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  • One Reason For Varying Google SERPs

    If you are in a highly competitive field, your keywords will be being shared by a large number of people all competing for a large amount of traffic. Whoever ends up on the front page of the SERPs is going to get most of it, with the number one spot garnering a lion’s share and a trickle down effect occurring as you progress through the list.

    However, for specific searches that use specify a term or attribute of their desired result, there is often less competition. True the herd of consumers is smaller too, but a lion’s share is much easier to come by, and could amount to more than the jackal’s or even vulture’s share you could hope to acquire from the larger feeding ground.

    For example, if you do a search for ‘ferns’, the first page is devoted to documentation of scientific information about ferns, with one country store and a bar & grill thrown in the mix. Down at the bottom of the page, however, is a clue.

    Google offers a more specific search results based on a multiple keyword search. Prominent are ‘fern care’, ‘fern facts’, ‘fern types’ and ‘growing ferns’. These are keyword phrases you can optimize for to catch the more particular traffic. Even more specialized terms might include a geographic area (Boston) or a query (how…?).

    Suppose you have a site devoted to ferns. I don’t know why – maybe you think everyone should be a fern enthusiast, and you offer a lot of tips about ferns and how to grow them. Perhaps you sell specialty ferns and fern food.

    Here is your chance to grab some of this traffic from people who take the time to be a little more specific about their needs. Probably a lot of the people who simply type ferns are looking up something for science class, in which case you really don’t want them anyway.

    Try ‘fern care’. Now this is interesting. If we simply click on fern care at the bottom of our original page, we get one set of results. If we type in ‘fern care’ and search, we get a different set – mostly the same sites, but sorted differently.

    The organic search turns up at #1 a result labeled (you guessed it) ‘fern care’. It leads to a site for the San Diego Fern Society. Very relevant.

    The #2 spot goes to the DIY network, featuring one Walter Reeves with tips on fern care. Also very good. From there we sift down through a variety of gardening and flower sites mingled with articles from ‘ezine’, ‘ehow’, and ‘essortment’.

    Now we go back to our original search for ferns, and scroll to the bottom to click on the ‘fern care’ link. Well, well. Solidly at #1 is the DIY link. Then comes the San Diego fern care, and after that a shuffle of the same sites from the organic search.

    Why? The same top ten for sure, and close, but definitely not in the same order. What makes Google’s click through link serve up different results than if I just type it in?

    When I look at the url, I notice something. My search, when I typed in fern care, starts out ‘search?sourceid=navclient…fern+care’.

    The click through from the bottom of the ‘fern’ search page serves up ‘search?hl=en&rlz=…fern+care&revid=…revisions_inline&resnum=0&ct=broad-revision&cd=3’.

    Obviously Google assigns a different ranking if you arrive at the same search terms from different sources. I went looking for a reason, and sure enough, I found what appeared to be one…there’s a little problem, though.

    I’m not quite smart enough to understand it! I tend to glaze over when confronted by sentences like ” Concatenated correlations use picks or queries, rather than users, to form the links between other picks and queries. In general, therefore, the more correlations concatenated, the farther afield from the initial pick or query the results will be. Thus, in many cases, concatenating the fewest correlations to effect the desired result will be the optimal approach.”

    You too, huh? Yeah, that’s what I thought. It boils down to something like this.

    Google looks at my typed search for ‘fern care’ as an original search, with no intervening data. The results are straight from the fern farm, so to speak. However, in the case of the click through results, the original search for ‘ferns’ is taken into account as a precursor to the search for ‘fern care’, and the resulting page is skewed just a hair.

    If I go down about three pages deep in the original ‘ferns’ SERPs I start finding familiar links. First to catch my eye is the San Diego link, than a page later I see the DIY one.

    Why Google serves up the DIY link first in the click through can only be explained by the assumption that at one point someone ( or several someones) scrolled through results for ‘ferns’ and picked the DIY selection over the San Diego link.

    This tips the balance just enough in favor of DIY that it comes out ahead if you arrive at search results from the ‘fern care’ link on the ‘ferns’ search results page rather than by typing ‘fern care’ directly into the engine.

    By now you are wondering what difference it makes. A lot, if you are the San Diego Fern Society. They know #2 just means ‘first loser’. However, the number of people likely to refine their search to ‘fern care’ themselves rather than scrolling past the fold and clicking on the proffered link is probably in the majority, so San Diego is doing fine.

    They might want to tweak their link on the ‘ferns’ SERP though – it’s not nearly as informative as the one that comes up under ‘fern care.’ This could increase their clicks from that particular search, and bump them back on top in both sets of results.

    Well, folks, I know you missed my cheery repartee yesterday, but that’s the long post I’ve been researching, prompted by a question I saw posted in Yahoo Answers that hadn’t been answered. It took me two days to run my tests (ferns wasn’t the only one!) and track down an answer as to the ‘why?’ – but I hope you found it informative and worth waiting for!


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