Is Click Through Rate a Ranking Factor?
Webmasters, researchers, and SEOs have been trying to figure out how Google ranks pages since the rise of the search engine back in the early 2000s. Although Google has always been reluctant to share the specifics of their search algorithms, many of the ranking factors that Google uses are universally agreed upon. Things like content, links, page speed, and mobile friendliness are all known to affect how Google will rank your page.
But one of the more debatable factors is CTR or click through rate. Click through rate is a metric that compares the number of people who see your page on a SERP to how many people click on your page. You can tell the CTR for all the pages on your site in Google Search Console’s Performance Report. Whether Google uses CTR as an organic ranking factor has sparked debate in the SEO community for years, even though Google has repeatedly said that organic click through rate is not a ranking factor.
Recently, SEO expert Brittany Muller tweeted about a Google Doc she found on Google’s AI & Machine Learning Products. When discussing how they log their data in their Cloud Speech-to-Text API, Google says that it “works continuously to improve its products, including the use of customer data from Google consumer data to refine those products. For example, when you click a link in Google Search, Google considers your click when ranking that search result.” As expected, this rekindled the idea that Google is using user data like click-through rates to order their search engine results page.
The Google Doc in question was referencing Google’s Personalization Search, which Google uses to tailor search results to you when you’re signed into your account based on factors like browsing history. However, the sentence set the SEO community ablaze with questions about clicks and CTR. The idea that Google uses click through rate as a ranking factor isn’t going away any time soon, whether Google denies it or not. So should you be ignoring it?
Clicks Are Key
The truth is, whether or not Google actually uses CTR as an organic ranking factor, it’s a good idea to optimize pages with click through rate in mind. CTR is a useful metric for gauging the health and performance of your page, ranking factor or not, and you should always try to get more people to click on your page.
One of the primary goals of any SEO campaign is getting your page to rank higher for valuable keywords. Getting onto the first page for a specific keyword or query is ideal, but it’s what happens once users see your page that’s important. Impressions are great, but it’s traffic that you’re after. The more traffic that comes into your website, the more of a chance you have to gain a new reader, sell a product, get someone to sign up for your services, or whatever the goal of your page may be. So getting more people to click on your page when it’s displayed on a SERP is where you’re really going to see your SEO efforts pay off.
Now, obviously there’s a correlation between how high your page is ranked and how many people click on your page. This is where the debate about CTR as a ranking factor gets a bit confusing because the existence of this correlation is undeniable; a page that shows up as the 1st result on a SERP will get the most clicks, the page that shows up 2nd gets less clicks, the 3rd page less than that, and so on. Typically, branded keywords and long-tail keywords have a higher chance of getting a click, and the average CTR changes depending on industry and query intent. But if you’re in the top 3 results on a SERP, you’ve got a much better chance of getting a click than you would if your page shows up any lower.
Improving Your Organic CTR
Whether CTR merely correlates to a higher page ranking or causes it, CTR does indeed go up the higher on a SERP your page appears. There’s value in optimizing your pages to improve your organic CTR because improving your click through rate means that your page will get more traffic, which translates to more sales, conversions, entrances, sign-ups, or whatever the goal of your page is.
In order to get those real-world results you’re looking for, you need to optimize how your page appears on a SERP. A search result that’s built to attract clicks and meaningful entrances is key to improving your CTR. This translates to the bread and butter of any SEO campaign: optimizing your metadata. Google uses metadata to categorize your page, but you should also be crafting metadata with viewers in mind.
This is a proven ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm, so optimizing your Title Tag is absolutely key when it comes to an SEO campaign. Optimizing a Title Tag for CTR boils down to choosing the right keywords and formatting them in a way that attracts viewers to your page. Picking the right keywords depends entirely on your industry. In general, it’s easier to rank for a longer-tail keyword than it is to rank for broad one-word keywords. If you have a page that’s selling a used electric guitar, you’re much better off crafting a Title Tag around the specific model, year, color, or electronics in the guitar than you are just going after “guitar” or “used electric guitar,” because there are going to be many, many more results for those broad-term queries, and it will be much harder to get a good ranking.
In addition to choosing appropriate keywords, formatting your Title Tag in an appealing way can also entice users to click on your listing. For example, using numbered lists, including terms of intent, or featuring applicable industry trends/specifications can make your page stand out from the rest of the SERP to win the click. Be careful though. If you try to stuff too much information in your listing, it could become hard to read, or even get cut off.
Even though they aren’t a direct ranking factor, meta descriptions can improve CTR, so it’s worth spending some time on creating them. A well-crafted, concise meta description is a great way to attract users to click on your page. Think of it like a mini, 160-character sales-pitch to get people to visit your page. Use some of those same valuable keywords that you included in your Title Tag because if those keywords are in the user’s query, they’ll show up bolded in your meta description, which has been shown to improve your CTR. It may seem like a lot of work to craft a unique description for every single page, especially if you have a large site, but flexing your ad copy skills and writing a killer meta description will increase the number of clicks on your page.
If you’re capable of optimizing your page’s URL, you should. It may seem like a trivial thing to focus on, but when you’re competing with millions of other pages for those coveted first few spots on a SERP, every little bit counts. Like the Title Tag and the meta description, think about how a user will read your URL. A short, concise URL that’s made up of real words is much better than a long string of random numbers and letters. Try to put some of your Title Tag keywords into the URL if you can, but don’t stuff your URL with keywords where they don’t make sense. A well-crafted URL should be easy for users to read and understand.
So is organic click through rate a ranking factor? The answer doesn’t really matter because optimizing for CTR is really just employing SEO best practices to make your page more attractive to users. A good click through rate is the result of a well-tailored optimization campaign, not the cause of it. Crafting Title Tags, meta descriptions, and URLs that entice users to click on your page should be the goal of any SEO campaign, no matter which ranking factors Google uses. Radd Interactive’s team of SEO experts can help you get the clicks you need to grow your website. Contact us today to talk about boosting your click through rate!