Long Tail CTR Study: The Forgotten Traffic Beyond Top 10 Rankings

Posted by GaryMoyle

Search behavior is fundamentally changing, as users become more savvy and increasingly familiar with search technology. Google’s results have also changed significantly over the last decade, going from a simple page of 10 blue links to a much richer layout, including videos, images, shopping ads and the innovative Knowledge Graph.

We also know there are an increasing amount of touchpoints in a customer journey involving different channels and devices. Google’s
Zero Moment of Truth theory (ZMOT), which describes a revolution in the way consumers search for information online, supports this idea and predicts that we can expect the number of times natural search is involved on the path to a conversion to get higher and higher.

Understanding how people interact with Google and other search engines will always be important. Organic click curves show how many clicks you might expect from search engine results and are one way of evaluating the impact of our campaigns, forecasting performance and exploring changing search behavior.

Using search query data from Google UK for a wide range of leading brands based on millions of impressions and clicks, we can gain insights into the how CTR in natural search has evolved beyond those shown in previous studies by
Catalyst, Slingshot and AOL.

Our methodology

The NetBooster study is based entirely on UK top search query data and has been refined by day in order to give us the most accurate sample size possible. This helped us reduce anomalies in the data in order to achieve the most reliable click curve possible, allowing us to extend it way beyond the traditional top 10 results.

We developed a method to extract data day by day to greatly increase the volume of keywords and to help improve the accuracy of the
average ranking position. It ensured that the average was taken across the shortest timescale possible, reducing rounding errors.

The NetBooster study included:

  • 65,446,308 (65 million) clicks
  • 311,278,379 (311 million) impressions
  • 1,253,130 (1.2 million) unique search queries
  • 54 unique brands
  • 11 household brands (sites with a total of 1M+ branded keyword impressions)
  • Data covers several verticals including retail, travel and financial

We also looked at organic CTR for mobile, video and image results to better understand how people are discovering content in natural search across multiple devices and channels. 

We’ll explore some of the most important elements in this article.

How does our study compare against others?

Let’s start by looking at the top 10 results. In the graph below we have normalized the results in order to compare our curve, like-for-like, with previous studies from Catalyst and Slingshot. Straight away we can see that there is higher participation beyond the top four positions when compared to other studies. We can also see much higher CTR for positions lower on the pages, which highlights how searchers are becoming more comfortable with mining search results.

A new click curve to rule them all

Our first click curve is the most useful, as it provides the click through rates for generic non-brand search queries across positions 1 to 30. Initially, we can see a significant amount of traffic going to the top three results with position No. 1 receiving 19% of total traffic, 15% at position No. 2 and 11.45% at position No. 3. The interesting thing to note, however, is our curve shows a relatively high CTR for positions typically below the fold. Positions 6-10 all received a higher CTR than shown in previous studies. It also demonstrates that searchers are frequently exploring pages two and three.

CTR-top-30-730px.jpg

When we look beyond the top 10, we can see that CTR is also higher than anticipated, with positions 11-20 accounting for 17% of total traffic. Positions 21-30 also show higher than anticipated results, with over 5% of total traffic coming from page three. This gives us a better understanding of the potential uplift in visits when improving rankings from positions 11-30.

This highlights that searchers are frequently going beyond the top 10 to find the exact result they want. The prominence of paid advertising, shopping ads, Knowledge Graph and the OneBox may also be pushing users below the fold more often as users attempt to find better qualified results. It may also indicate growing dissatisfaction with Google results, although this is a little harder to quantify.

Of course, it’s important we don’t just rely on one single click curve. Not all searches are equal. What about the influence of brand, mobile and long-tail searches?

Brand bias has a significant influence on CTR

One thing we particularly wanted to explore was how the size of your brand influences the curve. To explore this, we banded each of the domains in our study into small, medium and large categories based on the sum of brand query impressions across the entire duration of the study.

small-medium-large-brand-organic-ctr-730

When we look at how brand bias is influencing CTR for non-branded search queries, we can see that better known brands get a sizable increase in CTR. More importantly, small- to medium-size brands are actually losing out to results from these better-known brands and experience a much lower CTR in comparison.

What is clear is keyphrase strategy will be important for smaller brands in order to gain traction in natural search. Identifying and targeting valuable search queries that aren’t already dominated by major brands will minimize the cannibalization of CTR and ensure higher traffic levels as a result.

How does mobile CTR reflect changing search behavior?

Mobile search has become a huge part of our daily lives, and our clients are seeing a substantial shift in natural search traffic from desktop to mobile devices. According to Google, 30% of all searches made in 2013 were on a mobile device; they also predict mobile searches will constitute over 50% of all searches in 2014.

Understanding CTR from mobile devices will be vital as the mobile search revolution continues. It was interesting to see that the click curve remained very similar to our desktop curve. Despite the lack of screen real estate, searchers are clearly motivated to scroll below the fold and beyond the top 10.

netbooster-mobile-organic-ctr-730px.jpg

NetBooster CTR curves for top 30 organic positions


Position

Desktop CTR

Mobile CTR

Large Brand

Medium Brand

Small Brand
1 19.35% 20.28% 20.84% 13.32% 8.59%
2 15.09% 16.59% 16.25% 9.77% 8.92%
3 11.45% 13.36% 12.61% 7.64% 7.17%
4 8.68% 10.70% 9.91% 5.50% 6.19%
5 7.21% 7.97% 8.08% 4.69% 5.37%
6 5.85% 6.38% 6.55% 4.07% 4.17%
7 4.63% 4.85% 5.20% 3.33% 3.70%
8 3.93% 3.90% 4.40% 2.96% 3.22%
9 3.35% 3.15% 3.76% 2.62% 3.05%
10 2.82% 2.59% 3.13% 2.25% 2.82%
11 3.06% 3.18% 3.59% 2.72% 1.94%
12 2.36% 3.62% 2.93% 1.96% 1.31%
13 2.16% 4.13% 2.78% 1.96% 1.26%
14 1.87% 3.37% 2.52% 1.68% 0.92%
15 1.79% 3.26% 2.43% 1.51% 1.04%
16 1.52% 2.68% 2.02% 1.26% 0.89%
17 1.30% 2.79% 1.67% 1.20% 0.71%
18 1.26% 2.13% 1.59% 1.16% 0.86%
19 1.16% 1.80% 1.43% 1.12% 0.82%
20 1.05% 1.51% 1.36% 0.86% 0.73%
21 0.86% 2.04% 1.15% 0.74% 0.70%
22 0.75% 2.25% 1.02% 0.68% 0.46%
23 0.68% 2.13% 0.91% 0.62% 0.42%
24 0.63% 1.84% 0.81% 0.63% 0.45%
25 0.56% 2.05% 0.71% 0.61% 0.35%
26 0.51% 1.85% 0.59% 0.63% 0.34%
27 0.49% 1.08% 0.74% 0.42% 0.24%
28 0.45% 1.55% 0.58% 0.49% 0.24%
29 0.44% 1.07% 0.51% 0.53% 0.28%
30 0.36% 1.21% 0.47% 0.38% 0.26%

Creating your own click curve

This study will give you a set of benchmarks for both non-branded and branded click-through rates with which you can confidently compare to your own click curve data. Using this data as a comparison will let you understand whether the appearance of your content is working for or against you.

We have made things a little easier for you by creating an Excel spreadsheet: simply drop your own top search query data in and it’ll automatically create a click curve for your website.

Simply visit the NetBooster website and download our tool to start making your own click curve.

In conclusion

It’s been both a fascinating and rewarding study, and we can clearly see a change in search habits. Whatever the reasons for this evolving search behavior, we need to start thinking beyond the top 10, as pages two and three are likely to get more traffic in future. 

 We also need to maximize the traffic created from existing rankings and not just think about position.

Most importantly, we can see practical applications of this data for anyone looking to understand and maximize their content’s performance in natural search. Having the ability to quickly and easily create your own click curve and compare this against a set of benchmarks means you can now understand whether you have an optimal CTR.

What could be the next steps?

There is, however, plenty of scope for improvement. We are looking forward to continuing our investigation, tracking the evolution of search behavior. If you’d like to explore this subject further, here are a few ideas:

  • Segment search queries by intent (How does CTR vary depending on whether a search query is commercial or informational?)
  • Understand CTR by industry or niche
  • Monitor the effect of new Knowledge Graph formats on CTR across both desktop and mobile search
  • Conduct an annual analysis of search behavior (Are people’s search habits changing? Are they clicking on more results? Are they mining further into Google’s results?)

Ultimately, click curves like this will change as the underlying search behavior continues to evolve. We are now seeing a massive shift in the underlying search technology, with Google in particular heavily investing in entity- based search (i.e., the Knowledge Graph). We can expect other search engines, such as Bing, Yandex and Baidu to follow suit and use a similar approach.

The rise of smartphone adoption and constant connectivity also means natural search is becoming more focused on mobile devices. Voice-activated search is also a game-changer, as people start to converse with search engines in a more natural way. This has huge implications for how we monitor search activity.

What is clear is no other industry is changing as rapidly as search. Understanding how we all interact with new forms of search results will be a crucial part of measuring and creating success.

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Eye Tracking in 2014: How Users View and Interact with Today’s Google SERPs

Posted by rMaynes1

In September 2014, Mediative released its latest eye-tracking research entitled “The Evolution of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages and Their Effects on User Behaviour“.

This large study had participants conduct various searches using Google on a desktop. For example, participants were asked “Imagine you’re moving from
Toronto to Vancouver. Use Google to find a moving company in Toronto.” Participants were all presented with the same Google SERP, no matter the search
query.

Mediative wanted to know where people look and click on the SERP the most, what role the location of the listing on the SERP plays in winning views and
clicks, and how click activity on listings has changed with the introduction of Google features such as the carousel, the knowledge graph etc.


Mediative discovered that, just as Google’s SERP has evolved over the past decade, so too has the way in which search engine users scan the page before
making a click.

Back in 2005 when
a similar eye-tracking study was conducted for the first time by Mediative (formerly Enquiro), it was
discovered that people searched in a distinctive “triangle” pattern, starting in the top left of the search results page where they expected the first
organic listing to be located, and reading across horizontally before moving their eyes down to the second organic listing, and reading horizontally, but
not quite as far. This area of concentrated gaze activity became known as Google’s “Golden Triangle”. The study concluded that if a business’s listing was
not in the Golden Triangle, its odds of being seen by a searcher were dramatically reduced.

Heat map from 2005 showing the area known as Google’s “Golden Triangle”.

But now, in 2014, the top organic results are no longer always in the top-left corner where searchers expect them to be, so they scan other areas of the
SERP, trying to seek out the top organic listing, but being distracted by other elements along the way. The #1 organic listing is shifting further down the
page, and while this listing still captures the most click activity (32.8%) regardless of what new elements are presented, the shifting location has opened
up the top of the page with more potential areas for businesses to achieve visibility.

Where scanning was once more
horizontal, the adoption of mobile devices over the past 9 years has habitually conditioned searchers to now scan
more
vertically—they are looking for the fastest path to the desired content, and, compared to 9 years ago, they are viewing more search results
listings during a single session and spending less time viewing each one.

Searchers on Google now scan far more vertically than several years ago.


One of the biggest changes from SERPS 9 years ago to today is that Google is now trying to keep people on the result page for as long as they can.

An example is in the case of the knowledge graph. In Mediative’s study. when searchers were looking for “weather in New Orleans”, the results page that was
presented to them showed exactly what they needed to know. Participants were asked to click on the result that they felt best met their needs, even if, if
reality, they wouldn’t have clicked through (in order to end that task). When a knowledge graph result
exactly met the intent of the searcher, the
study found 80% of people looked at that result, and 44% clicked on it. Google provided searchers with a relevant enough answer to keep them on the SERP.
The top organic listing captured 36.5% of pages clicks—compared to 82% when the knowledge graph did not provide the searcher with the answer they were
looking for.

It’s a similar case with the carousel results; when a searcher clicks on a listing, instead of going through to the listing’s website, another SERP is
presented specifically about the business, as Google tries to increase paid ad impressions/clicks on the Google search results page.

How can businesses stay on top of these changes and ensure they still get listed?

There are four main things to keep in mind:

1.
The basic fundamentals of SEO are as important as ever

Create unique, fresh content, which speaks to the needs of your customers as this will always trump chasing the algorithm. There are also on-page and
off-page SEO tactics that you can employ that can increase your chances of being listed in areas of the SERP other than your website’s organic listing such
as front-loading keywords in page titles and meta descriptions, getting listed on directories and ratings and reviews site, having social pages etc. It’s
important to note that SEO strategy is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach.

2.
Consider using schema mark-up wherever possible

In Mediative’s 2014 Google SERP research, it was discovered that blog posts that had been marked up using schema to show the picture and name of the author
got a significant amount of engagement, even when quite far down the first page—these listings garnered an average of 15.5% of total page clicks.

Note:

As of August 2014, Google removed authorship markup entirely. However, the results are still a good example of how schema mark-up can be used to make
your business listing stand out more on the SERP, potentially capturing more view and clicks, and therefore more website traffic.

In the study, participants were asked to “Imagine that you’re starting a business and you need to find a company to host your website. Use Google to find
information about website hosting companies”. The SERP presented is shown below:

Almost 45% of clicks went to 2 blog posts titled “Five Best Web Hosting Companies” and “10 Best Web Hosting Companies”.

In general, the top clicked posts were those that had titles including phrases such as:

  • “Best…”
  • “Reviews of…”
  • “Top 5…”
  • “How-to…”

According to Google, “On-page markup helps search engines understand the information on webpages and provide richer results…Google doesn’t use markup
for ranking purposes at this time-but rich snippets can make your web pages appear more prominently in search results, so you may see an increase in
traffic.”

Schema markup is probably the most under-utilized tool for SEO, presenting a huge opportunity for companies that do utilize the Google approved tool.
Searchmetrics reported that only 0.3% of websites
use schema markup, yet over a third of Google’s results contain rich snippets (additional text, images and links below the individual search results).
BruceClay.com reports rich snippets can increase CTRs of listings between
15-50% and that websites using schema markup tend to rank higher in search results.

Schema mark-up can be used to add star ratings, number of reviews, pricing (all shown in the listing below) and more to a search results page listing.


3.
Know the intent of your users

Understanding what searchers are trying to discover when they conduct a search can help determine how much effort you should try and put into appearing in
the number one organic listing, which can be an extremely difficult task without unlimited budget and resources—and, even if you do make it the number
one organic listing, traffic is not guaranteed as discovered in this reaserch. If you’re competing with big name brands, or ratings and review sites, and
THAT is what your customers want, they you are going to struggle to compete.

The importance of your business being the first listing vs. on the first page therefore, is highly dependent on the searcher’s intent, plus the strength of
your brand. The key is to always keep
user intent top-of-mind, and this can be established by talking to real people, rather than
guessing. What are they looking for when they are searching for your site? Structure your content around what people really want and need, list your site
on the directories that people actually visit or reference, create videos (if that’s what your audience wants)—know what your actual customers are
looking for, and then provide it.

There are going to be situations when a business can’t get to number one on the organic listings. As previously mentioned, the study shows that this is
still the key place to be, and the top organic listing captures more clicks that any other single listing. But if your chances of getting to that number
one spot are slim, you need to focus on other areas of the SERP, such as positions #4 or higher, which will be easier to obtain ranking for—businesses
that are positioned lower on the SERP (especially positions 2-4) see more click activity than they did several years ago, making this real estate much more
valuable. As
Gord Hotchkiss writes about, searchers tend to
“chunk” information on the SERP and scan each chuck in the same way they used to search the entire SERP—in a triangle pattern. Getting listed at the top
of a “chunk” can therefore be effective for many businesses. This idea of “chunking” and scanning can be seen in the heat map below.

To add to that, Mediative’s research showed that everything located above the top 4 organic listings (so, carousel results, knowledge graph, paid listings,
local listings etc.) combined captured 84% of clicks. If you can’t get your business listing to #1, but can get listed somewhere higher than #4, you have a
good chance of being seen, and clicked on by searchers. Ultimately, people expect Google to continue to do its job, and respond to search queries with the
most relevant results at the top. The study points out that only 1% of participants were willing to click through to Page 2 to see more results. If you’re
not listed on page 1 of Google for relevant searches, you may as well not exist online.

4.
A combination of SEO and paid search can maximize your visibility in SERP areas that have the biggest impact on both branding
and
traffic

Even though organic listings are where many businesses are striving to be listed (and where the majority of clicks take place), it’s important not to
forget about paid listings as a component of your digital strategy. Click-through rates for top sponsored listings (positions 1 and 2) have changed very
little in the past decade. Where the huge change has taken place is in the ability of sponsored ads on the right rail to attract attention and clicks.
Activity on this section of the page is almost non-existent. This can be put down to a couple of factors including searchers conditioned behaviour as
mentioned before, to scan more vertically, thanks to our increased mobile usage, and the fact that over the years we have learned that those results may
not typically be very relevant, or as good as the organic results, so we tend not to even take the time to view them.

Mediative’s research also found that there are branding effects of paid search, even if not directly driving traffic. We asked participants to “Imagine you
are traveling to New Orleans and are looking for somewhere to meet a friend for dinner in the French Quarter area. Use Google to find a restaurant.”
Participants were presented with a SERP showing 2 paid ads—the first was for opentable.com, and the second for the restaurant Remoulade, remoulade.com.

The top sponsored listing, opentable.com, was viewed by 84% of participants, and captured 26% of clicks. The second listing, remoulade.com, only captured
2% of clicks but was looked at by 73% of participants. By being seen by almost 3/4 of participants, the paid listing can increase brand affinity, and
therefore purchase (or choice) consideration in other areas! For example, if the searcher comes back and searches again another time, or clicks to
opentable.com and then sees Remoulade listed, it may benefit from a higher brand affinity from having already been seen in the paid listings. Mediative
conducted a
Brand Lift study featuring Honda that found the more real estate that brands own on the SERP, the higher the
CTR, and the higher the brand affinity, brand recognition, purchase consideration etc. Using paid search for more of a branding play is essentially free
brand advertising—while you should be prepared to get the clicks and pay for them of course, it likely that your business listing will be
seen
by a large number of people without capturing the same number of clicks. Impression data can also be easily tracked with Google paid ads so you know
exactly how many times your ad was shown, and can therefore estimate how many people actually looked at it from a branding point of view.


Rebecca Maynes is a Marketing Communications Strategist with Mediative, and was a major contributor on this study. The full study, including
click-through rates for all areas of the SERP, can be downloaded at

www.mediative.com/SERP.

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SSL secure websites boosted in Google search rank SEO tip

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SEO Teaching: Should SEO Be Taught at Universities?

Posted by Carla_Dawson

SEO is a concept that has been around for years and some universities have incorporated it into the curricula. A while back, I posted
this question on Moz and noticed some very strong opinions on the idea that SEO should be part of formal education. Search Engine Journal also posted an article on the idea that SEO should not be taught in universities. We (I co-wrote this post with Aleksej Heinze, who also currently teaches SEO) obviously believe SEO should be taught in higher education and got together to discuss how it benefits the SEO industry and how SEO can be incorporated in higher education. Aleksej teaches SEO in the U.K.; I teach SEO in Argentina.

Before I get started with the pros and cons, I want to share with you some opinions from people in industry on the topic of SEO in universities.


Wil Reynolds (Founder – Seer Interactive)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, people take BIG loans to go to the university in the U.S.; we should at least make sure when they graduate they have the skills that are in…demand in the workplace.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

Not sure. “SEO skills” is a broad phrase.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

Not really, I think the profession has credibility. Teaching SEO in universities gives a student a great platform to learn and to be prepared for one of the industries that is in desperate need of talent.


4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Yes, but I think SEO is too narrow, according to many definitions. If you think about it, SEO is as much about technical as it is about link building [or] keyword research. To teach the broad definition of SEO you’d need a pretty multi-disciplinary group to teach it. Maybe we’d just teach it as part of a digital marketing rotation.

Stephen Lock (Head of Content & Inbound Marketing, Linkdex.com)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, it makes sense that universities, where appropriate, offer courses that are based heavily on industry demands, especially if the course/institution has been marketed as…tailored for employers.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

They definitely are. There is a real shortage, and due to the fast-moving nature of the field, knowledge is quickly outdated, meaning even experienced practitioners aren’t always great candidates.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

I believe it does, although it is one of those fields where it’s common for people to…come from a broad range of backgrounds. The skills required are so diverse that it’s also understandable that people who have studied one field can adapt. From experience, employers are more interested in the person, their attitude and capacity to learn. However, SEO in universities can only be a good thing for the industry.

4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Teaching SEO, I believe, would benefit the industry, as the skills shortage is so acute and it is so common for entry-level candidates to come from many different backgrounds. My final thoughts are that SEO is so broad as a discipline that calling it just SEO may not do it justice.


What we can see from these and other opinions we received for this article is views are still mixed since SEO education is not clearly defined. Where do you start with a subject area that touches such a broad range of disciplines, including technical, content and engagement? However, the vast majority of our respondents were
positive about the need to integrate SEO in higher education!

Pros to teaching SEO in universities

Eli Overbey wrote a great article on this topic
here, but me and Aleksej took some of the ideas one step further. Basically, we identified problems in industry and how teaching SEO in universities might help the industry.

How teaching SEO in universities may benefit the industry

Industry Problem How SEO in higher education might alive the problem?
Long sales cycles – Selling SEO is a lot about educating your potential client. Today’s student is tomorrow’s potential client.

Students who learn SEO formally (and not just on the job) are likely to have a broader understanding of its benefits, and therefore, be able to “sell” it more effectively to clients.
Lack of Credibility – Most SEOs learned SEO on the job, or through reading great books like “The Art of SEO” and reading great articles on the internet. However, few formal institutions recognize it as a valid marketing technique. SEO is not taught in many marketing related programs. Creating an educational standard for SEO increases the credibility of the field. Treating the discipline as if it was law, engineering, etc., would elevate SEO to a discipline seen as requiring a significant period of study before it can be practiced.
Everyone says they know SEO. Without a recognized standard for the field of SEO, anyone and everyone can say they know SEO.
Clients with bad experiences don’t trust SEO companies.
Showing clients you have a certified person on your team may alleviate this situation.
Long recruiting cycles. Recruiters currently have to give SEO tests to verify that the job candidate in front of them really knows SEO. A certification or a degree does not guarantee you know the subject (this is true for lots of fields), but it is an excellent filter and a great starting point.
SEO is constantly changing, making it hard to keep up. Law, medicine and most other subject areas are also constantly changing, and content and concepts are updated accordingly. The same can be true for SEO in universities.
Clients challenge your techniques (ex. “Why don’t you use the keyword meta tag?” or “Why are you using parallax scrolling when it is not SEO-friendly?”)  This happens in all industries and being able to reference an independent institution and a high-quality article will probably reduce discussion time.
There is a high demand for SEO skills. Below you will find articles that mention demand for SEO skills in industry. Universities are in the business of creating professionals and satisfying workforce demands.Higher education institutions are often criticized for their lack of relevant educational courses that will equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs.

SEO is relevant today and will be well into the foreseeable future.

Cons to teaching SEO in universities

We do see some negatives to teaching SEO in universities, but we see them more as issues to be mitigated.
John Weber did a great job identifying the difficulties in teaching SEO in his article on searchenginejournal.com. We agree with several of the points in this article. However, we see them more as issues that can be alleviated through great program development.

Obstacles  Potential Solutions
Google makes changes to its algorithm constantly. This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. Students get that what they learn in school is somewhat “academic” and may be slightly out-of-date, but is still useful.

(On a side note, laws change all the time, yet law is taught in school.) 
SEO is complex. It requires analytical and creative skills. Case studies are a great way to teach complex concepts and creativity. Law, perhaps, is similar to SEO in that it requires analytical and creative skills to be successful, and it is taught in universities.
No one absolutely knows “the magic formula.” This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. This is true with many professions. Medicine is not an exact science and continuously evolves. Physicians often prescribe differing treatments for the same diagnosis. 

Current flaws in academia

We also see lots of flaws within the academic world regarding SEO, specifically the fact that if the subject is taught, it is mostly taught as an extension (vocational) course or optional part of an MBA program.

Here are some universities that offer SEO:

We feel SEO should be included as part of many other degree programs.

Please note that mentioning the concept and explaining it is not the same as teaching how to do SEO. In some cases, the concept should be mentioned and included, and in other cases, SEO should be fully taught. For example at Salford Business School, students are expected to plan, execute and evaluate live SEO campaigns and report on their results. This kind of SEO learning helps in job interviews where students can show their own artefacts and discuss what they have done and learned from their practical SEO experience.The academic world
has not incorporated the subject in a holistic manner.

How could SEO be incorporated into higher education?

Degree focus SEO Concept (not to be confused with course) to be incorporated in program Comments
Master of Business Administration (MBA) How to use SEO as a business strategy for long term sustainability of business? Not many MBA courses recognize SEO as a strategic tool for developing value for their business. Hence a number of businesses are missing growth opportunities in the online world.
Advertising How to use SEO with viral marketing and word of mouth as an advertising technique?

Is Inbound Marketing an advertising technique?
Television ads are no longer as effective as those created for YouTube with viral sharing in mind.
Web design/ computer science Designing for Search Engines – Is SEO part of web design? SEO is not taught in many web design or computer science schools. This has major issues/benefits for agencies that try to turn a non-SEO-friendly website into one that can be crawled by search engines.
Marketing Organic search engine results are an important marketing channel, and this concept does not have visibility in the educational system.

Many marketing programs talk about SEO as if it is something that’s useful to someone else. We are all individual brands who can learn and use SEO (e.g., integration of keyword research allows for better digital consumer profiling and learning about the digital personas to be engaged with in marketing mix).

Public Relations (PR) Synergies of online PR with content development strategies and long-term link building Many PR ignore the benefits of SEO and miss out on the mutual benefits that an integration of SEO and online PR could provide. 
Journalism Writing text for online readability and scanability (e.g., using headings, bullet points, etc.) Many journalism courses are still based on great headlines and catchy first paragraph, but these are great techniques when combined with SEO, too. Not thinking about the online audience means you miss a lot of reach with articles that are “thrown” onto the web without much consideration.

We argue for wider adoption of SEO at university teaching because of these three reasons:

Shaping the SEO industry

Starting with understanding SEO principles at the university-level, we are shaping the digital marketing professionals of the future. Recognizing the growing range of opportunities that digital marketing creates as a consequence of good SEO practices offers an invitation to the industry for new talent. Offering SEO at universities will not stop cowboy SEO practices, but at least it will reduce the use of such practices out of incompetence.

SEO is no longer a “dark art”

By demystifying the process of SEO, companies will be more likely to employ SEO professionals by recognizing and better appreciating the value they create. SEO is no longer perceived as a “black box” or “dark art” and individuals who might be supervising others will be more able to expect higher standards and discern whether someone is using unwelcome practices.

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Good SEO practices will make our industry sustainable

By integrating SEO into wider advertising, digital marketing, journalism, web design, PR and MBA courses, we are able to create a better long-term future for SEO as a profession. Having SEO skills applies to many disciplines, and business would be prepared to pay for these skills as soon as they recognise the return on investment that good SEO can create. By teaching SEO in higher education, SEO will appear more professional, which will lead to long-term sustainability.

Is there demand in the industry for SEO skills?

Universities have often been criticized for offering courses not relevant to industry needs. Students invest in higher education to broaden their horizons, but also to obtain skills that equip them better for their chosen profession. The underlying principle is that universities have to offer “universal knowledge and skills” to improve innovation and skills of the world we live in. So if an industry demands SEO skills, then perhaps it is time for higher education to respond? Here are some articles that show workforce demand related to SEO. 

2012 – Conductor –
Demand for SEO Professionals Has Never Been Greater [Study]

2013 – Bruce Clay –
Studies Reveal SEO Analysts are in High Demand

2013 – Search Engine Land –
SEO Talent In High Demand — How To Hire An SEO

Here are some great stats from the articles above.

  • Studies show a 112 percent year-over-year increase in demand for SEO professionals, with salaries as high as $94,000, as reported by Conductor, an SEO technology company based in New York.
  • Search Engine Land surveyed the SEO industry and found that 93 percent of respondents expected their SEO business to grow by the end of 2013. It makes sense, then, that 82 percent of respondents also reported plans to hire additional SEO staff this year.
  • Digital Journal proclaimed “there is no doubt that a career in an SEO agency as an SEO professional can be an exciting and rewarding one. Stress levels would match the lows found in other online positions, while the employment opportunities in such a fast growing business are obvious … Mid-level strategist and management roles can earn from $60,000, while senior marketing directors can expect to approach six-figure sums.”

First-hand experience – Aleksej Heinze

Salford Business School is currently leading a European project, a Joint European Masters in Digital and Social Media Marketing (
JEMSS). This project aims to develop the digital marketeers of the future. JEMSS is a partnership between five European Universities and two commercial organizations, one of which is a digital marketing recruitment agency based in Manchester, the UK.

As part of this project, an extensive consultation with digital agencies and in-house teams has been conducted across five European countries. This multi-stage research project started with a brainstorming session that included ten UK-based agencies in December 2013. They were looking at the top
10 digital marketing skills for international business. The key skill identified as part of this focus group was Search Engine Optimization.

The views from the UK-based agencies were also inline with the online survey results from students and potential students regarding digital marketing courses. The list of 25 skills was developed through the initial focus group with industry practitioners. We can clearly see that SEO tops the table of skills needed when developing knowledge and skills in the area of digital marketing. This online survey was completed by 712 respondents across several countries. We were interested to look at five countries taking part in the JEMSS project: Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and the UK. At least 50 respondents for each of these counties were collected to have a representative sample group.

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Do people want to learn SEO?

Looking at the generic searches related to learning SEO/SEO courses in various parts of the world we see some interesting trends:

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This Google Trends screenshot shows some of the main terms related to the popularity of SEO courses. We can see there is a major difference between “SEO training” and “SEO courses.” This can mean most people are seeing SEO as a vocational skill and not an academic course. It is also interesting to note that the location for those interested in “SEO courses” tends to be in India, the U.K. and the U.S. More research should be done in to identify additional hot spots throughout the world.

First hand experience – Carla Dawson

My students are eager to learn about SEO. Many of them make comments like “Carla, we have been waiting for this class” or “This is the best class [in the] program.” In the SEO class, I notice that students pay closer attention than they do in other classes. Multiple requests have been made by my students to “offer a second course or a seminar” so they can learn more about SEO. It almost seems as if the SEO course has more value than some of the other courses. In class, I get questions like “where can we learn more about SEO?” “What sources are reliable?” etc.

Conclusion

Long gone are the days gone where
universities were run by nuns and monks and the main courses included Latin, metaphysics and theology. Most universities are becoming businesses that develop educational products, research and sell them.

If you believe that universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs, then perhaps SEO or better yet “Search Marketing” is ideal for universities?

SEO touches so many fields and in our opinion it should be incorporated in various degrees not just offered as an extension course. We would love to hear the communities opinion on this topic so please comment below!

This article was co-authored with Aleksej Heinze from the University of Salford Manchester . You can find more information about Aleksej here.

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