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‘Golden Triangle’ Disappears As Search-User Behavior Evolves

A cornerstone of SEO has always been the “golden triangle,” the tiny, vaunted piece of real estate on the search engine results page (SERP) where users are most likely to notice your site. But new research shows that the golden triangle has lost its hold—and that users aren’t scanning search results the way they used to.

golden-triangleThe golden triangle was discovered as far back as 2005. That was when SEO researchers first used “eye-tracking” studies to create a heat map of the parts of the screen that a user actually looks at. Those studies showed that users start in the top left and read partway into each search result before rapidly moving down. They read less of each result, essentially looking only at a small triangular area of the screen.

The triangle could be interrupted by certain elements, such as an image in the SERPs, but generally if you weren’t in the top five results or so—inside the boundaries of the triange—you weren’t going to get organic traffic. Arguably, it was even better to be in the triangular area on Page 2 than below the triangle on Page 1.

But the new study, published by Mediative, shows that searchers today will readily look outside the golden triangle. That comes across in several behavioral changes:

  • Users spend less time looking at each search result, from an average of nearly 2 seconds in 2005 to just 1.17 seconds today
  • While spending less time looking at each result, users look at more results total—reading farther down the page
  • Accordingly, positions lower in the SERP get more attention (though this boost is most pronounced for positions 2-4, still high on the page)

SERP-heat-map-2014The study offers two main explanations for this change in behavior. One is caused by Google itself: Organic results no longer begin in the top left corner, with paid results often taking the spot, thus disrupting users’ starting point and pushing them down the page. The other is technological: More people are using mobile devices, which condition us to scan vertically.

At EverSpark, we’d add a third explanation. The top spot for almost any search query is held by the entity with savvy SEO, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these companies also provide the content with the most value to users. A surprising number of businesses still face a disconnect between ranking in the SERPs and producing content that converts. Users may have learned to be more discriminating in which results they click on because the top results haven’t always served them well in the past—essentially learning to be more picky in what they click on.

There are two key takeaways for businesses hoping to maximize their search traffic:

  1. Despite the stretching out of the triangle, the top search result still gets the most eyeballs and the most clicks; SEO is still king.
  2. Since users are more willing to look down the page before clicking, an investment in vlogging—or video blogging—may help you occupy more real estate on the SERPs.

EverSpark specializes in content-driven SEO that produces results. Contact us today for a free consultation about how to boost your traffic.


Image credits: Mediative