SERP Stacking: How SEOs Can Tax The Poor

by on February 16, 2011 | posted in SEO Theory

“The rich get richer.” “You need money to make money.” These are all widely recognized phrases, and, in most ways, they’re both right. It’s much easier to get to two million after you’ve made it one million. Once you’ve made it to number one, the ease of moving widening the gap between you and number two is never easier because of the prestige that caring the #1 tag offers – such as recruiting for a powerful technology company like Google, Facebook, or Twitter (hypothetical 1A, 1B, and 1C).

This same concept exists on the SERPs. Those sites that rank 1st not only reap the traffic benefits that come with ranking 1st, but the also reap the positives of link acquisition. This is, of course, because traffic and links are correlated, and the more traffic a site has, the more likely it is to incur links – because, of course, a user must visit a site to have the impetus to link to it. And once a site starts to receive more links, it also receives more traffic because of click throughs and rankings on search engines – and so the ball begins rolling downwards.

Sometimes it almost feels wrong linking to sites that I find through search. I do some kind of work for an article, don’t have a citation for something I heard months ago, Google it and random throw a link at the site without hardly looking at the text because it fulfills the data need I was looking for. I, as an SEO, know the struggle getting good links can often require – so why I am so easily Googling and offering links to a domain that only had to show up at the right place and the right time?

Ag. It feels wrong. But I’m lazy. But I want the SEO rich to get richer – it means, if I play my cards right and become “rich”, I can get richer too.

SERP Stacking – An ROI Multiplier

Which leads us to the main assistive point of this piece – SERP stacking. Beyond the aforementioned rich get richer topics that occur organically, Google also has something currently built into their algorithm that lets the rich get richer algorithmically – that you would be crazy not to take advantage of. When you have two or more results for your site Google deems worthy of ranking in the top 10 results, it has been automatically bumping them together.

This means, that by getting an additional page to #10 in the search results (and perhaps a little under that), it is automatically jumped to #2 if you already have a page ranking #1 – or otherwise, under any ranking you have in the top 10. This occurs no matter how you display – so Google will “pop” together results four pages deep if you decide you want to sort by 40 instead. This doesn’t *always* occur, and sometimes Google will separate URLs on repetition or just because they feel like it in that moment, but it occurs as a high enough volume that you must pay attention to it – because it offers a huge ROI opportunity for your websites.

The best times to do something like this are when you have the #1 locked up. You aren’t worried about competitors jumping you in the near future, so you don’t have to spend many resources retaining that position, but at some level, the #2 and #3 positions are taking a significant portion of your clicks. This happens most often with exact match keyword domains, or other extremely authoritative domains that are normally targeting a keyword on their homepage, so it has strong command of the top position.

For E-Commerce, A Strategy Worth Ignoring

Something important to note here is Google is now doing “find and replace” on many URLs, retrieving the URL it finds most relevant for terms like “red t-shirts” so it’s users don’t have to make another click to actually find red t-shirts. I find that this happens most often on e-commerce pages, where this makes sense for the search engines to do, since the homepage is not actually displaying the actual point-of-purchase page for “red t-shirts” in most instances.

However, in verticals other than e-commerce, I am not seeing this happen as often (or at all), so, to stay on the safe side, I would only suggest throwing real resources at getting this done in verticals other than e-commerce.

So, again, the best times to do this:

  • On a keyword with a good search volume where you have a strong command of #1, or are so locked into #2 that it’s worth taking #2-3, or even 4
  • That keyword is targeted by the homepage so it is more likely you actually have #1 or #2 locked up
  • In verticals that aren’t e-commerce, or, more specifically, anywhere else you haven’t seen Google suddenly change the URL ranking

Don’t think that this is a requirement, though – if you see a positive ROI opportunity with perhaps two pages that are already ranking right off page one or something of that nature, by all means, pursue it – the main thing to take from this is that SERP Stacking is something that is extremely beneficial – and should be a considerable part of any sophisticated SEO’s playbook.

To get a second page to rank, my recommendation is to create a second keyword focused page, but with mildly modified intentions. For example, if you have the keyword “space insurance” locked up with the exact match domain “Space Insurance”, I would suggest creating a second page such as this: with the title tag “Space Insurance – Information and Resources” with strong content (and a good call to action on the page somewhere, such as a form) – so you would have two pages, not just the homepage, picking up #1. In an ideal scenario, this second page would also be able to rank for other, long tail keywords that simply can’t fit on the homepage, such as “Space Insurance – What is it” so when people search for “What is Space Insurance”, you rank. Most importantly, don’t replicate the content, and don’t replicate the title tag – but create a mild variation that is still capable of converting the users you want to your site for that keyword, without impairing user experience.

The second option, if you have “Space Insurance” locked up, is to see what second page you have close to ranking already. It’s very possible that you already have another page lingering right off the front page that makes sense for this keyword. If that’s the case, considering tweaking that page mildly, linking to it internally with targeted anchor text from the page that’s already #1 – and also pumping in anchor text links to that URL – and within no time, you’ll have the #1 and #2 positions “stacked” for some time to come.

One warning, though – this is simply what Google is doing now – stacking results – and it’s very possible that a proliferation of this strategy would cause them to reconsider this, or it suddenly would stop occurring on more results. Or, it’s possible that something else could happen, and they could stop jumbling them together. The risk-reward ratio of this is low, though, as is that it’s not something that requires intense investment – it only requires you pay attention to it. So, if Google suddenly turns this off, it probably won’t hurt you much.

Is It A Competition If There Are No Other Players?

The beauty of this strategy is also that ranking #1 and #2 decreases the likelihood that other websites will mess with you, and even if they hope too, resources will dry up quicker. Real, good traffic occurs at #2 – but if you can monopolize it, it’s likely their SEO inputs won’t return truly good ROI, they’ll stop trying because cash-flow won’t be positive and you’ll be able to simply “exist” at this position for some time to come, without having to invest any more resources. You’ll get more traffic, more links, and more pages will start ranking because of that – allowing you to look at this strategy again, use it again, and make yourself increasingly more rich. From there, you can jostle with getting even greedier, and attempt to “bunch” three or more results at the top of a SERP. This rarely happens on a keyword worth it’s weight in salt, but when it does – whoa buddy. Congrats, you just planted a money tree.

If you’re somewhere around #8 or #9 in this situation – I’m sorry. In a world where SERP Stacking occurs, 2nd – 3rd – or 4th place is not a fun place to be. I might suggest a job at JCPenney – but in the retail stores, of course.

Some one-off updates for anyone that’s interested – I’ll be speaking at the Link Building Clinic on Day 3 of SMX West in San Jose, which runs March 8-March 10th. I’ve also been occasionally updating my non-SEO blog on Posterous, so if you have any interest in anything I have to riff on besides SEO, please stop by. Although it’s not SEO, I won’t be talking about my breakfast – unless, of course, I discover breakfast reveals some deeper inquisitions into business and life.

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