The Anatomy of a #1 Google Result
by Geoff Hineman
There are many perks to having the #1 result in Google. You get the lion's share of the clicks. You bolster your PPC efforts. You are first in line to garner more links. Then there is the revenue stream that comes from monetizing the traffic from that #1 result.
It's no wonder, then, that an entire industry has grown around the ability to acquire #1 results in Google—or at least as close as you can get. To be #1, however, you need to know what Google wants and you need to give Google what it wants better than anybody else. That's a tricky proposition, though, because Google has said repeatedly it examines 200+ factors in its ranking algorithm and makes changes to that algorithm—mostly small, but some quite large—every single day.
To learn what goes into a #1 result, we chose 100 different keywords and collected 24 different metrics to start getting an idea of what a #1 result looks like behind the curtain. In this post, we are going to break down the similarities and differences among #1 Google results.
For data gathering purposes, we used three main tools. The real workhorse for this study was the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. We took advantage of Screaming Frog's API integration capabilities and connected it to the Ahrefs API to gather link-related information. Finally, we used Google's PageSpeed Insights tool for page speed scores.
Once we gathered our data, we broke it down into six different category metrics. Those metrics are as follows:
- Display. These metrics measure information we can gather based upon the way the #1 result looks on the results page.
- Visibility. These metrics measure that sites that come up as #1 the most frequently.
- Backlinks. These metrics measure the number of backlinks and linking domains pointing at the #1 result.
- Page Speed. These metrics measure how long it took a page to render for the crawler, on desktop and mobile.
- Content. These are metrics will content-related information, such as word counts, text-to-code ratios, and page title length.
- Keyword. These metrics measure information regarding the keywords we chose for this study.
We chose these metrics because we felt they encompassed factors from keyword difficulty, to on-page and off-page information, to the way results present on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
For each metric, we will deliver a more detailed definition of the metric, as well as a range of data from high, to average, to low.
Display metrics deal with the way a page is displayed in a search result. This will include metrics related to whether the #1 result was a featured snippet, featured sitelinks, and the like.
- 100% of #1 results were secure sites
- 98% of #1 resultsfeatured a meta description in the code
- 48% of #1 results featured an exact match keyword in the page title
- 41% of #1 results contained sitelinks
- 11% of #1 results were a featured snippet
- 11% of #1 results were homepages
- 5% of #1 results include rich snippets
Visibility metrics measure the frequency with which some sites occupy the #1 result in Google. In our study, these sites came up the most frequently.
- Amazon: 16%
- Home Depot: 7%
- Dicks Sporting Goods: 2%
- Etsy: 2%
- Macys: 2%
- PetSmart: 2%
- Citrus Sleep: 2%
Collectively, these seven sites represented 33% of the #1 results we collected.
For each #1 result, we examined its backlink profile to look for consistencies, and discrepancies, between different #1 results.
Domain Rank: A site's domain rank reflects the strength of a site's backlink profile. In our study, domain rank for #1 results broke down like this.
- Highest Domain Rank – 96
- Mean Domain Rank – 70
- Lowest Domain Rank – 0
URL Rank: A pages URL rank reflects the strength of a page's backlink profile. In our study, URL rank for #1 results broke down like this.
- Highest URL Rank – 55
- Mean URL Rank – 24
- Lowest URL Rank – 8
Backlinks: Backlinks are the number of total backlinks (dofollow and nofollow) that a #1 result has received.
- Highest Number of Backlinks – 33,211
- Mean Number of Backlinks – 918
- Lowest Number of Backlinks – 0
Dofollow Backlinks: Dofollow backlinks measures the number of backlinks that pass value that is used when calculating keyword rank.
- Highest Number of Dofollow Backlinks – 20,227
- Mean number of Dofollow Backlinks – 546
- Lowest Number of Dofollow Backlinks – 0
Nofollow Backlinks: Nofollow backlinks measures the number of backlinks that do not pass value used for calculating keyword rank.
- Highest Number of Nofollow Backlinks – 12,984
- Mean number of Nofollow Backlinks – 371
- Lowest Number of Nofollow Backlinks – 0
Referring Domains: Referring domains is the total number of referring domains that are linking to the URL of a #1 result page.
- Highest Number of Referring Domains – 1,277
- Mean Number of Referring Domains – 81
- Lowest Number of Referring Domains – 0
Dofollow Referring Domains: Dofollow domains measures the number of referring domains that are sending backlinks that pass value used for calculating keyword rank.
- Highest Number of Dofollow Referring Domains – 902
- Mean Number of Dofollow Referring Domains – 44
- Lowest Number of Referring Domains – 0
Page Speed Metrics
It's been several years since Google announced that page speeds were being used as an organic ranking factor. For this set of metrics, we looked at page response time (in seconds) from the time the crawler hit the page until the page fully loads, as well as desktop and mobile page speed scores from Google's PageSpeed Insights tool.
Response Time: Response time measures how long it takes for a page to load.
- Highest Response Time – 8.638 seconds
- Mean Response Time – 0.879 seconds
- Lowest Response Time – 0.059 seconds
It's worth noting that the eight pages with the lowest response times were all Amazon pages.
Desktop Speed Scores: Desktop speed scores are the grades given by Google's PageSpeed Insights tool. A score of 100 is the best possible score here. A score of 1 is the worst possible score.
- Highest Desktop Speed Score – 100
- Mean Desktop Speed Score – 68
- Lowest Desktop Speed Score – 21
Mobile Speed Scores: Mobile speed scores are the grades given by Google's PageSpeed Insights tool. A score of 100 is the best possible score here. A score of 1 is the worst possible score.
- Highest Mobile Speed Score – 100
- Mean Mobile Speed Score – 38
- Lowest Mobile Speed Score – 3
One of the main idioms of SEO is that content is king. For that reason, we looked at several content metrics, as well. These include the length of the page title (both characters and pixels), word count of the #1 result page, and the text-to-code ratio.
Page Title Length in Characters: The recommended character length for page titles is 50-60 characters to ensure that page titles aren't truncated on the SERP. It is not uncommon, though, to see page titles with as many as 80 characters.
- Longest Page Title in Characters – 90
- Mean Page Title Character Length – 45
- Shortest Page Title Character Length – 11
Page Title Length in Pixels: Currently, Google allows page descriptions to be up to about 600 characters before it truncates them in the results.
- Longest Page Title in Pixels – 864
- Mean Page Title Character Pixels – 425
- Shortest Page Title Character Pixels – 114
Word Count: There is always debate about how long a page should be in terms of word count. Many SEOs swear by long-form content to lure links and rank well. Google maintains that content that effectively answers a search query can be any length. The metric, then, measure the number of words on each #1 result page.
- Highest Word Count – 9,718
- Mean Word Count – 1,967
- Lowest Word Count – 44
Text-to-Code Ratio: Text-to-code ratio measures the number of non-HTML characters in the HTML body tag on a page (e.g., the text), divided by the total number of characters comprising the HTML page, and displayed as a percentage.
- Highest Text-to-Code Ratio – 28%
- Mean Text-to-Code Ratio – 6%
- Lowest Text-to-Code Ratio – 0.19%
We chose 100 keywords at random. Since we are looking at metrics of the resulting #1 pages, we thought it prudent to also share a little bit of aggregate information regarding the keywords we chose for this study.
Keyword Difficulty: The keyword difficulty metric is calculated by combining the weighted average of the number of linking domains to the top-10 rankings pages and plotting them from 0 to 100 on a logarithmic scale.
- Highest Keyword Difficulty – 69
- Mean Keyword Difficulty – 20
- Lowest Keyword Difficulty – 0
Cost Per Click: The cost-per-click metric shows the what the cost-per-click of a keyword would be as part of a Google Ads campaign.
- Highest Cost-Per-Click – $9.00
- Mean Cost-Per-Click – $1.71
- Lowest Cost-Per-Click – $0.01
Clicks-Per-Search: The clicks-per-search metric is the average number of clicks users perform after searching for a keyword. In some instances, featured snippets can answer a search query from the SERP, which means users may not need to click into a result. This metric is calculated by dividing post-query clicks by the monthly estimated search volume of said keyword.
- Highest Clicks-Per-Search – 1.71
- Mean Clicks-Per-Search – 0.93
- Lowest Clicks-Per-Search – 0.24v
Profile of a #1 Google Result
To get a snapshot of an average #1 Google Result, let's recap our data here in one easy-to-read profile.
An average #1 Google result will not be the homepage of a site. It will, however, be a secure page/site. It will most likely not have sitelinks in the search results, but don't be too surprised if you see them. You should, however, be surprised if you see a rich snippet in a #1 result. While featured snippets are out there, the #1 result usually will not be a featured snippet. The #1 result will have a meta description in the code of the page and it's a virtual coin toss as to whether the page title will have an exact match to the keyword that was searched.
Other metrics will shake out like this:
- Domain Rank: 70
- URL Rank: 24
- Total Backlinks: 918
- Dofollow Backlinks: 546
- Nofollow Backlinks: 371
- Referring Domains: 81
- Dofollow Referring Domains: 44
- Response Time: 0.879 seconds
- Desktop Speed Score: 68
- Mobile Speed Score: 38
- Page Title Character Length: 45
- Page Title Pixel Length: 425
- Word Count: 1,967
- Text-to-Code Ratio: 6%
Each #1 Google result is unique in that the search volume of the keyword, number and type of backlinks to a page, quality and length of content, site speed, and other factors can vary greatly from search to search. That's why it's always important to look at the SERPs prior to optimization; it will show you how hard you must work to unseat the #1 result.
That said, certain components can give you an average of what you can expect, in general, when trying to take over the #1 Google result.