It’s a provocative question and heaven knows we all love one of those.
There are a lot of contradictory opinions out there surrounding the term ‘blue links’ and how many are to be found on your average search engine results pages (SERPs).
While many proclaim the death of ’10 blue links’, other experts suggest their own research confirms otherwise.
Search is an ever evolving, constantly tinkered with playground that is almost impossible to ‘game’ in the long-term and second-guess in the short-term.
As a producer of content myself, I’ve always believed that SEO best practice lies in the quality of the content itself. Creating entertaining, useful, relevant or engaging content is the number one approach and any ‘wins’ your content may achieve in appearing in organic search listings are a well earned result.
Of course I sound naïve here and I’m fully aware that good SEO involves more than just that, especially if organic search listings on the first SERP are becoming less visible.
Let’s take a look at the current state of play for organic search and ’10 blue links’.
What are blue links?
These are the organic search results in a SERP, not the ones that have been paid for.
In fact searching for ‘blue links’ in Google brings up an entirely organic SERP.
If you were to scroll down all the way, you would in fact see 10 blue links.
10 blue links
I first heard the phrase ‘10 blue links’ within the much more sensationalist quote “10 blue links are dead”.
In 2009 Yahoo stated that "people don't really want to search". They want quick access to the information they’re looking for, rather than scrolling through a list of links to web pages like a librarian slowly browsing a tray of index cards.
Yahoo began showing different page layouts, featuring maps, images, aggregated reviews and very quickly the layout of a SERP became a completely altered landscape.
I talked to Search Laboratory's head of SEO, James McCann for his opinions on the matter of '10 blue links'.
I always interpreted the ‘ten blue links’ as referring to the more rigid Google of old. This is when Google had set results (displayed universally), which refreshed once a month, ten of which were on the prime first page. These were the days when someone could definitively say they were number one or number three for this term or that term.
In that case the days of '10 blue links' certainly are dead especially in relation to the rigid Google of old.
Here’s the current Google SERP for ‘Nike’.
With paid ads, news results, multiple sitelinks, related searches and a Google+ box this only leaves room for six organic results. More and more similarly rich elements are being added to the SERP all the time. Hence the cries of “10 blue links are dead”.
However, this may not entirely be the case. Bing announced in 2012 that it would adopt a ‘more than 10’ approach to its SERPS and to this day Bing has kept to that promise.
Searching for ‘Nike’ on Bing reveals 13 organic results. Other more general searches like ‘best steak restaurants in London’ (it’s nearly lunchtime) reveal 10 organic results.
With two paid ads and a local map with related search results languishing somewhere down the bottom, this looks on the face of it like a more ‘organically oriented SERP.
Here’s the same search on Google:
Here you can see six paid ads, a map and three local search results all filling up the above-the-fold portion of the screen. However, if you include the ‘authored’ results, there are 10 blue links in the Google SERP.
James Mccann ran his own test for me, in which he searched for the same term on Google, five minutes apart, in two different locations using different Google logins.
The results for 'sheds' show two completely different SERPs, with only two results appearing in the same position.
As you can see, a web page has absolutely no guarantee that it will appear in the same place in the same SERP twice.
Organic link distribution
Conductor has recently published its own survey of organic link distribution revealing that nine out of 10 SERPS have nine or more organic links.
It seems that the idea of organic '10 blue links' may be alive and kicking in the non-rigid Google world.
73% of SERPS have exactly ten organic results, so there is still significant opportunity for small businesses and brands to appear in the organic listings.
Although don’t think for one minute that Google and the like are relinquishing a little more control of the SERP space to organic search, as the following chart reveals more than half of search results pages have nine or more ads.
56% of search pages now have nine or more paid ads and paid search ads will of course only continue to grow in number and size.
Even the most casual of searcher realises that they have formed a subconscious blindness to sponsored search ads. Especially the ones at the top of the SERP in the coloured box.
Marketers realise this too. As searchers seek out organic results and search engines continuously tinker with the SERPs themselves to offer a more intuitive experience (it of course pays for Google to serve its users with the most relevant content possible for fear they might wander to a competitor), SEO becomes a more vital tool than ever.
For some tips on SEO check out Andrew Girdwood’s post SEO is D.E.A.D.
Spoiler: it’s not actually dead by the way.