Have you ever wondered which ranking factors go into Google’s algorithm?
You’re not alone. And getting an answer to that question is incredibly difficult.
One potential ranking factor that has been the subject of many discussions is click through rate (CTR).
In this post, we’re going to explore the importance of click-through rates, possible confirmation that click data is used as a ranking factor – and how to get more clicks from SERPs (the right way).
Let’s dive in!
Why click-through rates might be used as a ranking factor
Logically – it makes sense.
Let’s say you’ve got a search engine result, and everyone is clicking on the 2nd and 3rd listings, but not the 1st listing – it shows that the 1st listing isn’t a good fit.
The 1st result could fit the search term perfectly, but if most searchers are looking for a result that has a different meaning of the same phrase, then it makes sense to adjust that listings ranking for that term.
See how CTR could be a useful quality indicator?
Now, what about proof?
I’ve searched around and found a bunch of case studies, but I’m not confident in the data because of the complexity involved in running SEO experiments. So instead, I’ve included what could be considered as ‘confirmations’ from folks at Google (or ex-employee’s).
However, it’s difficult to say for sure even the following comments. Google disseminates a lot of misinformation and how they do things changes. It may even be that these confirmations speak only to a certain part of their algo and not others.
Let’s take a look:
#1 – Google confirms watching clicks to evaluate results quality
Danny Sullivan shared confirmation about this on Twitter:
Google confirms watching clicks to evaluate results quality. FYI Google still won't say if clicks used as rank signal pic.twitter.com/jzNGc5reQk
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) March 25, 2015
I’m not entirely sure where Danny sourced the image, so I’m curious when this was published.
#2 – A Google employee says it’s ‘logical’
A former Google search quality employee by the name of Edmond Lau said the following on Quora:
Click and visit data to rank results is a very reasonable and logical thing to do, and ignoring the data would have been silly. Source: Quora
Ok, so I wouldn’t say that the above ‘confirmations’ are proof that CTR is used as a ranking signal.
You can probably tell that actual evidence is lacking. What about case studies? There are some but not many.
I found several case studies during my research for this post but after diving into them deeper, they just didn’t hold water.
Still, it seems likely that CTR is used in some capacity.
Whether CTR is or isn’t used, getting more clicks from organic search is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want more traffic to your site?
How to improve click-through rates – the right way
Here’s how to get more clicks:
The most obvious steps to take involve optimizing your page titles and meta descriptions to encourage clicks.
You don’t have to become a copywriting pro to do this, but there are some copywriting formulas that can help make this process easier. Buffer has put together a great collection here. And Elna Cain shares some tools that can help you in this post.
But there’s a trap that a lot of people fall into here – and that is over optimizing to the point where promises are so lofty that the content can’t hope to deliver on them.
This can cause something that has the potential to have a negative impact on rankings (I’ll explain more about why in a moment).
Click-through rates aren’t a silver bullet and here’s why
I’ve heard some folks in the industry say some outlandish things like – “links and content aren’t a big deal anymore.” And “click-through rates are the most significant ranking factor.”
Nobody can say for sure how much importance Google places on any ranking factor – only Google knows.
And it’s unlikely that Google would use click-through rates as a stand-alone factor, it’s probably used in conjunction with other factors.
But, what we can be sure of is that one of Google’s core priorities will always be to ensure that searchers find what they’re looking for.
Now, the truth is that click-through rates aren’t the only way to do this. And just focusing on clicks could be incredibly dangerous.
Earlier, I mentioned that when you optimize your page titles and meta descriptions, you should always ensure your content delivers on any promises you make.
The reason why this is so critical is partly because of something called pogo-sticking.
Yes, you could heavily optimize page titles and meta descriptions to get maximum clicks but if your content doesn’t solve the searcher’s problem – they’ll be disappointed and leave.
They’ll ‘pogo-stick’ back to SERPs.
Think about it from Google’s perspective:
If someone enters a search query, clicks on a result and goes back to SERPs straight away, then clicks on another result – it usually means that they haven’t found what they’ve been looking for.
The first result failed to solve their query.
And just like Google might lower the rankings of sites with low click-through rates, they’ll likely do the same with this.
Then there are probably a bunch of other factors that we don’t know about – all working in conjunction with each other.
Here’s what it boils down to:
It’s all about sending Google the right signals – showing them that you’re giving people what they need when they land on your page. No messing around.
This includes (but isn’t limited to) improving the following:
- Your content – Make it as usable as possible. Be clear on searcher intent and frame your content accordingly. Details matter – everything from formatting to grammar/spelling should be buttoned up. Also, note that long-form content isn’t always best – consider searcher intent when deciding on content length.
- Your website design – First impressions count and impact trust. If you use a CMS like WordPress, getting a great looking theme is easy. Web design is more affordable than ever.
- Mobile responsiveness – Is your site responsive? It should be. Especially because Google has a separate index for mobile, so content is ranked on the mobile version. Search Engine Land has a good FAQ for further reading.
- Page load times – Slow page loading times cost you money and annoy visitors. Fast web hosting is more affordable than ever. For example, I host most of my sites with WPX Hosting (aff) – the speed, reliability and support is far better than budget shared hosting. Another way to make significant improvements would be to use a content delivery network (CDN).
- Update your content – If your content isn’t evergreen, make sure you update it as often as necessary.
Ask yourself what you can do to make your website’s visitors happier. Happy visitors means happy Google; happy Google means better rankings : )
Putting it all together
Now, the unfortunate truth is that there are no definitive answers in the world of SEO.
Google won’t come out and tell us exactly how their algo works. And I don’t blame them because the accuracy of their results depends on keeping that sort of stuff under wraps.
Folks from Google have confirmed that click data is used to evaluate search results, but it’s impossible to say whether that’s still the case, or how the data is used.
For example, click data may be used in conjunction with another factor or a number of other factors – because as a stand-alone factor, it’s easy for it to be abused.
Maybe the question of “is click-through rate a ranking factor?” is not the right question. Maybe it’s more complicated than a yes or no answer. After all, we don’t know exactly how Google’s algo works.
Even if it isn’t a direct ranking factor, it’s at the very least – an indirect ranking factor.
By that, what I mean is that more clicks mean more traffic for your website. More traffic means the likely hood of social shares and earning links increases. And those alone should be reason enough for you to optimize your page titles and meta descriptions.
But make sure that your content delivers on any promises you make!
I’ll leave you with this…
‘Silver bullets’ don’t exist in the world of sustainable SEO – this is just one of many ways you can tighten up your SEO. And SEO itself shouldn’t be used in isolation. It needs to be part of a complete marketing strategy.
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