Although there are many sometimes confusing and contradictory statistics around search engine marketing and especially SEO, the AOL data provides a rare chance to see accurate statistics from a major engine fed by Google.

The results should be analysed by anyone interested in SEM…

During the week of August 6, the enlightened souls at AOL’s research division released a database of about 658,000 users and the searches each made from March to May, 2006. The searches amounted to 20 million web queries.

These results were supposed to be anonymised but at least one person has already been tracked down by the New York Times, see ‘A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749’. The ‘gaffe’ has since been analysed by everyone from the digerati to local newspaper columnists.

The data is statistically relevant because it was a relatively big sample and was based on three months of search data.

Importantly, and given that AOL’s search queries are returned from Google’s index, the data also gives us some insight into Google, one of the most secretive search engines.

Some of the findings are pretty interesting…

47% of searches result in no clicks on any of the returned results. This supports the evidence that many users, rather than clicking through search result pages, prefer to refine their search query and search again.

Hey presto, we also find that 90% of user clicks are on the first page and a mere 4% of user clicks are on the second page. It has never been more important to be on the first page of search results.

Looking at exactly how the clicks were distributed throughout the first page of results it is even more alarming for sites that do not list highly:

    • 42% of clicks are on the 1st placed result.
    • 12% of clicks are on the 2nd placed result.
    • 8% of clicks are on the 3rd placed result.
    • 6% of clicks are on the 4th placed result.
    • 5% of clicks are on the 5th placed result.

So the first five results attract a whopping three quarters of the total clicks.

For a more detailed analysis of the data go to

Although ‘blackhat’ SEO is not for the fainthearted there’s a little tool on seoblackhat which allows you to put in a keyword’s search volume and it utilises what the AOL data tells us to predict clicks by search engine and rank.

Given the functional and interface experience similarity between all the algorithmic search engines I think that the AOL data is a fascinating insight into search clickstream, and a good source of SEO information, made more important because of its relationship to Google usage.

The data confirms what we experience every day – the race for search supremacy against your competitors has never been so fierce. Do your keyword research thoroughly and exploit the gaps that your competition misses, and focus on what will deliver those top five positions, the rest is vanity.

Oh, and be careful what you search for, your clickstream maybe in the New York Times before you can say ‘how can I grow pot’…


Arjo Ghosh is CEO of


, a search engine marketing agency.