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How to Estimate Site Traffic Gains (or Losses) from Rank Changes

Jacob StoopsJacob Stoops

In this article, I’ll teach you how to estimate how much traffic you’ll gain by increasing your rankings. By understanding search volume and click distribution among the SERPs you can estimate how many visits you’d stand to gain or lose by moving up or down in the rankings. Knowing how much traffic you may stand to gain or lose by moving up or down in the search engine rankings is critical in terms of allowing you to sell the value and potential business impact to folks within your organization or to potential clients.

The first thing you’ll need to review would be the concept of Click Distribution by SERP Ranking. This basically refers to how user’s clicks are distributed throughout the Top 10 SERP rankings.

If you recall, there are limited data sets available within the search industry regarding the distribution of clicks. I’ve taken the liberty of averaging all of the known data sets together in an effort to consolidate the percentages into one percentage. Here’s what I came up with for the click distribution percentages in SERP results.

Total: 95.91% of all clicks occur on Page #1 of SERPs

SERP Rankings, Search Volume, and Click Distribution

Lets follow this logic…by monitoring your search rankings, examining search volume, and applying the distribution percentages you can begin to get an idea of how much traffic you’re likely to receive based on where you rank within the search engines.

Lets work on an example. In our example, we’ll say that you’re a nationally prominent seller of dog supplies. Over the past few years you’ve worked really hard and are now ranking #10 for the term “dog supplies.”

By using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner Tool, you’ll see that the key term “dog supplies” receives 9,900 Global Monthly Searches.

Dog Supplies - Search Volume Example

This is the first place where it gets a little tricky. Which search volume number do you use? This depends on your business type and how realistic you wish to be about the quality of your traffic.

If you’re a global brand like Petco or Petsmart then its safe to say you should use the Global Search Volume number. However, if you’re brand is more local within your country, you should go with the Local Monthly Search Volume (Note: Your Local Monthly Search Volume constitues the search volume generated by your country, in my case the United States).

Now, lets apply our initial logic.

“Dog supplies” generates 9,900 global monthly searches and we’re currently (fictionally) ranking #10. Based on our original click distribution percentages, we should receive 2.71% of all clicks. If that’s the case, we should currently be getting approximately (carry the one, minus the blah blah) 268 visits. That’s 9,900 x 0.0271. Make sense?

Now, lets make another connection. Let’s imagine that you’ve worked really really hard – built your links, ate your spinach, said your prayers – and achieved the #1 ranking for the term “dog supplies!” Good work.

Based on the percentages, we’ll now take 9,900 and multiply it by 0.4546. This SERP position should give us approximately 4,501 visits. That’s a big jump in traffic and clearly shows you how valuable the #1 position can be in terms of gaining additional traffic. But how much did you gain?

Okay, let’s put this last piece together. Take 4,501 visits minus 268 visits and you’ll see that you stand to gain 4,233 additional visits by moving from position #10 to #1.

Quickly, let’s apply this logic backwards. Let’s say you’re ranking #3 and slip to #6. At the #3 position you should expect around 999 visits. At position #6, you should expect around 390 visits. That’s a slip of 609 visits! That’s a lot to lose and can be the difference in gaining or losing a lot of web revenue/exposure.

The Flaws in this Logic

Now here’s the disclaimer. The above logic is flawed. It assumes that every search result is absolutely perfect and only includes the 10 organic listings – nothing else. We know that’s false.

The search results of this day and age are what I like to call “muddy.” The reason I call them Muddy SERPs is that there are so many different types of results that are injected right into the natural results that may draw a click away and water down the click percentages (local, news, social, etc).

Here is an example of a Muddy SERP result:

You can see how different types of listings are injected into the natural SERPs

In addition, there are different types of searches. Different search contexts certainly impact the patterns in which people click around the SERPs, which in turn may affect the click distribution percentages.

Different types of search classifications is discussed in detail by Aaron Wall over at SEOBook. These types are Navigational, Transactional, and Informational.

Another thing that may affect how the numbers that Google may not show are the number of searches that don’t result in a click. With the new Google Instant Search feature, I know that many of my searches are abandoned quickly without a click if I don’t see what I need right away. This type of behavior may not take place on the other two major search engines, but Google is ahead of the curve in this regard.

The Smartest Thing To Do

The best thing you can do is knock at least 30% off of whatever number you have, and then you may have a more accurate estimate of the real traffic that may come in by being at a certain position.

There it is! You’ve done it. You can apply this logic – however flawed – going forward to attempt to estimate traffic gains/losses by fluctuations in SERP rank.

Note to readers: This is not an exact science and there are any number of factors that come into play. It is merely a logical SEO’s attempt to use the data available to make logical conclusions and come close to answering a question that I receive from clients all the time.

This is a starting point in order to help you get your head around how to think about your SERP position and the potential to gain or lose traffic by moving up or down.

I’m very interested to hear your feedback, so shoot away!

Photo credit: Unsplash

I'm an Associate Director of SEO at Rosetta, a dedicated husband, dad, lover of mafia movies, eternally tortured Cleveland sports fan, marketing & tech blogger, web designer, and WordPress aficionado.

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