Adam Penenberg:
Conventional wisdom says 97 percent of Google searchers don’t click past the first three pages (or 30 results). With about three-quarters of the active online population in America using search engines, according to Nielsen/NetRatings (.pdf), and 40 percent of shoppers choosing Google to locate stores and comparison shop, the difference between a high and low ranking can literally be the difference between a thriving online business and Chapter 11.

This got me wondering: How much is it worth to a company’s bottom line to place near the top of Google’s search rankings?

To find out, I contacted Oneupweb, a search engine optimization, or SEO, firm based on the shores of Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, no one there knew the answer either, so Lisa Wehr, the founder and CEO, offered to conduct a study of 30 clients for me.

Although my hunch was that the results would show benefit to cracking Google’s top 30, I didn’t realize just by how much. In fact, it is extraordinary. Oneupweb found that the first month a site appeared on the second or third page of Google results, traffic increased five times from the previous month, and in the second month, traffic was nine times greater. The number of unique visitors tripled when a company moved up from page two to page one, and in the second month doubled again to more than six times the traffic it received before it broke the top 10. More importantly, Oneupweb discovered a correlating impact on sales: 42 percent more the first month, and nearly double the second month.

Case in point: Eastwood is a niche seller of automotive refurbishing tools and a Oneupweb client. In the five years since the company revamped its website to become more friendly to search engines, it has seen online sales climb to 44 percent of total sales, which have also increased 40 percent. With 267 words or phrases related to auto refurbishing in Google’s top 10 (It’s No. 1 for “auto tools” and “auto powder coating,” for example), and 421 related keywords in the top 30 of all search engines, the site attracts about 1 million unique visitors a month — most of them hard-core, web-savvy hobbyists.

More here.