SEOs concentrate super hard on trying to make their website appear in top results for all relevant queries. A page shows up on the SERP, and then, we assume, an organic click will happen. But will it be for sure? In an ideal SEO world, first positions on the SERP bring tons of clicks. In reality, showing up on the first page does not necessarily guarantee a site visit. This article tells about the basics of CTR optimization. You will learn what factors create a good CTR and get a proven SEO strategy to improve a website’s click-through-rate.
- What is CTR in SEO?
- How SEO CTR varies across positions.
- Why CTR isn’t a direct ranking factor?
- What makes a search result click-worthy?
- Step 1. Find the low-hanging fruit.
- Step 2. Optimize your standard Google listing.
- Step 3. Use rich snippets to get highlighted on SERPs.
- Step 4. Test clickthrough success of the titles.
- Step 5. Track organic CTR and ranking progress.
What is CTR in SEO?
An organic click-through-rate (SEO CTR) is the number of clicks your URL receives from search, divided by the number of impressions for the organic keyword. The formula to calculate organic CTR goes as follows:
Logically, the higher your post ranks, the more clicks it gets. But while there definitely is a connection, it's not as straightforward as it may seem. According to the study by Zero Limit Web marketing agency, the first 5 organic results account for over 60% of clicks in Google. The next 5 on average results account for around 4% of clicks only.
Each result that the SERP includes competes with one another for user attention. And with a little more effort, you can increase your CTR and organic traffic without even moving up on the SERP.
How SEO CTR varies across positions.
You can see this judging on your own site and its rankings. Simply log in to your Google Search Console account, go to Performance > Search Results, and select CTR and Position to be displayed.
Now, scroll down a tad. Click on the header of the Position column to sort results by their ranking. Chances are you'll see something like this:
Above, all the results rank #1 in Google, but their organic CTR ranges all the way from 6.7% to 62.2%. As you can see, the ranking is far from the only factor that determines the result's clickthrough rate. There's a number of other factors in play:
1. Types of the query (brand vs non-branded keywords)
Every digital marketer is well aware of the fact that branded CTRs are much higher than non-branded ones. You will see it in a quick CTR analysis in your Search Console. Add a filter for keywords including your brand name and compare them with other, non-branded keywords.
There’s no surprise, as your site should already be well-optimized for brand keywords. You have all the brand mentions in URLs, About Us, Homepage descriptions, as well as signals coming from social pages. Besides, the number of websites competing for non-branded queries is much bigger. That is why non-branded organic CTRs are usually lower.
2. Types of user intent (informational vs transactional)
Searcher intent is the cornerstone of any search engine optimization strategy. The SEO conversion funnel for informational intent and for purchase intent differs greatly.
Transactional queries have a relatively high CTR as compared to non-transactional ones. Transactional queries are supposed to bring hot leads that quickly convert into customers. Users click through to well-optimized landing pages or service pages, with an explicit call-to-action on them.
Users with informational intent want more information. Their searches will be broader and more competitive. To have them click through to your page, you’ve got to make the title eye-catching and enticing. What is more, just having a user clicked is not enough, you need to keep people interested. If they click and leave in a few seconds without interacting with the page, you have a bounce. To reduce the bounce rate, you will need to make your website fast-loading and ensure great user experience.
Moreover, for different types of user intent, you will see an absolutely different SERP layout. Featured snippets, highlighted videos, and product cards also impact the organic click-through-rate. We’ll talk about it in a few paragraphs below.
3. Search volume (generic vs long-tail keywords)
Search volume correlates with organic click-through-rates. A long-tail keyword is searched by a much smaller number of people, but better matches the keyword intent, so it enjoys a high CTR. If you badly need to reach your first visitors, long-tail SEO is the solution.
For generic queries, you will compete with a larger number of web pages, besides, the intent behind the queries is often vague. An interesting fact, in 2019, more than half of searches on the web resulted in zero clicks. Supposedly, users already found information that they needed in Google’s SERP. Or, probably, they rephrased their queries to get better answers.
4. Types of industry
Mind that CTR depends not only on the organic position but also on the topic and industry the company operates in. For all individual cases, you will need to investigate the SEO competition. You've got to check the organic rankings and performance of organic competitors. Depending on whether the business relates to YMYL, e-commerce, or entertainment, SEOs adopt a different CTR optimization approach.
One of the features Google Analytics offers to e-commerce is Benchmarking in Audience module. If you share your data (anonymously) with Google, you will be able to see aggregated industry stats from other companies who share their data as well. This will let you evaluate the site's organic performance and identify any SEO gap against other sites in the same industry. Although only a few businesses would use the feature, so the stats might be relative.
Why CTR isn’t a direct ranking factor?
In fact, there's an inverse correlation between rankings and clicks. You probably heard that user behavior signals are not mentioned among Google’s SEO ranking factors. However, user signals may 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 SERP 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."
There is also a theory of the honeymoon period, telling that Google will rank new content in top SERP to check whether users like it or not. It looks like the first spike once the page was started, and then it may disappear from SERPs for quite a long time.
What John Mueller told in his office hours in May 2021, at first Google lacks initial SEO ranking factors to rank a new page, so it “makes assumptions” how valuable the post is to users. Based on this, it seems that first clicks together with bounces might be a signal of whether a new page is relevant to a certain user query.
Be it a ranking factor or a myth, organic CTR as a metric deserves the most scrupulous attention. But 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:
- Informative (the title contains your search query);
- Promising (in terms of giving the searcher the information they are looking for);
- Visually appealing (the search result stands out from the crowd).
Let's consider this simple example:
Which SERP 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: a year later the SERP for the same query in search comes up like this.
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.
A couple of years later, we see that more rich results appear in the SERP. There are 20 times more result pages related to the query and more rich snippets, a rich Video with timecodes for the recipe, and a vast People also ask box. Still, what we see now is that the best-performing page takes even two positions, the organic #1 position and a rich result for the recipe.
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 organic CTR.
The good news? Unlike other things that impact the CTR — SERP position, query type, search volume — your search result's appeal, or click worthiness, is entirely within your control.
Now, let's dig deeper and see how you can improve your Google listing and get searchers to click on your results.
Step 1. Find the low-hanging fruit.
Once again, let's log in to your Google Search Console account and go to Performance > Search Results 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 these efforts will pay off well.
Note: What is a good CTR for SEO?
While CTR values for different positions in Google SERPs can vary depending on the type of the query, on average, you should expect at least 30% of clicks for a #1 result, 15% CTR for position #2, and 10% for a #3 result.
Mind, though, that you’re not covering any SEO gap with your competitors, and there are no tough standards for average SERP click-through rates. You’re benchmarking against your past performance, and a good organic CTR is the one that is going up.
In Google Search Console, look for the listings whose organic CTR is below these averages — these are great opportunities to start the CTR optimization process.
Step 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-rate.
Optimize the title
Your title is perhaps the most important component for SEO 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. Recently SEOs have been alarmed by the algorithm update. With this update, Google replaced titles with H1 and brand names where suitable.
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 titles short. Most likely, Google will cut your title off if it's longer than 512 pixels (that's about 55 to 60 characters). Use character savers where you can: "&" instead of "and", "/" instead of "or", etc.
- Keep titles relevant. Place the target keyword as close to the beginning as possible. First, with the keyword at the beginning, Google is more likely to consider your page as relevant to the query. Second, studies show that searchers skim through search results, reading only the first 20 characters of a listing. So it's nice to encapsulate the search term in those first 20 characters.
- Add emotional appeal to your titles. Depending on your niche and the type of keywords, you'd use different techniques to make your title appealing to searchers. Include powerful verbs and adjectives to create a strong call to action. Here is a nice free Headline Analyzer tool to evaluate the emotional marketing appeal of your titles.
- Make titles promising. Reach your target audience by formulating your business' unique value proposition. Raise curiosity in them, but don’t give answers to questions straight in the title. Don’t ask questions that would end up with a negative reply.
- Use punctuation and symbols that increase CTR. Digital marketers know the power of yearly trends and all sorts of listicles. That’s why the CTR soars for the top 10, 7 tips, and best hacks in (this year) (with downloadable template included). People are prone to click on the result that is easy to skim through. They want the most up-to-date information, that's why adding the date of fresh update is essential. Brackets also draw attention and increase CTR. 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 of search engine optimization, 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 to 60 characters limit;
- Spot duplicate titles;
- Check competitors' titles for inspiration.
Just create a project for your site, go to the Site Audit dashboard, and check with the On-page section of factors.
If you haven't decided on the contents of your title tag yet, take a look at what your major competitors are doing. Go to Page Audit > Content 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.
You can rewrite 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.
Optimize the URL
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 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 target keywords, and briefly describe the contents of your page.
- Audit your URLs with WebSite Auditor. You can check all your URLs structures in the WebSite Auditor's Site Audit, in the URLs section. Here, you'll instantly see if there are any dynamic URLs on your site and if any of your URLs are too long.
- Implement breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs define how 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 a 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).
Optimize the meta description
The meta description in your snippet is the longest piece of text. 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 blog post 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 module 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 Page Audit > Content Editor and start editing the Title & Meta description. You can hover over the description field and see the snippet preview on the fly. When you're done, simply hit the save button to save the upload-ready HTML to your hard drive.
Step 3. Use rich snippets to get highlighted on SERPs.
Once you've optimized the text of your Google listing, you will likely see an improvement in organic CTR. It can be a tangible one, but probably not extraordinary. Classic Google listings (even the ones with great copy) all look the same. But if your page already ranks on the first SERP, you can pull even more organic search clicks from it by highlighting it with rich results.
According to a study into Google organic clickthrough rate, a featured snippet cuts the CTR for the first organic result from 26 to below 20%. Another CTR study shows that a featured snippet and a knowledge panel together provide a better organic click-through-rate.
To earn a featured snippet for an organic keyword:
- Use long-tail keywords. To optimize for longer queries, use keyword research to find commonly asked questions for your post. You can do it with keyword research methods integrated in Rank Tracker, like Google Autocomplete and People Also Ask, etc.
- Answer the question contained in the query. Give answers in a short encyclopedic style, in paragraphs of around 55 words long. Address related questions in the same post: once a page starts to show up in a featured snippet, it may get featured in a lot of similar queries. Consolidate all related aspects of the topic in a single overarching post, explore Related questions and Similar searches, and structure the questions in a way that people (and search engines) figure out how they relate.
- Apply correct HTML formatting. Split your content with Title, H1, H2 - H4 headings to show the clear structure and hierarchy of your paragraphs. Make sure that you have only one title and one H1, and the rest of the headings are consecutive. Format content with bulleted lists and create listicles where applicable.
- Get yourself a Knowledge Panel. The panel to the top right of organic results appears for prominent entities, and to become one, you’ve got to leverage your company branding. Do a step-by-step optimization of all your digital marketing channels, social media pages, and business pages. It’s a long way to go, but the result is justified.
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 meta-description.
Rich snippets are especially beneficial for different kinds of content in e-commerce. Depending on the type, you can add several niche-specific rich snippet elements:
- Products: 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.
- Recipes: marking up your recipe content with structured data lets you add images, reviewer ratings, cooking and preparation time, and nutrition information.
- Reviews: rich snippets for reviews may include the review rating, review author, and date published.
- Events: event markup describes the details of your events (concerts, art festivals, etc.). This type of rich snippet lets you include the event date, location, and offer to buy tickets for this event.
SEO PowerSuite how-to:
For tracking what rich features are available for your target queries, use Rank Tracker with its SERP features tracking. The green icon means the rich feature is occupied by your page, the grey icon means there are some other potential gains on the top of the SERP.
Tracking SEO rankings, you analyze how the search results page has evolved. You will surely see some new rich snippets appearing or old ones missing out. For this, select your keyword and look in the bottom part of the workspace, in Rank Progress > Rank History tab.
Use the Rich Results Test, a free tool from Google to test how your organic snippet appears on the SERP.
Mind also that Google is strict about its guidelines and does not let manipulate structured data. That’s why you should always ensure that your structured data and schema are error-free. You can always preview your snippets by copying and pasting your page's source code into Google's Testing Tool.
Similarly, use WebSite Auditor to do a bulk check for missing structured data and warnings in there.
Step 4. Test clickthrough success of the titles.
If you do PPC with the Google Ads platform, I'm sure you know just how effective A/B testing your ads can be for the CTR. Setting up experiments in Ads is pretty straightforward and it's not only useful for getting the most of your ads. Test variations of your snippets to find which ones are going to bring more clicks.
Of course, paid search isn’t the same as organic search. However, you will have a close idea of how this or that organic keyword would perform in terms of CPC and conversion rates.
Testing your Google snippets isn't just helpful for an individual search result you're optimizing at the moment. Instead, look for patterns to use in your further efforts for search engine optimization. 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.
Step 5. Track organic CTR and ranking progress.
As you make changes to your Google snippet, it's important to track how your SEO 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. And in Google Analytics, Acquisition tab, look at what queries bring you high organic traffic.
In Rank Tracker, watch your organic rankings for the keywords together with their organic click-through-rate. As you occupy the first results on the SERP, you’re likely to see a rise in clicks and increase your CTR for the keyphrase.
That's it — those were our top 5 tips to optimize your search results for a higher organic click-through-rate. Overall, organic 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 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 SEO technique or hacks have you got to share? Please share them in the comments below!