Every day you see sales pitches for domain names that include exact match search volume, but how many of you know how to use that number effectively in your purchase decision? Many domainers subscribe to the “more is better” philosophy, while others prefer going after less competitive niche markets and shoot for monthly search volume in the 2k – 6k range. Some just use it as a guide to estimate type-in traffic, although I’m not aware of a generally agreed-upon multiplier (I usually use 0.02). But what does this valuable piece of data really mean when it comes to organic search traffic?
Back in 2006 there was a tremendous amount of AOL search data that was leaked, it included information on slightly more than 9 million searches and almost 5 million clicks. A member of EarnersForum.com, Breakpoint, scrubbed the data to determine how many clicks each position can expect to receive. This is fairly well-known in the SEO community, but I haven’t heard domainers talking about it, hence why I wrote this post.
To begin analyzing search volume, we first need to know what percentage of searches will likely result in a click. Obviously this will vary, but because this is such a large and broad sample, we can assume the data will apply fairly reliably across multiple verticals. So lets get started…
The AOL search data included 9,038,794 searches which resulted in 4,926,623 clicks. From that we can assume that 54.5% of searches will actually result in clicks. If the exact monthly search volume for the keywords in your domain is 25,000, you can probably expect there to be 13,625 clicks (25,000 * 0.545) on the organic search results across all positions. The next important question is how those clicks are distributed across the positions. Obviously a site ranking #1 in Google will get more clicks than a site ranking #7, but how much more?
Here’s the breakdown of the 4,926,623 clicks:
Position 1: 2,075,765 clicks (42.13% of clicks)
Position 2: 586,100 clicks (11.9% of clicks)
Position 3: 418,643 clicks (8.5% of clicks)
Position 4: 298,532 clicks (6.1% of clicks)
Position 5: 242,169 clicks (4.92% of clicks)
Position 6: 199,541 clicks (4.05% of clicks)
Position 7: 168,080 clicks (3.41% of clicks)
Position 8: 148,489 clicks (3.01% of clicks)
Position 9: 140,356 clicks (2.85% of clicks)
Position 10: 147,551 clicks (2.99% of clicks)
Positions 11 and beyond had 501,397 total clicks combined, or 10.18%. That means ranking #2 would be better than having every position from 11 and on to yourself. I find it interesting that ranking #1 gets you 3.5 times more clicks than #2, and ranking #10 is better than ranking #9 since it is the last thing someone sees before clicking to the next page of results.
TRAFFIC (EXACT SEARCH VOLUME * 0.545) * PERCENT OF CLICKS AS DECIMAL
Lets go back to the example where the exact match search volume in Google is 25,000 per month, from which you could expect around 13,625 total clicks across all positions (remember we did 25k * 0.545). If you can rank #1 for the term, you could expect to get 5,740 visitors (13,625 * 0.4213) per month from Google. If you ranked #2, you could expect 1,621 visitors (13,625 * 0.119) per month from Google. All you have to do is multiply the total expected number of clicks by the fraction of clicks a certain position gets. So ranking #10 should get you about 407 visitors (13,625 * 0.0299) per month from Google. Of course if you really wanted to do a thorough analysis of the domain’s potential you would add in search volume for long tail terms that you could likely rank for. An example would be if you had CarInsurance.com, you might want to analyze other keywords such as “car insurance quotes” that you would likely be able to rank for.
If you have time, I would be interested to hear from the community about this. If you have a site ranking on the first page of Google, run the numbers based on your position and the exact match search volume, then check your analytics and see how it compares to the real-world numbers.
Of course this leads to other questions such as how difficult it would be to rank for each position based on the competition, how much money you could expect to earn from PPC ads or affiliate programs based on the traffic you are expecting (and CTR/RPC), etc. but I will leave that for another discussion. The first question is very tricky to come up with a guesstimate for, so I like to choose the position for the calculations conservatively. There are many variables involved, most of which are a closely guarded trade secret. You can make an educated guess by looking at the sites ranking on the first page. How many backlinks do they have? What is their page rank? How long has the site been up? How many established players are there (Wikipedia, Fortune 500, etc)? Are there any .edu or .gov sites (these are hard to outrank)? The earnings question is easy to ballpark once you have a traffic estimate though.