No.1 and 10 in Google aren’t what they used to be

One of my sites has been “number one in Google” for many years for a useful search, but the traffic from that stopped rising a while ago. Indeed, it’s probably going down. Why is this? A quick look in Google Search Console suggests that the number of searches isn’t falling.

The reason may be simple. What’s falling is the number one result’s position on the page. Ten years ago, the top result would be at the top of the page, maybe 150 pixels below the top edge of the screen – exactly where the eye falls first. But as more ads were added, the top result went further and further down. If a ‘featured snippet’ panel appeared for the search, it could even be pushed ‘below the fold’, i.e. not visible until you scroll down. Other search elements such as maps and images, or a ‘people also ask’ panel, can now make the top result appear over 1000 pixels down, which is below the fold even on large screens.

Couple this with an increase in ‘small-screen searching’ on mobile devices, and the ‘number one in Google’ ranking doesn’t have anything like the prominence it used to have. That’s something to remember if you get to that position but find it doesn’t have the magic results you hoped for.

I’m also seeing a number of searches without the full ten ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ search results. I can’t find any extensive research data for this on B2B product searches, but I have a feeling that it’s becoming more commonplace. Even a search for ‘blue widgets’ only returns 9 results, despite the absence of advertising. The reason this is significant is that it’s normally thought that a catastrophic tailoff in search response occurs between positions 10 and 11 (i.e. between pages 1 and 2), so concentrating on improving rankings where you’re position 11 or 12 can have great results. Perhaps we should revise that advice to be checking out positions 9 or 10.