Capturing Multiple Listings in the Natural Search Results

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When it comes to SEO, there’s nothing sweeter than capturing the top ranking position for your company’s target keywords.

Or is there…?

While securing the top spot in the SERPs is a great goal for any company looking to improve its natural search performance, investing significant effort into this single pursuit isn’t ever going to be the “be all, end all” to digital marketing.  To understand why, take a look at the chart below, which features data gathered by media research agency, Slingshot:

According to this data, a website sitting in the tenth position on its target keyword SERP will receive approximately 1% of search user clicks on average – equating to one visitor out of every 100 searches that occur for this particular query.  In comparison, the website in the top spot receives approximately 18% of search clicks, or 18 out of 100 possible visitors.  (The remaining ~50% of search users wind up clicking to the next page of the search results.)

And while 18% is certainly an improvement over 1%, it isn’t – objectively – that great.  In any classroom in the country, receiving an 18% on a test is a failing grade, and when it comes to boosting site revenue, controlling only 18% of possible clicks leaves a lot of potential customers – and a lot of money – on the table.

So what’s a poor, bedraggled SEO to do?  Well, instead of focusing on capturing only the top spot of the natural search results, why not aim for multiple listings?  If, following the distribution above, you were able to claim the top three spots in the Google results, you wouldn’t expect to receive just 18% of the clicks – you could potentially see 35.5% of all search users clicking through to your pages!

In fact, there are a number of different ways that you can harness the power of multiple listings for your website:

  • Google Site Links
  • Ranking multiple internal pages
  • Ranking multiple external pages

Let’s look at each of these options in more detail…

1 – Google Site Links

Google Site Links refers to enhanced SERPs listings that feature multiple sub-pages under a main listing, as pictured in the example below:

Not only does Jones Soda hold the top result for the search query “Jones soda” (perhaps unsurprisingly), it obtains six additional sub-listings through Google’s Site Links program.  As a result of this enhanced listing structure, the SERP for “Jones soda” displays only seven results – not the traditional ten – giving the company an even higher percentage of potential clicks.

Now, unfortunately, there’s no way to apply to participate in Google Site Links.  The search giant assigns these results automatically based on a site’s size and the relative quality of the internal links the Googlebots are able to identify.

However, once you are enrolled in the program, you can control the specific link that appear in your Site Links profile by logging into your Google Webmaster Tools account and demoting the specific links you’d rather not appear in the search results.

2 – Ranking Multiple Internal Pages

As an alternative – specifically, an alternative that you can control – you can also attempt to rank multiple pages on your website for the same keyword phrase.  As an example, if you were targeting the SEO keyword phrase, “women’s shoes,” you could attempt to get your “Sale Women’s Shoes,” “Cheap Women’s Shoes” and “Discount Women’s Shoes” pages (and potentially many more) all ranked for this single keyword.  If you were successful, this single SERP would contain multiple listings, all pointing back at your website.

To do this, simply carry out the same SEO techniques on your individual sub-pages as you did on the first page you had ranked for your target keyword.  Depending on your personal SEO approach, this may include adjusting on-page elements to reflect your single target keyword or building additional backlinks that use the same balance of keyword-targeted anchor texts to point at separate pages within your website.

However, be aware that there are some limitations with this method – especially if you’re running a small website that targets a variety of keyword phrases.

Ideally, each individual page on your website should be built around a single keyword, or possibly a set of highly-related keyword variations.  Attempting to target multiple, diverse keywords on individual web pages dilutes the strength of your SEO activities – ultimately reducing the effectiveness of any SEO techniques you implement.

With this in mind, restructuring multiple internal pages within your website to target a single keyword phrase likely means limiting the number of overall keywords your site targets – diminishing the number of potential SERPs you could rank for.  As a result, it’s up to you to determine whether it’s worth it to compromise the number of SERPs your site could appear on in exchange for the possibility that you’ll be able to achieve multiple listings within a single SERP.

One situation in which this approach could make sense for your website is if you see a significantly higher conversion rate from natural search traffic for one keyword over any of the others you target.  If you’re targeting ten keywords and see a measurably larger ROI from ranking highly on one particular SERP, it may be worth the lost traffic to drop other target keywords in order to structure additional pages around the keyword that’s providing the greatest impact to your business’s bottom line.

3 – Ranking Multiple External Pages

If you’d rather not realign your keyword strategy in order to secure multiple listings on your target keyword SERPs, you can always attempt to rank different external properties to achieve this same effect.

The following image shows the next three natural search listings for the search query “Jones soda” after the Google Site Links pictured above:

Even though these pages aren’t part of the main Jones Soda website, they still promote the company’s brand by offering alternative options for learning about or connecting with Jones Soda.

To rank external pages for your target keywords, you obviously can’t adjust on-page factors, as you would using traditional SEO.  However, you can build backlinks to these properties using the same techniques you use to promote pages on your main site.  You can even use the techniques described in our “Linkception” post to boost the value of any links you create that point at external web properties.

If you decide to go down this route, a few of the external page types you could try to get ranked include:

  • Your social media profiles (if these aren’t ranked automatically by the search engines)
  • Any guest articles you publish on industry websites
  • Your Youtube videos (or any videos hosted with other video sharing sites)
  • Reviews pages for your business, including those published on Yelp and Google+
  • Author profile pages on any other websites to which you contribute regularly

Obviously, getting these external pages ranked for multiple listings on your target SERPs will require some effort – especially since you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle against those who are able to optimize their on-site elements in addition to their link building efforts.  However, if you are successful in creating a multiple listing scenario, you stand to gain both a significant amount of new natural search traffic and the perceived authority value of having your brand name occupy several spots in Google’s top listings.

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