Most people who have had some kind of experience with digital marketing over the ten or fifteen years have probably heard of Click Through Rate (CTR), but most people would equate it to Pay Per Click search marketing such as Google Ads rather than with SEO. However, SEO consultants take organic click through rate very seriously and you should too. This is why.
Click through rate is about the number of people who click on the organic listing vs the number of people who have seen it.
This is how it looks in Google Search Console:
This is then broken down into the performance of queries, pages, devices etc:
So probably the first question you want to ask if ‘does click through rate really impact rankings in Google?’ In the SEO world, this has been a bit of a contentious issue which has been widely discussed by SEO consultants and representatives of search engines alike.
Google ranking factors are Google’s secret sauce and it’s understandable that they don’t go out of their way to explain the recipe they use at any one time. That said there is all kinds of information about there that SEO consultants like to pour over to see what factors might be helping websites to rank. Of course, there are patents (some of which are in use and some which aren’t) and theories, plus tests which seem to validate or disprove those theories.
The thing is, we can actually measure click through rate from organic traffic and therefore it’s something that we can test and try to improve. This has to be a good thing.
I’m going to go through various things I’ve learnt and some things that are out there that relate to organic click through rate and its relationship to search rankings. Hopefully, by reading this you’ll get a bit of an understanding about CTR and organic rankings and you’ll also get some takeout you can apply to your own website.
So we could look at thousands of Tweets and loads of videos made by anyone and everyone. I could review every vaguely relevant patent. And I could look at every post out there with a theory about whether CTR is a ranking factor. But I don’t want to bore you to tears! So I’m going to take you through some of the most important ones in my opinion and give you some ideas about what you should be doing about it.
Do CTR really impact organic rankings?
OK. There is much debate amongst SEO consultants about the role of click through rates. Eric Enge published a post in which he suggests he has evidence to show that Google doesn’t directly use CTR as a ranking factor. But then, there’s always those indirect ranking factors to think about!
You’re probably rolling your eyes at the moment. Direct ranking factors vs indirect ranking factors?! What’s the difference? Glad you asked! Essentially direct ranking factors are those things that we know for certain impact search, but indirect ranking factors are things that we can’t prove have a direct cause but which evidence seems to suggest there is a correlation.
If you’re a PPC buff then you probably know about last touch attribution in which the last interaction with an ad gains the attribution for a conversion. The thing is, that last touch might not be the thing that ensured the conversion happened. In fact, it could have taken several touch points – maybe even several clicks on your other ads but more probably interactions with many different channels – before that conversion takes place.
When you’re thinking about what makes a website rank it’s important to take a holistic approach that takes into account the impact and cumulative impact of indirect as well as direct ranking factors/signals.
So if Eric Enge is right and click through rate is an indirect ranking factor, then great! I can work with that. And even more than that, so what if it’s not a ranking factor – so what if it’s not even an indirect ranking factor because you should still care about the click through rate your results in the SERPs are attaining.
So what’s the case for click through rate as a ranking factor?
A while back AJ Kohn wrote about the role of click through rate as a ranking factor which did a great job of putting the case forward for CTR.
Former Google engineer Edmond Lau said: “It’s pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feedback into ranking to improve the quality of search results. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they’re less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top. Building a feedback loop is a fairly obvious step forward in quality for both search and recommendations systems, and a smart search engine would incorporate the data.”
Back in 2007, Marissa Mayer also said: “We hold them to a very high click-through rate expectation and if they don’t meet that click-through rate, the OneBox gets turned off on that particular query. We have an automated system that looks at click-through rates per OneBox presentation per query. So it might be that news is performing really well on Bush today but it’s not performing very well on another term, it ultimately gets turned off due to lack of click-through rates. We are authorizing it in a way that’s scalable and does a pretty good job enforcing relevance.”
If that wasn’t enough, Udi Manber went on to say: “The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure out, well, probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.”
There have also been comments made by top Googlers Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt to say that click data is analysed for a number of reasons but most of all to provide feedback as to whether Google’s algorithm is working effectively.
It’s all about getting to number one?!
I hear this all the time from clients. The most important thing in their mind is getting to number one in the rankings. But the thing is, whilst generally, it’s true position one gets more click throughs than those websites featuring in other positions, even if you do get to position one, that doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically get more clicks than those websites appearing in position two, three, four or five.
The most important thing is that people click on your result in the SERPs when they see them and that they don’t bounce back as soon as they hit your website.
Matt Cutts said in 2009: “It doesn’t really matter how often you show up. It matters how often you get clicked on and then how often you … convert those to whatever you really want (sales, purchases, subscriptions)… Do spend some time looking at your title, your URL, and your snippet that Google generates, and see if you can find ways to improve that and make it better for users because then they’re more likely to click. You’ll get more visitors, you’ll get better return on your investment.”
As an SEO consultant, we always look at page titles first when carrying out the placement of keywords into a page. Matt Cutts himself said this was one of the important places to put your keywords but he qualified it by saying: “you want to make something that people will actually click on when they see it in the search results – something that lets them know you’re gonna have the answer they’re looking for.”
So one thing we know from all of this is that Google thinks user signals are important. This includes the click through rate.
So what should you do about Click Through Rate for SEO?
Optimise your page title:
SEOs have always known that page titles have been one of the most important elements of optimising a page, but often this has been about putting the keywords in the right positions for search engines rather than the user. So, how can you optimise the page title to encourage people to click on your snippet?
Optimising a page title is pure copywriting in the most old-fashioned advertising form. You’ve got to say a lot in a very little space and with an incredibly limited number of characters – whilst including the keywords that will help you rank. Ouch – that makes most of our heads hurt!
So here are the key things to remember:
- Be relatable
- Use emotion
- List things
And remember the other side of the search marketing coin, PPC. You can use Google Ads to test and improve the copy you use in your page titles based on what works in the headlines of your ads.
Optimise your meta description:
Meta descriptions are the first place Google looks when it’s trying to work out what to include in the snippets it displays in the SERPs. This is what it looks like when it’s rendered:
Meta description is another indirect ranking factor. This is another opportunity to exercise your copywriting skills. You’ve got more characters to play with here. But similarly to the page title, you’re going to want to include your keywords or keyphrases and then give the searcher a reason to actually click on your snippet. Just bear in mind, Google doesn’t always choose the meta description as the snippet.
Optimise your URLs
If you’ve got a huge URL that’s being cut off in Google’s snippet, and especially if the main keyword is being cut off, why not update your URL and create a 301 redirect from the old ugly URL to the new search-friendly URL. This will help your user see what’s your page is about more easily and should help your CTR.
Do more marketing and build your brand
This is about everything you do with marketing your business. Imagine if your website is sat side by side in the SERPs with a household brand or an industry leader that does loads of marketing. How many fewer clicks are you going to get compared to them? So up your game in terms of brand marketing as well because this is going to increase the awareness of your brand and ensure more searchers click on your website when it appears in the SERPs.