First, a disclaimer: NOBODY knows exactly how Google’s ranking algorithm works. We know that there are many ways to improve your organic SEO rankings, and many factors that can affect rankings - and the algorithm takes into account numerous factors. But we don’t know exactly what those factors are, or what weight each one carries in the overall Google ranking algorithm.
We also know that - whatever those factors are - they change over time. Factors that seemed to be very weighty a number of years ago seem to carry no weight at all today, and vice versa.
So, it is important to understand that SEO - by its very nature - is more art than science. SEO specialists can make no guarantees about what will and will not work (and neither can SerpClix) and if you come across one who does you should run in the other direction as fast as possible!
Importance of Click-through Rate in SEO
Before we discuss whether improving your CTR can boost your organic rankings, we’d like to make this important point: a website can influence its click-through rate on the SERPs through multiple factors, and improving your CTR is a good thing and will help you, regardless of its impact on rankings.
Why? Because a higher CTR means more visitors to your site! And there are a number of positive things you can do to improve CTR outside of SerpClix, such as improving your Title tags or adding a call-to-action to make your listings stand out, optimizing your website structure, to ensure each page is highly matched to target specific (and, ideally, long-tail) keywords, etc.
Whether or not you use SerpClix we would recommend spending some time evaluating your traditional SEO and looking for ways to boost CTR.
But, the question remains: will improving your SEO click through rate help to boost your rankings?
We are going to answer this question in three ways:
- What Makes Sense?
- What Do SEO Experts Think?
- What Does Google Say?
What Makes Sense?
Google’s entire business is built on delivering quality results for organic searches. They want to put the right results in front of the right searcher for the right query. And Google knows that people are more likely to click on higher-ranked results.
On average, click-through rate declines with each ranking decrease. The first search result has by far the highest click-through rate, often 33% or higher for longer-tail keyword terms. The second result can drop to around 15%, the third to around 10%, and so forth.
So, Google wants to give you the right result, and Google knows you are much more likely to click on higher-ranked results.
Imagine that Google sees that, for a given search, the 4th listing has a 5% CTR and the 5th listing has a 10% CTR. The lower-ranked listing is getting a much higher click-through rate - exactly the opposite of what the rankings would normally dictate. Wouldn’t it make sense for Google to conclude that people are more interested in the 5th result than the 4th result? And, having drawn that conclusion, wouldn’t they then be likely to swap those two results, so that the one more people are interested in is shown higher?
What Do the Experts Think?
In 2014, Moz's Rand Fishkin ran a CTR case study which moved his site from #7 to #1 in less than 3 hours by sending clicks to his organic search results.
These were real people, making real clicks. This was the first real indication that click through rate (CTR) was a factor that could heavily move organic results in the SERPs.
Since then numerous articles have been published discussing the importance of CTR in organic rankings - here are just a few:
What Does Google Say?
Google generally does not come out and provide public details about the inner workings of its search ranking algorithm. But details do become public anyways through the following means:
- Loose-lipped Google engineers
- Google’s patent applications
- Lawsuits against Google
1) For example, here is Rand Fishkin pointing to data from a Google engineer specifically discussing how Google would use click-through data to assess SERP quality in a presentation titled How Google Works: A Ranking Engineer’s Perspective.
2) And here is a Google engineer posting on Quora, saying:
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
3) Here’s an excerpt from a lawsuit against Google, a copy of which was obtained by the Wall St. Journal, which quotes Google’s former chief of search quality as saying:
The ranking itself is affected by the click data.
He goes on to say:
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.
4) And, finally, here is a patent from Google titled “Modifying search result ranking based on implicit user feedback and a model of presentation bias” which says, at one point, the following:
"[…] User reactions to particular search results or search result lists may be gauged, so that results on which users often click will receive a higher ranking."
Conclusion: CTR is an Important SEO Ranking Factor
It seems clear, based on what numerous SEO experts have said, and based on what Google’s own engineers have volunteered, or been forced to say in lawsuits and patents, that click-through rate is an important signal and ranking factor for organic search results.