know the amount of traffic is being driven by those keyword rankings, you are really in the dark.
Sure, the search engines can give you the rankings and give you an estimated key word volume, great tools like Trellian can give you seasonality on the terms as well as "related", "misspellings" and "fuzzy" keywords to your original keyword. But you really don't know how much traffic all the other rankings that surround yours receive, do you? Sure you can try to estimate that #1 and #2 get more traffic, but that is, at best, an educated guess.
Last week while doing a lot of research for a client in a certain market space I came across a great example of when a well written title tag of a lower ranking search result brings in and pretty much "owns" the traffic for a particular key phrase. Through total "ethical" SEO means the site is ranking for a highly competitive set of key phrases and is ranking up in the top 10, and top 5 with the big players (due to confidentiality I can't name the big players). The traffic share of the lower ranking site, blew away the theory that #1 owns the traffic.
Aided with Hitwise in my research, I actually stumbled across this small company who know one likely has ever heard of, who does no offline marketing, who probably has a substantially smaller marketing budget compared to the "big boys".
Here was this company ranking #3 and #5, not #1 for some pretty competitive key terms and they were commanding the traffic, not the #1 and #2. In fact in most cases the #1 and #2 were commanding less than 5% of traffic. This small, "no body knows of" company, according to the Hitwise data, was commanding over 23% and over 18% of the traffic for those keywords. (The graph is just a general clickstream graph from Hitwise's Leann Prescott)
So what was the difference? The difference was a title tag and meta description that were distinctly different than what the "big boys" had. The title tag enticed the searcher to click and the meta description gave the information about the site. Compared to the #1-#4 and the #1 & #2 ranking for the keywords, the title tag stood out, it called to the searcher and it didn't create "Brand Blindness". The other companies had a company name in the title tag, or something similar and didn't have a meta description as the results were snippets from their pages.
So when it is all said and done, there's a lot to be said about a #1 ranking. Likely in most cases, #1 is going to generate the most traffic, however that cannot be assumed. Perhaps if searchers are looking for specific brands, or official sites this can be a foregone conclusion. But, the smart marketer knows, that most of the time, people type in the company's url as the brand name and hope to get lucky. If they are searching on general terms, this is where you can't just assume #1 means all the traffic.
So here's the big take aways from my research that I'd like to share:
- If you can't be #1 for a keyword, make sure your title tag and meta description stand out
- Brand blindness can be the downfall for a #1 ranking
- Don't assume because your #1 and "everybody knows your name" that you'll get all the traffic
- Don't assume that #1 ranking always gets the most traffic