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What does Click Through Rate (CTR) mean in SEO?

The Click Through Rate (CTR) usually refers to how many Internet users click to visit your website after carrying out a specific search in a search engine like Google. It is expressed as a percentage.

Example: 100 people search 'SEO example' and 70 of those people click to visit the website The click through rate for that site for the search term 'SEO example' is 70%.

In Search Engine Optimization improving the click through rate of a website is a critical task. There is no point ranking highly if people don't click through and, as I'll come to at the end, it may actually affect your future rankings.

The basics of optimizing CTR

Let's start with a simple listing in a search results page.

  • The blue underlined text is normally taken from your title tag so making that attention grabbing is all important and should jump out at users. If you have a page containing "Potato recipes" you might think there is nothing more to say on such a dull subject but "10 potato recipes you won't have tried before" is much more attractive.
  • The black text is normally your meta description. If you have grabbed the users attention with your title tag but not quite persuaded them to make the click you've got a good two sentences to tip the balance. Again taking time to hone this and even experiment with it will make all the difference. For example: "We found 10 potato recipes that will blow your mind, you'll never look at a humble spud the same way. Full easy to follow, step by step cooking guides complete with photos. Let us know how yours turns out!"

Now, bear in mind, search engines may use different text to your title tag and meta description. This is the search engine saying "You deserve to rank here but your title tag and meta description are not relevant to the phrase or question being searched". Yes, they are actually trying to help you so sit up and take note.

This does not always mean you should make changes to that particular page. Check what other phrases it is ranking for and if search engines are using your title tag and meta description for these. If the answer is yes then consider creating a specific page for the search term where your title and/or meta description is being changed. The search engines are handing you an opportunity on a plate so don't pass it buy.

Extending your listing in the SERPs

There is only so much space on the search results pages (SERPs) and taking up as much of it as possible, in the most attractive and enticing way, is the key to better CTR. There are a number of ways to add more information:

  1. Use breadcrumbs and use structured data markup so search engines understand them. They'll then include these in your listing giving you a valuable extra line. Learn more about how breadcrumbs and structured data markup help your SEO.
  2. Using structured data markup you can show Google and other search engines everything from product prices to review scores adding even more information to your listing that will act as a magnet for potential visitors. Learn how to add and SEO your structured markup data.

Getting a mega listing in the SERPs

You might have noticed Google shows a whole lot more than just one line of blue text and a couple of lines of black writing. It actually pulls entire paragraphs or lists from a website along with images. That's when Google thinks you have mega relevant content for that search term.

To hit this holy grail:
  • Get to know Natural Language Processing and Entity Salience - these are ways of making your content mega relevant.
  • Structure your content well. Use subheadings and bulleted lists appropriately to give Google something it can hook onto and show.

Take other space in the SERPs

Look at other ways to essentially get two or more listings in the search results. Google often include videos, can you make a video of your content which may well rank on the same page as your text listing.

If you want to get really ambitious can you extend the length and depth of your content so that Google gives you its Knowledge Panel. This is the box on the right hand side where Google tries to provide its own summary with images, maps and a text summary. It links these to the source pages where visitors can see or read more.

If someone searches for your brand name the Knowledge Panel will often be information from your Google Places page so make sure you have claimed it and used it to the full extent possible.

In some searches you'll see maps with business addresses marked on them. Should you be there?

CTR and your rankings

Now let's get to the controversial part. Google claims it does not use CTR as a ranking factor. Plenty of search engine optimizers believe them and point out that you can get robots to carry out searches and click on specific results. In other words you could game the system.

Personally, and from experience, I think this is a bit of Google disinformation to throw the spammers off the track. There is plenty of technology available to Google which could spot bot activity and discount it so I don't buy into that reasoning.

CTR is just too valuable a signal for search engines to ignore. If you were a search engine and had a result in your top 10 for a search term that no one ever clicked on would you keep it there? Not a chance.

However it is an academic argument as you should want to improve your CTR anyway and get as many of those search engine users as possible. If that also leads to higher rankings then so be it!

What is a good Click Through Rate?

You'll find a bunch of averages out there on the web. Ignore them. Averages mean very little when the spread of real results varies so widely depending on the search being carried out.

Just carry out the activities on this page and you'll get the best CTR rate available. This might require some trial and error but there is no magic formula I can give you that will explain exactly what your potential visitors will react best to.
Tim Hill SEO

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

If you need help simply get in touch.

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