5 Steps to Optimize Your SERP CTR to Boost Traffic & Rankings
By: Masha Maksimava
February 7th, 2017
If I was to draw a super simple version of the SEO conversion funnel, it would look something like this:
Understandably, SEOs tend to concentrate super hard on the first part — making sure that when the searcher types in their query, your website is listed among the first results. Then, we assume, the middle part of the funnel — the click, or site visit — will automatically happen. But will it?
Logically, the higher you rank, the more clicks you get. But while there definitely is a connection, it's not as straightforward as it may seem. Granted, a top 5 result will, on average, get more clicks than result #6, but you will be surprised at just how diverse the ranges these averages are drawn from are.
You can see this judging on your own site and its rankings. Simply log in to your Google Search Console account, go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics, and select CTR and Position to be displayed. Finally, click on the header of the Position column to sort results by their ranking.
Now, scroll down a tad. Chances are you'll see something like this:
Above, all the results rank #1 in Google, but their CTR ranges all the way from 6.67% to 90%. Granted, there's a number of factors in play: search volume, type of query (branded vs. non-branded, informational vs. transactional), and — ta-da — how well the search result is optimized for clicks in the context of the query that it ranks for. So I hope we can agree that the ranking is far from the only thing that determines the result's CTR.
In fact — bear with me for a minute — there's also an inverse correlation between rankings and clicks. You may already know that I'm a strong believer that user behavior signals have a massive impact on rankings; and SERP clicks are one of those signals. Simply put, if a certain search result gets significantly more clicks than it's expected to, based on its position and type of query, the result is likely to be up-ranked. The opposite is also true: a search result that receives fewer clicks than expected can get down-ranked in the SERP. In Google's own words:
"The general assumption […] is that searching users are often the best judges of relevance, so that if they select a particular search result, it is likely to be relevant, or at least more relevant than the presented alternatives."
The good news? Unlike other things that impact the CTR — position, query type, search volume — your search result's appeal, or click worthiness, is entirely within your control. So before we get down to the actual optimization steps, let's consider this important question:
What makes a search result click-worthy?
Quite obviously, it depends on your niche and query type. But as a rule of thumb, a click-worthy result is:
- Promising (in terms of giving the searcher the information they are looking for);
- Visually appealing.
Let's consider this simple example:
Which result would you rather click on, #1 or #4? The 4th listing has all the prerequisites for getting more clicks than the first. The snippet includes an image, cooking time, social proof (aka Rating and Votes), and a call to action — what's not to love? And even though there's no way to find which of the listings get more clicks, I bet the 2nd and 4th are doing much better than the 1st and 3rd respectively.
Now for the fun part: I made the screenshot above about a year ago for another article. Today, when I typed in the same query in Google, here's what I saw.
The good-looking #4 is now #2; and the #1 result that was quite likely getting fewer clicks than the listings below it is now down to #6. So, yeah: your Google snippet plays a massive role in how many people click on it; and the clicks, in their turn, affect your actual rankings. If the latter has a positive impact and your rankings grow, that will once again have a positive impact on your CTR.
Now, let's dig deeper and see how you can improve your Google listing and get searchers to click on your results.
1. Find the low hanging fruit.
Once again, let's log in to your Google Search Console account and go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics to find the most rewarding areas for improvement. This time, select Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position.
You're looking for keywords that have a big number of impressions but low CTR. Your listings for these terms have room for improvement and this improvement will pay off well.
While CTR values for different positions in Google SERPs can vary depending on the type of the query, on average, you can expect at least 30% of clicks for a #1 result, 15% for a #2 result, and 10% for a #3 result. For your reference, here's a graph of average SERP click-through rates from Chitika's CTR study:
In Google Search Console, look for the listings whose CTR is below these averages — these are great opportunities to start the CTR optimization process.
2. Optimize your standard Google listing.
A classic Google listing consists of a title, URL, and description. Let's see how you can optimize each of these components to increase click through rates.
Your title is perhaps the most important component for CTR. But it can also be the trickiest element to optimize, as your title should not only be appealing to humans, but also optimized for the search engine; that's why it's important to work on your title tags with caution, keeping SEO in mind. Here are some helpful tips for optimizing the title.
- Keep it short. Not just because brevity is the soul of wit, but also because Google will cut your title off if it's longer than 512 pixels (that's about 55 characters). Remember to use character savers where you can: "&" instead of "and", "/" instead of "or", etc.
- Keep it relevant. Whenever possible, start your page title with the keyword you're targeting, or place that keyword as close to the beginning as you can. First, the closer to the beginning your keyword is, the more relevant Google will likely consider your page to the query. Second, studies show that searchers skimming through search results only read the first 20 characters of a listing on average, so it's a good idea to ensure that the search term is in those first 20 characters.
- Keep it irresistible. Depending on your niche and the type of keywords you're targeting, you'd want to use different techniques to make your title appealing to searchers. A strong call to action is often a good idea: consider including strong verbs and your business' unique value proposition. You may also want to try capitalizing the most important words in the title. An entire title written with caps lock on will raise spam flags, so don't do it. Capitalizing each first letter of the word is acceptable.
SEO PowerSuite how-to:
The title is one of the most important page elements SEO-wise, so, whenever you get down to rewriting your pages' titles, make sure that they comply with SEO best practices.
You can use SEO PowerSuite's WebSite Auditor to easily audit all your page titles site-wide:
- Make sure every page on your website has a title,
- Check if your titles fit the 55 characters limit,
- Spot duplicate titles.
Just create a project for your site, go to the Site Audit dashboard, and check with the On-page section of factors.
- Check competitors' titles for inspiration.
If you haven't decided on the contents of your title tag yet, it's a good idea to take a look at what your major competitors are doing. Go to Content Analysis > Page Audit, select a page whose title you're about to work on, and enter your target keywords. In a minute, the page will be analyzed and compared to the pages of your top ranking competitors. Click on Keyword in title and switch to the Competitors tab to see how they are handling their title tags.
- Re-write your title.
You can change your page's title right in WebSite Auditor, with a Google snippet preview option. When you're ready to craft your title, just jump to Content Analysis > Content Editor and switch to Title & Meta tags. When you're done, simply hit the save button to save the upload-ready HTML to your hard drive.
CTR-wise, URLs may not be the most important part of your Google listing; but there's still a bunch of easy tricks to make the overall appearance of your listing more appealing and better structured by optimizing the URL.
- Use clear, concise and descriptive URLs. Try to keep your URLs short and to the point. Make sure they are readable, contain your keywords, and briefly describe the contents of your page.
- Utilize breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a way Google displays a page's location in the site hierarchy instead of the URL — they come in especially handy for long URLs that contain several subfolders. Here's an example from popsugar.com; instead of displaying the clumsy URL of the page with the recipe, they used breadcrumbs to make their snippet neater (and let the user know that the recipe is a healthy one in the meantime).
SEO PowerSuite how-to:
3) Meta description
The meta description in your snippet is the longest piece of text — so if you caught the searcher's attention with your title, the description is the perfect place to reinforce your statement.
- Be concise. Google's maximum limit for the width of the description displayed on its results pages is 923 pixels — longer descriptions get truncated. Make sure your description is under 155 characters long, and remember to preview it in WebSite Auditor before you change it.
- Be bold. The best meta descriptions start with a verb and a strong call to action. Instead of simply describing your product or the contents of your page in the description, address the searcher and let them know about the benefits of navigating to your page, choosing your product or service, etc. Are you running seasonal offers? Do you have a sale on? How about free delivery? You can even use icons to make your description more interesting.
SEO PowerSuite how-to:
For a meta description check, open Website Auditor's Site Audit dashboard to:
- Make sure every page on your website has a description,
- Check if your pages fit the 155 characters limit,
- Get rid of duplicate descriptions.
- Re-write your description.
Just like with the title tags, you can change your page's meta description right in WebSite Auditor. When you're ready to craft your title, just jump to Content Analysis > Content Editor and switch to Title & Meta tags. When you're done, simply hit the save button to save the upload-ready HTML to your hard drive.
3. Make use of rich snippets.
Once you've optimized the text of your Google listing, you will likely see an improvement in CTR. It can be a tangible one, but probably not extraordinary.
Why? Classic Google listings (even the ones with great copy) all look the same. But if you're willing to take it one step further, one great thing you could do is use structured data markup to enable rich snippets.
Google's rich snippets can include images, ratings, and other industry-specific pieces of data in addition to the classic title, URL, and description.
Rich snippets can be used for different kinds of content, such as products, recipes, reviews, and events. Depending on the type, you can add several niche-specific rich snippet elements, such as cooking time and nutritional information for recipes. You can always preview your snippets by copying and pasting your page's source code into Google's Testing Tool.
If you are a product merchant, you can use rich snippets to provide extra product info, such as the item's rating, price and availability.
Marking up your recipe content with structured data lets you add images, reviewer ratings, cooking and preparation time, and nutrition information.
Rich snippets for reviews may include the review rating, review author and date published.
Event markup describes the details of your events (concerts, art festivals, etc.). This type of rich snippets lets you include the event date, location and offer to buy tickets for this event.
If you do PPC, I'm sure you know just how effective A/B testing your ads can be for the CTR. If you don't, do some googling and you'll definitely find a bunch of coupons ranging from $75 to $200 (mind that most of these work for new accounts only). Setting up experiments in AdWords is pretty straightforward — and it's not only useful for getting the most of your ads, but also for testing variations of your organic snippets to find which ones are going to be the most successful in terms of clicks.
Testing your Google snippets isn't just helpful in terms of an individual search result you're optimizing at the moment. Instead, look for patterns that you can use in your further optimization efforts: the kind of phrasing that works for the title, whether rich snippets perform better than standard ones in your niche, or if adding open hours to your listing improves the click-through rate. Write down the tactics that work best, and incorporate them into the pages that rank in organic search.
5. Track progress.
Of course, as you make changes to your Google snippet, it's important to monitor how your CTR changes over time. If there is an increase in traffic, you're obviously doing things right — and may even expect a ranking improvement to follow.
Remember to check on the CTR of your search results in Google Search Console at least once a month to see if your optimization efforts are paying off. Additionally, regularly track your rankings for the terms with Rank Tracker to see if increases in clicks result in higher rankings.
That's it — those were my top 5 tips to optimize your search results for more SERP clicks. Overall, I do believe that CTR optimization is among the quickest, simplest SEO hacks out there. It only takes a couple of minutes and a few small changes, but can lead to major improvements in traffic and rankings. A recent case study by Search Engine Watch is a great story of how a few title and meta description tweaks can improve the entire site's click-through rate by 20%.
And now, over to you! Have you tried optimizing the CTR of your Google listings? Which tactics and hacks have you got to share? Please let me know in the comments below!
By: Masha Maksimava