Does your website’s organic click-through-rate (CTR) affect SEO rankings? This debate is a discussion almost as old as search engines themselves. Organic CTR is one of the most important metrics to track since it affects your ad rankings and cost-per-click. Optimizing your website’s CTR is essential to both marketing and user experience teams, but does it impact SEO?
What is Organic Click-Through Rate (CTR)?
Before we go any further, let’s establish what CTR is.
Click-through-rate measures the number of users who click a link versus all the users who see the link. Organic refers to clicks to your links that originated from search engine result pages (SERPS) instead of clicks from pay per click (PPC), which result from paid advertisements. The formula for calculating organic CTR is quite basic: simply divide the total measured click by the total impressions and multiple by 100 to get the percentage.
For most websites, the CTR is crucial as it showcases the number of leads generated from search engine visibility. After all, while it’d be exceptional that a million people see your link, the entire effort is wasted if nobody clicks on it. A similar idea exists with conversion rates, which measures the number of people who visit a business versus the number of people who make a purchase.
What is the impact of Click-Through-Rate on SEO?
Many believe the idea that CTR has no influence on SEO rankings. Others, such as Paul Haahr, a ranking engineer employed at Google, believe otherwise. In a 2016 presentation on live experiments with Google’s algorithm, Haahr writes:
- Algorithm A puts Page 1 before Page 22 -> User clicks on Page 1 -> “good”
- Algorithm B puts P2 before P1 -> no click -> “bad”
In more understandable terms, this means that Google’s algorithm judges SERP quality using queries and clicks. Each page ranking position has an expected CTR. Suppose a specific page is in an SEO ranked position, but its CTR is higher than expected. In that case, Google may eventually rank that page higher since clearly more people are interested in the result.
New studies have verified this conclusion. Larry Kim has run several tests showing exactly how CTR will impact its SEO. In one of his tests, he showed that by sending clicks to a specific website, his ranking shifted from position #7 all the way to #1 in less than three hours. The idea boils down to this – the better your site performs than the expected CTR for its position, the more likely your site will improve its organic SEO position.
If your site falls below the expected CTR, then Google will lower the position on the SERP. Specifically, the study found that increasing CTR by 3 percent leads to your site moving up one position in Google’s organic search position (and vice versa)
Optimizing CTR for SEO, therefore, improves traffic to your site threefold. Not only does improving organic CTR influence SEO ranking, but it also empowers your website to generate more traffic, given the same ranking. Furthermore, sites with higher CTR will also tend to have higher conversion rates. In another study by Larry Kim, he found that increasing CTR by a factor of 2 leads to conversion rates increasing by 50%.
What Can We Do to Improve SEO CTR?
We’ve already established that CTR and organic SEO ranking are related. Even if it didn’t improve, CTR pays dividends in other ways. Unfortunately, Organic SEO CTR has seen a decline in recent years. This is due to the competition from knowledge graphs, paid advertisements, answer boxes, and more.
A few years ago, being on the “10 blue links” on a search engine’s front page was more than enough to have a substantial CTR. Now, search engines have moved beyond this basic model. Even obtaining the first position on search engine rankings may no longer be enough. Just a few years ago, the organic SEO CTR for the first position was around 27-30% (according to Ignite Visibility) – now the same ranking nets fewer than 20%.
Given that organic CTR no longer comes free with a good ranking position, here are some tried and true practices that will improve click-through-rates.
1. Identify Weak CTR content
While we strive to tailor content to better reflect what search engines are looking for, it’d be a nightmare to ruin content that was generating a great deal of traffic. The top 10 percent of the website’s content has CTRs over twice as effective as the average.
On the other hand, the bottom 10 percent have organic CTRs in the range of three times lower. By unwittingly changing a top-performing page, you could decrease click rates by over 80%.
To avoid this, use a search analytics tool (such as Google Search Console) to graph your SEO CTR against the organic ranking position. By focusing on the keywords or pages that are the bottom 10% of performing, you can efficiently adapt your site to increase clicks.
2. Better URL structure
URL, short for Uniform Resource Locator, are the digital address of your web content. Unlike physical addresses, URLs’ information is critical for search engines to decide which webpages to scrape and index. Not only that, but users themselves look at the page names and keywords within URLs to decide whether or not a link is worth clicking. URL structuring is an art in of itself, but some basic pointers will help increase CTRs organically for any website
Search engines only require that each address for individual pages on your website be unique, but having clear naming helps users understand what the URL is about. As an example, both of these URLs would be equally valid in the eyes of a search engine:
But actual users will be much more likely to click on the second URL since that explains what kind of information they’re likely to find on the page.
While having a descriptive URL is important, less is more when it comes to length once the message has been conveyed. URLs that go on for too long are simply replaced with ellipses anyhow, so making concise descriptions goes a long way.
This doesn’t mean that every link on your webpage has to be completely flat, but research has shown that searchers prefer shorter URLs over longer ones. Removing as many unnecessary subfolders makes the addresses more clickable, more comfortable to copy/paste, and aesthetically pleasing.
Business owners often make the mistake of eliminating information within the URL that hints towards the business’ physical location. This is a costly error – locality is a massive boon for SEO CTR. Having mentions of the city you operate in, or the general neighborhood lets both consumers and search engines know where your content would be best shown
3. Improve Your Titles
Your title is critical to increasing click rates. Aside from meta descriptions (which we’ll cover shortly), titles are pretty much the only other thing users will see on the search engine SERPs. While not all of these tips will apply to every title, try to use them when possible, as a poor title is one of the hardest hitters to CTR.
Who – not Why
Headlines that contained the word “who” increased CTR by 22% compared to the control group. On the other hand, those that had “why” decreased CTR by over 37%.
Show don’t tell
Headlines that featured “photos” or “images” have a 37% better CTR than headlines without. When possible, include photos within your article and your title.
Use a Numbered List
While titles like “8 Best Ways to Grill a Steak” sounds like a quirky Buzzfeed title, the data shows that a numbered list is by far the most effective type of title. The reason for this is that searchers don’t appreciate uncertainty in the link they’re clicking on. Numbered titles are by far the most precise types of titles. They leave little to no ambiguity about what the contents of the article are.
Add Brackets to Your Title
By merely clarifying your article’s content through brackets, you can increase clicks by up to 40%. Headlines that include bracket clarifications (e.g, [pictures], [videos], [infographic], etc) performed much better than those without. Brackets give searchers a clear picture of your webpage’s content, and we already know they prefer knowing what they’re getting into.
4. Optimize Meta Descriptions
The meta description is an HTML attribute designed to give a brief summary of your website. While meta descriptions do not directly influence your site’s SEO positional rank, search engines do frequently display them within the search results. By having an optimized meta description, searchers can better understand your page, which leans to better click-through-rates.
Meta descriptions have no real minimum length, but Google replaces anything after 160 characters with ellipses, so we recommend keeping them under this threshold.
When reading your description, searchers are thinking, “why should I click on this,” and thus, it’s your job to sell your page. Your description should adequately capture your value proposition and stand out from your competitors. Since search engines do not directly use your meta description for ranking, it makes more sense to speak directly to your users and tell them what your page offers rather than just spam a long string of keywords.
Adding in a Call-to-Action (CTA) is often a useful tool. Meta descriptions are essentially mini-advertisements for your site, and including a CTA can increase your CTR.
The Impact of Click-Through-Rate on SEO
Click-through rate, or CTR, is a metric that plays a huge role in internet marketing and SEO in our modern era. CTR measures the percentage of people who clicked through out of the people who viewed your link, page, email, or advertisement. Knowledge of your CTR can be extraordinarily valuable—a low CTR can signal inefficiencies or a bottleneck in your leads and can be a clear point of improvement.
As improving CTR will naturally lead to more traffic, it is one of the most bulletproof ways of improving your SEO. Investing in your CTR can lead to a huge array of returns on your investment, including higher rankings on SERPs, higher traffic, and more conversions.
How to Calculate Organic Click-Through-Rates
Your organic click-through rate percentage is calculated by finding the ratio of people who clicked you from the organic result in SERPs divided by the total number of impressions for a specific term. You can calculate your website’s organic CTR by plugging your numbers into the following formula.
100 Organic clicks ÷ impressions = Organic CTR Percentage
A high CTR indicates that a large percentage of people that see your link click through, suggesting that your link is attractive and enticing. Alternatively, a low CTR indicates that your link isn’t as attractive as its competitors and suggests an area for possible improvement.
Importance Of Optimizing Organic CTR
CTR, just like SERP ranking, is integral for bringing visitors to your website and is typically associated with a good SEO campaign.
Imagine a scenario…
You’re high on Google’s SERP and your website converts leads at a very high rate. However, despite your high ranking and amazing website, very few people even visit your page. Your CTR is holding your SEO campaign and your website back, single-handedly wasting your high rankings and pushing away potential visitors (and conversions).
In this case, an improvement in CTR could lead to a huge increase in traffic to your website, directly leading to more conversions. As your website is recognized by search engines as more valuable, your rankings will improve, leading to an even higher CTR and more traffic. Conversely, a decrease in CTR will directly lead to a decrease in traffic, with the effects further compounded by ranking penalizations by the search engine.
While an increase in CTR may be interpreted as a straightforward increase in traffic tied to your SERP ranking, the benefits of CTR improvements aren’t limited to strictly bringing more visitors to your site from the SERP. Your CTR and SEO rankings work symbiotically—an increase in one may lead to an increase in the other, further increasing traffic to your site.
Google Click-Through Rates (CTR) By Ranking Position
The ranking positions of your pages in SERPs are some of the largest factors in determining your website’s traffic and CTR. This makes sense logically—the higher your website is on SERPs, the more likely it is that searchers click on your website’s link.
Google’s data on organic click-through rates by ranking position illustrates this effect:
- Position 1 – 34.2%
- Position 2 – 17.1%
- Position 3 – 11.4%
- Position 4 – 8.1%
- Position 5 – 7.4%
- Position 6 – 5.1%
- Position 7 – 4.1%
- Position 8 – 3.3%
- Position 9 – 2.9%
- Position 10 – 2.6%
When looking at these numbers, the large effect of SERP position on CTR is very clear, with websites ranking first typically pulling over a third of the traffic. Positions 1 and 2 pull over 50% of searchers alone, with websites in first doubling the average traffic of websites in second.
How To Improve Organic CTR?
Before improving your organic CTR, there are a few key things that you need to be aware of and change to see improvement. In particular, the user-facing title tags and meta descriptions are particularly important.
- Title Tag: Title tags are HTML elements that describe the content contained within the link. Typically, these title tags are what appears on SERPs and social media, so they must act like a hook and entice readers to click through.
- Meta Description: These are HTML elements that summarize the content contained within the link. Meta descriptions are meant to be informative, and are much longer than title tags—as the current word limit for meta descriptions is 275 words, you should optimize towards that number. Meta descriptions are also often rewritten by Google. According to Ahrefs, 62.78% of meta descriptions are changed by Google on SERPs.
1. Find Pages With Low Organic CTR
To fix lower Organic CTR issues, you first need to identify the specific pages that need improvement. You can do this by following these simple steps.
- Go to Google Search Console
- Click on the performance bar
- Export the data and import it onto a Google sheet
- To visualize the data, use simple conditional formatting utilizing the average CTR
While pages with average or higher organic CTR can still be optimized and improved further, it’s often easier to start by improving pages with the lowest CTR first and then moving upwards. Editing successful links also has a higher, natural element of risk—supposed “improvements” to a title tag for a high-performing link can easily drop your page below the competition.
2. Understand Audience Demographics and Intent
Not everyone has deep knowledge about the audience they are trying to connect with. To get more people to click on your pages, you first need to know who you’re targeting.
Important information about audience demographics includes potential common locations, gender, age groups, and shared things the audience interacts with. Using a tool such as Sparktoro, you can learn more about your target demographic and find trends that will help you target your audience more effectively.
As an example, you might be looking for patterns in physical location among people who searched for Image SEO. (Attached in the image above)
In this case, knowledge about the geographical locations of your visiting demographics could be valuable and may allow you to better cater your content to your readers. With the knowledge that a significant percentage of your visiting users are from London and the U.K., you may decide to cater your title tags and meta descriptions towards a more international audience in the hopes of capturing a higher portion of that demographic.
3. Check Layout For Better CTR
Before implementing or changing anything, you should first check the SERP. While SERPs for some keywords can be consistent across different locations, other SERPs also vary wildly based on small changes in keyword and location.
For an accurate result, you can use an emulator to see how a SERP looks from your target location. By inspecting the SERP, you should be able to find out many important things that will help you to understand what may be missing from your title tags and meta description.
4. Use Schema
Schema is microdata that can be embedded into your webpage to provide search engines with additional information on how to read and display your website. Providing search engines with this information, in turn, leads to ranking on SERPs and therefore higher CTR.
Schema can be used effectively to format and display valuable information to users. For example, data on concerts may be structured using schema markup to display on Google’s SERP as a table with artists, dates, and locations.
Schema can be a gamechanger for your website—to use schema in your website, follow these simple steps:
- Check the SERP and see what kind of results are ranking. Also, check what kind of schema can be used based on keyword intent and given result.
- Check all the viable schema options based on your pages
- Use the one most fit for attracting more people
- If possible use SEO entity in the schema for both SEO and CTR purposes
5. Use Power Words
Words can be used to trigger a wide variety of emotions, ranging from curiosity to anger. These words can be used by copywriters and title tag authors to motivate potential visitors to click through the link.
Different power words can be used to incite certain emotions—words such as gift, prize, profit, and bargain play on human instincts on scarcity, while words such as strange, shocking, or bizarre play on natural human curiosity.
These power words and their respective emotions can be utilized in title tags to incite emotion and promote click-throughs. Information on search intent and the search demographic can be invaluable in these cases, allowing the title tag author to better ascertain the optimal emotion required to incite clicks. By using power words and hand-tailoring your title tags for your keyword search audience, you can effectively incite more interest in your website and improve your CTR.
6. Use Parentheses
Parentheses add extra power to the title tag, allowing you to provide extra information or mention related topics around questions that people also ask (PAA). Parenthesis can also be used as a short introduction to the included content, encouraging users to click-through and learn more.
As an example, imagine you’re searching for ”Advanced SEO” and there are two results. Choose which one you will click first:
- Advanced SEO Strategy Guide
- Advanced SEO Strategy Guide (Along With Example & Case Study)
The second title tag is much more effective, as it allows the title tag author to entice potential readers by communicating the inclusion of an informative example and case study in the article.
7. Adding Event Or Year Into Title Tag
Adding the event or year into the title tag is an effective way to garner more clicks for certain keyword searches.
Including the year in lists or “best of” articles is typically a strong strategy, as it indicates how fresh and updated your content is. People searching for “best laptop” will more likely click on an article with a title that indicates that the information is current.
Including an event in the title tag is effective at targeting a specific user demographic. When evaluating the inclusion of an event in a title tag, deep knowledge of the user demographic is key—including the event may push away users searching for pages not connected to the event.
8. Run A/B Testing
Oftentimes, making large (or small) changes to your website’s title tags, meta descriptions, or schema can feel risky and intimidating. While improvements in CTR are rewarded heavily by the search engine and can result in large increases in traffic, changes that result in lower CTR may have large, negative effects on your website’s traffic. In these cases, it may feel that the risk outweighs the potential gain. With natural fluctuations in visitors and traffic, it may also be hard to determine whether the changes were successful or detrimental.
A/B testing is a strategy that allows website designers to mitigate risk and determine the relative performance of each design. By running A/B testing and displaying two different variations for users of a website, website designers can differentiate the more effective variant while controlling for natural fluctuations in visitors and traffic.
A/B testing is a common practice among good SEO companies and professionals. Prospective changes can be trialed by running A/B testing for a few days, and if successful, can be permanently implemented.
Alternatively, if A/B testing is not an available option, a SERP simulator can be used in conjunction with interviews to select the most effective option
For many business owners, their sole focus is obtaining the #1 spot on search engines. Unfortunately for them, this often isn’t possible. Sometimes the keyword is too saturated, sometimes the competition has too much domain authority, and sometimes your page just hasn’t existed for long enough.
Whatever the case – don’t worry. Plenty of new studies have shown that positional ranking isn’t what it used to be and definitely isn’t the end goal. Today, by changing a few things in your title and having an engaging description, you can increase your SEO CTR sixfold or more.
By raising your organic CTRs and search engagement rates, it won’t matter if someone else ranks above you – since you’ll be getting all of the clicks.
Research has also shown that improved engagement directly leads to higher rankings in Google and other search engines. By increasing your rankings, your CTR will naturally improve, leading to a positive cycle of more traffic.
Improving title tags, meta descriptions, schema, power word usage, and testing different variants of your website link can all be incredibly effective at improving your CTR—combine this CTR optimization with a killer website and strong content to ascend in the SERP rankings and drive more traffic to your site.