The short attention span of web searchers: most never read past 3 results

* Google users want instant gratification when they’re searching. How instant? The top 3 Google results get 79% of all clicks. The remaining 7 results share just 21% of the clicks. In other words, more than three quarters of Google users never click past the first three results.

Popularity of Google search results
(Source: Cornell University study– see full size Google results chart here.

The data are similar for AOL’s web search: the top 3 results in an AOL search get 63% of the clicks.(Source: AOL mistake)

Of course, you could explain this because search engines tend to deliver relevant results in the first three hits. But most websurfers wouldn’t know: Most websurfers don’t look past the first three results at all. Scientific eye-tracking studies used cameras to track exactly where volunteers were looking when they were searching for various topics. The vast majority of people looked only at the first three Google results, the power hits. They never looked at the rest of the results to know whether they were better.

Google Eye Tracking Map
(click to enlarge— Source: Eyetools promotional material)

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The diagram above is a “heat map” of a Google search. Hotter colors represent areas where people spent more time looking; gray areas are places where nobody ever glanced. The “x” marks on the picture represent areas where people clicked.

The short attention span theory continues by comparing different pages. Almost 90% of clicks come from the first page of Google results, up from 80% a few years ago.(Source: Enquisite) And, 76% of French websurfers look only at the first page of Google results.(Source: French study).

There are many possible explanations for this sudden short attention span. The New York Times blames it on intrusive technology, like constant

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email, text, and instant messaginginterruptions when trying to work. Web surfers make lots of fast queries and just go with whatever comes up first. Very few people examine their search results in close detail, and very few will ever find results buried beyond the first page.

What does this mean for you? If you’re trying to sell a new product, or to get information out about a cause, or do anything else in Google, you need to be in the top three results. You need to be one of the power hits. If you’re not in the top three Google results, you might as well be invisible. Some blogs have estimated that the difference between a #1 result and a #5 result is the difference between 50,000 monthly visitors and 6,000 monthly visitors. If your statement about a political candidate isn’t in the top few results, nobody will ever know about it. Ron Paul’s supporters knew this: Their motto was “Google Ron Paul” because they controlled the top three hits in Google (the power hits) for any search related to Ron Paul. They knew the top three hits in Google were positive and that they could keep them positive. That’s all it took for them to be comfortable sending traffic to Google.

The lesson: If you can control your name on the first page of Google, you can control your image. If you control the first page of Google for your political cause, you can make a difference.

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Others have covered similar topics. In future posts I’ll share more information about making the most of your power hits. Of course, commercial services like ReputationDefender can help you get started in managing your image. ReputationDefender helps you to move positive content about you to the top of a Google search result for your name. Or, at the least, monitor your reputation using a service like MyReputation that will tell you what people are seeing when they search for your name in the “deep internet.” If you have need a custom reputation management service for a unique situation or for faster results, this is also available.

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More interesting reads: Political dirty tricks and Google – The 2008 Election and Faces of MySpace (video)

* As always, it’s a pleasure to be guest blogging and this post doesn’t necessarily represent the views of RepDef or any of its defendersemployees.

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