In the world of organic SEO, there are countless key metrics used to measure success.
Among the most important of these metrics is clickthrough rate (CTR).
CTR also happens to be one of the most ambiguous metrics when it comes to fully understanding its importance as a search signal, and how it ultimately affects search rankings.
Not to worry:
We’ve put together all of our wisdom and a wealth of industry knowledge to give you all the answers in this post!
You’re going to learn the ins and outs of CTR, its impact on search rankings, and how to improve CTR on your own pages with proven, actionable tactics.
Let’s get started!
Defining CTR as a metric is really quite simple:
It’s the number of times a search result get clicked on divided by the number of times it shows up on SERPs
“Organic” refers to the fact that we’re not looking at the performance of paid ads in SERPs—only unpaid, organic listings.
Pretty simple, right?
That answer isn’t quite as simple.
In fact, it really depends.
Average CTR varies by industry as well as the nature of the search query.
But overall, the best way to determine whether or not you have a good CTR is to look at average data and see where you fall on that scale.
Check out this great graph from Neil Patel on the average relationship between CTR and search position:
Looking at the graph, let’s say you rank 15th for a specific search query.
If your CTR is 6% you’re considerably ahead of the curve! If it’s 1% you have some work to do.
The nature of the query for which your listing ranks is very significant in determining whether your CTR is good or bad.
For example, branded queries tend to generate a higher CTR than non-branded ones:
A user directly searching for your company by its name on Google is most likely looking to find your company’s website.
As long as the your website shows up in the search results (if it doesn’t, then we need to chat), it’s more likely the user will click.
Here’s a graph from Internet Marketing Ninjas depicting the average organic CTR differences between branded and non-branded queries:
When you’re analyzing your CTR, be sure you’re making a distinction between branded and non-branded keywords.
There’s no conclusive data on the exact amount that organic CTR affects how Google decides to position a given search result on a SERP.
It’s pretty clear that CTR is indeed a ranking factor—we just don’t know the exact weight that it carries.
Most of the information we have on click data factoring into search rankings comes from current and former Google employees:
Former Google engineer Udi Manber attests:
“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”
Similarly, fellow former Google engineer Edmond Lau has stated:
“It’s pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back 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.”
Both statements make it quite clear that Google doesn’t ignore click data when defining search rankings.
Google employees aren’t the only source of evidence we have for the SEO significance of CTR.
We know from Google’s RankBrain machine-learning algorithm that CTR has to be a major piece of the ranking puzzle.
RankBrain uses a number of search signals to determine search position. Perhaps the most significant of these are engagement and relevance.
RankBrain is all about improving the relevance and quality of search results for any given query. Google uses engagement levels—determined through metrics such as click data—and machine learning to understand which content responds best and most comprehensively to a given search query.
Other engagement metrics such as dwell time and bounce rate also factor in, but those are both measured after a user has clicked on your listing. Google can’t even measure metrics like this unless someone lands on your content. And guess what they most likely have to do to get there?
You guessed it!
If your listing has a higher organic CTR than the other listings on the SERP, RankBrain will likely reward you with a search position boost, because users are clearly engaging with your content.
Since RankBrain was implemented, CTRs for top 3 results on SERPs have increased consistently, showing that Google is rewarding engaging content in a “winner-take-all” fashion.
Google has stated that RankBrain is its third most important ranking factor.
CTR may not be officially be considered a ranking factor on its own—but it’s clear that CTR data is significantly baked into RankBrain’s analysis of search results.
At the end of the day, paying attention to the CTR on your pages and seeking to improve it is beneficial for a variety of reasons.
Independent of SEO, if you’re showing up in a ton of searches and not getting clicked on, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to drive targeted traffic to your website.
But from a ranking signal standpoint, one thing is abundantly clear:
Google cares about user engagement.
We don’t know exactly how much weight click data carries in the SEO equation.
But to be honest, who cares?
Expert accounts and existing data, along with the implementation of RankBrain tell us CTR matters enough to merit our attention.
It’s safe to say that if Google tests your search result at a high position, it better perform.
If it doesn’t earn an average or above average CTR, there’s a solid chance you’ll fail Google’s test—and Google will replace your result with one that actually earns clicks.
But not to worry, getting clicks on your listings isn’t rocket science.
Next, we’re going to go over some great tips for improving CTR.
We know what CTR is and why it matters.
We also know about the fact that Google takes click data into account when defining search rankings.
Your most important takeaway from all that should be that CTR is indeed important, and you should seize this immense opportunity by doing everything in your power to maximize it for the pages on your website.
The best way to have an immediate impact on CTR is by improving your title and description tags.
If you don't believe us, here's what Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, has to say about it. He posted the following in a Reddit discussion on March 5th, 2018:
Good titles & descriptions are some of the easiest wins you can get on webpages. We did a round of site-reviews for some NPOs recently, and the number one item that came up for almost all of them was that what they cared about wasn't front & center on their pages, and reflected in their meta-data. How are search engines supposed to guess what you want your pages to rank for?
Let’s go over the most actionable strategies for creating fantastic title and description tags, shall we?
Here’s the main thing webmasters forget when they hear the words “title tag” and “meta description”:
It’s not all about SEO.
The average title tag is dull, and stuffed with unnecessary keywords, while the average meta description is uninspiring and doesn’t encourage engagement.
What if instead of thinking of title tags and meta descriptions as SEO tools, we were to think of them as high-visibility ad copy?
That’s what users want. And guess what? It’s what search engines want too.
Here are 7 actionable tips for creating SEO-aware title and description tags that earn clicks!
Length is the simplest element of the equation but it’s also extremely important.
The character limit for a title tag is 60 characters, while the limit for a meta description is (as of December 2017) 300 characters.
Note: These limits are actually based on pixels, not character count (capital letters and some special characters can take up more space), so be sure to check and confirm your title tags fit!
Also note that character limits are lower for Google mobile searches and all Yahoo and Bing searches.
If you exceed these character limits, the title or description will be cut off, and users won’t be able to read the whole thing—which will make it less likely you’ll earn their click.
Here’s an example of a cut off title tag AND cut off meta description. The query was “puppy training tips”:
If I’m skimming through SERPs in search of a page that will help me with my query, I likely won’t want to take the time to figure out what the rest of that says.
I’ll move on to the rest of the results instead.
While there’s not exactly a penalty for going too short, why not take the opportunity to appeal to your audience?
If you use 50 characters in a meta description and the search results above and below you use about 300, you’re missing out on a chance to sell the relevance and quality of your content, while the other results are giving users a more detailed sneak peek at the content.
If you pepper your title tag and meta description with words that elicit emotion, your content is more likely to earn a click.
In fact, CoSchedule conducted a research study finding that content with higher levels of emotional value in headlines tend to generate more shares:
They also have a great Headline Analyzer, which can be very helpful.
Next time you write a title tag, think about which emotions it may elicit in a user.
Here’s an example of a title tag that uses an emotional trigger:
It includes an element of exaggeration and comedy by using the word “Surviving” rather than using a weaker word like “Succeeding” or omitting a descriptive word.
As discussed earlier, it’s not all about SEO!
Title tags should all include some form of keyword that tells Google (and users) what your content is about.
After all, that’s how you will show up in SERPs in the first place.
But make sure you don’t go overboard.
Title tags and meta descriptions are your opportunity to prove that your content is relevant to a user’s search query.
But that’s not their only purpose:
Once they’ve proved your content is relevant, they need to entice the user to actually click on the listing.
Again, it helps to think of title and description tags as ad copy. Yes, ad copy tells the user what’s being advertised, but it does quite a bit more than that.
Here’s an example of a keyword-focused title tag:
Not only is it cut off, but it also unnecessarily uses “Dog Training” twice, and fails to draw the user in.
Here’s a much better example:
This title tag doesn’t include the keyword “dog training tips”, but it flows, seems actionable, and uses a powerful word like “essential” to draw a user in.
Title tags that incorporate numerical values perform better than those that don’t.
Numerical values help users understand the nature and comprehensiveness of your content before they click on it.
Using statistics, timelines or a number of list items in a title can provide users with the clarity they need to click on your content..
Here’s an example of a title tag that effectively implements a number:
And here’s the meta title of a piece on the same topic without numerical values:
I don’t care if it’s Animal Planet, it just doesn’t give me enough clarity to earn my click.
If I’m a dog training beginner, Option 1 tells me directly that this content is for me, and it tells me I will be learning 17 expert-provided tips on how to train my dog.
That gives me a sneak peak into the comprehensiveness of the post and makes it far more likely that I won’t have to navigate to other resources for more complete information.
I’m on board with that.
Here’s some great news for you:
You have a CTR improvement ingredient already baked into your existing website.
Well, if you’re an active content marketer and you pay some attention to your web analytics (if not, read this now), you will be able to determine the CTR of your pages.
More importantly, you’ll be able to separate your content with a high CTR from your content with a low CTR.
Analyze the title tags and meta descriptions of your high CTR content for insights into what made them successful—then implement these insights into creating new and improved title and description tags for your “low CTR” pages.
You can also use Google Analytics (or whichever analytics software you use) to trace the search queries that are causing your low CTR pages to pop up on SERPs.
You may be surprised with the results:
It’s likely that while your title tag probably includes the keywords you discover—or similar LSI keywords—the tags may be written in a way that makes the listing less relevant to the search query.
Ideally, writing title and description tags with potential search queries in mind should be done when launching a new piece of content.
But sometimes, we’re simply surprised with the types of results we get.
Here’s what you should do:
1. Make a list of the keywords the page is ranking for
2. Look at other title tags and meta descriptions on the first and second SERPs to get a picture of how the high-ranking results are being presented.
3. Think about a user’s desired outcome from the search
4. Re-write your title and description tags with this (and tips 1-5) in mind
You’ll be amazed at how big of an immediate impact this approach can have on an underperforming page.
Luckily, when you create a title tag or meta description, it’s not set in stone for eternity.
You have the ability to make changes.
If you have more than one title or description tag you want to try out, go ahead and do it! If it underperforms, you’ll have more insight on what does and doesn’t work for the next time, and you can replace it with you alternate option.
Good SEOs and content marketers know that a bit of trial and error doesn’t hurt when it comes to optimizing pages for technical SEO.
It’s great to test out multiple title tags and meta descriptions because you will be able to track the impact in a matter of weeks. This allows you to course correct with little to no adverse effects.
Google’s foremost objective in providing SERPs is to give users the best possible answers to their search queries.
RankBrain will reward search results that generate clicks because it associates relevant, quality content with engagement.
In past years, Google’s algorithm updates have reinforced the fact that content should be written for people, not search engines. In 2018, that concept isn’t limited to content, but also applies to the representation of content on SERPs
You’ve officially been armed with all the strategies you need to create engaging title and description tags that boost CTR.
Now go earn some clicks!