Why top spots in SEO and PPC make the difference

Did you know there are computer labs where they hook people up to eye movement sensors and measure where the eyes gravitate to the most on a computer screen and after measuring thousands of individuals and tens of thousands of web pages, distinctive patterns have been revealed? If you didn’t know about this, don’t worry. In fact, most business owners don’t, including many dentists. The result can be pouring money into online marketing in a manner of the proverbially “throwing good after bad” especially after understanding where consumers look on web pages based on these eye movement studies.

What eye movement studies show is where the eye is most likely to fall and scan naturally and repeatedly. Believe it or not, some folks a hundred years ago (definitely pre-internet!) figured out some aspects of this pattern related to eye movement even though they would have never called it such. Claude Hopkins (one of the father’s of scientific marketers that you’ll hear James talk about) found back in the 1920′s, based on coupon tracking, that advertisements ‘above the fold’ in newspapers sold more stuff. Above the fold meaning that crease where papers are folded. If the paper was tabloid format (no fold) then simply the upper half of the paper. Not only was “above the fold” better, but closer to the front of the paper and ads on the right side of two page spreads also increased sales.

Two of those three rules still hold true with computer screens! Above the fold and closer to the front of web pages work better. However, there are also some specific nuances related to these eye movement studies which can literally change which primary strategy you use for getting patients to your website.

Fig. 1 eye map shows the repeated pattern seen when subjects are looking at organic search results. The search on the left hand side of the screen that results from folks like me performing “search engine optimization” on your website so that the site shows up in the top half of the organic listings on page one. [By the way, I can pretty much guarantee that in almost any market thanks to the tools I've amassed over several years of searching.]

Fig. 2. shows eye mapping for both organic search results (SEO once again) and pay-per-click ads across the three largest search engines.

A similar pattern is visible in the organics. The eye will look most intently at the top five naturals and drift downwards to maybe 50% of the “below the fold.” Normally these maps are in color but here one can still see that there are differences in the intensity in B&W.

The more “explosive” looking areas are where the eye concentrates the most. One item discernible between Yahoo and MSN versus Google is that the user is looking around for a longer period of time in those venues. Theory being that when searching on Google someone has a very specific item they are looking for. They “get in, search, get it, get out.” While on the Yahoo and MSN portal sites, the searcher is more of a browser. Either way, both results point to the top 50% of page 1 being the most important place to be in the naturals.

How does this data apply to PPC? Once again, referring to Fig. 2, I’ve placed 3 black ovals over the PPC searches where the eyes tracked to the most. Several things to notice here: 1) Very few eyes went past the top 4 or 5 PPC ads and 2) the intensity of looking at those ads was not nearly as intense as the natural searches. One last component to realize with PPC is often times the first 2 ads are listed just above the natural searches which is definitely inside the “kill” zone of eye movement always spending time on that portion of the screen. I’ve put arrows on Fig. 2 to illustrate where those ads would fall in the visual space.

Okay, before I tie all of this up with how this can impact you back at your practice, there’s one more Figure to review. Fig. 3 shows what percentage of individuals click onto the listed webpage based on rank. 72% of all users will have made a choice after a search with the natural listings by the time they get to listing #5. If you’re below #5 or (gasp) on page 2, there isn’t much hope for your website being found by the patient.

Ultimately the eye map data says if you want to have good results with either PPC ads or with having your website show up in natural searches for specific dental terms (problems that you would like to treat) is that for PPC or SEO, one must be in the top 5-6 ads for PPC and with the natural search, one must be in the top 5 listings for SEO.

Knowing this helps with choosing which strategy to use in a given location. If the most desired “complex case” key search terms have become too costly in your market to have your PPC ads in the top performing spots, then it automatically makes sense to move your online marketing investment to SEO only. Many markets are already in that category.

If your market is one of the fortunate ones where it’s still a relative bargain to be in the top 5-6 PPC ads AND the top 5 natural search listings, then by all means run with it as long as you can. Lastly, in some of the most extremely competitive markets, it may make sense to not use any online advertising and use those marketing dollars for offline marketing that gets the patient to the website. These are all the kinds of things that I look at in each market.

Lastly, regardless of ad ranks, eye maps, and whether online or offline marketing gets someone to your site, once they arrive, your site needs to have sound sales principles at work, using offers to get them to ‘raise their hand,” getting them call the practice, and ultimately putting them into the sound sales System used at SmartBox Web Marketing.



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About the author
Colin Receveur is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and dental web marketing expert who has pioneered the way dentists market themselves online for the past decade. Since incorporating in 2001, Colin has established a rock solid track record with his dentist clients and turned SmartBox into a stalwart of proven results for hundreds of dental practices.