On Thursday 3rd March 2016, Paul Haahr, a ranking engineer at Google, finally silenced the debate about whether click-through rates (CTR) are a ranking signal by confirming that, yes, Google definitely does take your website’s CTRs into account.
It makes perfect sense. After all, if your web pages attract a high number of click-throughs and then visitors stay on your site for a long time, this is a strong clue that you’re providing engaging and relevant content to your website visitors. On the flip-side, if people are ignoring your site in searches or bouncing straight away from it, this is a red flag to Google that your website perhaps shouldn’t rank as highly as it currently does.
So what can you do about increasing your organic click-through rates? First of all, let’s go back to basics:
What is a click-through rate (CTR)?
When we talk about the click-through rate for a web page, we mean the number of people who click a link against the total number of people who had an opportunity to do so – in other words, the percentage of people who saw your link and clicked through to your website from it.
Your organic CTR is the number of people clicking through from links to your web pages in organic searches. Some of your web pages may have high organic CTRs, while others may struggle to attract interest. It’s better to attract fewer impressions but with a high CTR than to have lots of impressions in search engine results pages (SERPs) but with few click-throughs.
According to Link-Assistant.com’s Google cheat sheet, Google expects CTRs to fall within a certain range – for example, for branded keywords, Google would expect a CTR for the number one search result of around 50%, whereas the top result for non-branded keywords would get a CTR of about 33%. If a CTR for a page is seriously above or below that range, Google may re-rank the page accordingly.
How do you establish a page’s CTR?
In my opinion, the best free tool for measuring the organic CTR for the various pages on your website is the Google Search Console Search Traffic>Search Analytics dashboard.
Once you’re in this screen, choose the CTR option (see the picture above) and Pages and change the date settings to the Last 90 days for a broader overview of how your website is performing. On the image above, we can see the average CTR across the entire website. Which pages are performing above the average CTR and which pages are underperforming? The pages with a low CTR may need minor tweaks to boost their individual CTRs and raise the website’s entire CTR average.
To see what keywords people are using to find your pages and what the CTRs are like for each search term, simply click on any page in the pages list (again, see the image above) and then tick the Queries box. Do some keywords have much higher CTRs than others?
Another way to use Google Search Console for a good overview of your click-through rates is to go to the Search Traffic>Search Analytics dashboard once again and then tick the check boxes for Clicks, Impressions, CTR and PositionThis will give you a screen that looks something like this:
If you sort the data by the CTR column (circled red above), you will see which search terms give you the best click-through rates and your average ranking position in SERPs for this search term. You can then click on the search term and choose the ‘Pages’ option to see which pages appear in SERPs for that particular search term.
Again, data from Link-Assistant.com’s Google cheat sheet suggests that, on average, you should expect pages appearing in position one to have at least a 30% CTR, pages in position two to have a 15% CTR, and pages in position three to have a 10% CTR. If some of your CTRs are significantly below these levels, these might be the pages on your website that you focus on improving first.
Improving your CTRs
Once you have identified the pages on your website with low CTRs, the aim is to make some changes to your SEO that will give your CTRs a boost.
Tip: Take a note of the date you first review your CTRs, as the best way to see whether your actions to improve them have worked is to make a comparison in a month’s time against your data now and your data then.
Creating compelling copy
The simplest but most effective approach to improving your CTRs is to make your copy more appealing to encourage more people to click on your links. When it comes to organic traffic, this means that the meta data that appears in SERPs is the first place that you have a chance to create compelling copy and increase your click-throughs. Much like advertising copy, it needs to grab attention and has just seconds to do it.
How do you do this?
Action 1: Review your title tags
Each page of your website should have a unique title tag that tells people at a glance what the content of the page is about. Title tags are still one of the most important on-page SEO elements because they tell readers and search engines what to expect. The title tag you give a page is visible in three key places: in browsers, on SERPs, and on external websites, especially social media sites that feature a link to your article (see examples of each below).
Where to find a title tag in a browser
A title tag on a SERP
Where to spot a title tag on social media
To follow current best practice for writing title tags, try to include the following:
- Feature the focus/target keyword or phrase for each page as near to the beginning of the title tag as possible.
- Use a unique target keyword for each page, so that you don’t have several pages fighting to be ranked for the same target keywords.
- Keep your title tags to 65 characters of less, so they don’t get truncated in SERPs.
- Try to use words that will match searchers’ queries, as exactly matched words will appear in bold and stand out from other listings in SERPs.
- Make your title tag relevant to the content people will find on the page.
- Write your tag in the same voice/style as you use for your brand.
- Consider how you can use emotive text to elicit an emotional response, such as curiosity.
To use one of the SEO+ title tags as an example (and show that I follow my own advice), if people search for ‘SEO UK’ this is the listing they will see for SEO+ on page one of Google. As you can see ‘SEO UK’ appears right at the beginning of the title tag. I’ve gone for a practical, no-fuss approach to this title tag to reflect the search terms that my potential customers will be using.
Action 2: Review your meta descriptions
The meta description is the two lines of text beneath the title tag in SERP listings that tells people what a page is about before they see it. Although Google doesn’t directly use meta descriptions as ranking signals, what you write here will most definitely impact on your CTRs.
I find it helpful to think of my meta descriptions as free adverts, so I focus as much as possible on creating copy that pinpoints people’s pain points and highlights the benefits of clicking through.
Let’s take a look at the SEO UK listing example above. Notice how the wording deliberately mentions some of the reasons people look for SEO services? Generating more traffic, leads and sales is core to any SEO strategy. The meta description then lets people know that we achieve traffic and sales growth – exactly the things that potential clients want their SEO to achieve.
It’s helpful to be aware of and follow current best practice for writing meta descriptions:
- Try to include the target keywords or phrase somewhere in the meta description as Google will highlight an exact match in bold, helping your listing to stand out in SERPs.
- Make your meta description less than 160 characters so it doesn’t get cut off.
- Write in the company tone of voice.
- Ensure every page has a unique meta description.
- Consider adding a call to action – this might be your phone number or letting people know that you’re offering FREE delivery. This can help to give people a clear message about what to do next, act as an incentive to click-through, or save them time.
You might want to consider rewriting some of your meta descriptions to reflect a forthcoming holiday, promotion or time of year.
If you currently use Google AdWords in addition to your organic SEO, keep an eye on your AdWord click-through rates so that you can apply what you learn to your organic meta data too.
With both title tags and meta descriptions, it is important to make sure that they accurately reflect the content of the page they’re about. If your meta data isn’t relevant, it may actually increase your bounce rate, which can negatively impact upon your SEO efforts.
Tip: Research would suggest that there are some words that attract more clicks when they’re included in title tags and/or meta descriptions. These include:
- How to
- Blog post (only if it is a blog post, of course!)
- list related numbers
According to the Yoast Academy, effective calls to action in meta descriptions include:
- Learn more
- Get it now
- Try for FREE
Action 3: Apply Schema mark-up to your web pages
In a recent blog – Schema made easy – we looked at how applying Schema mark-up to your web pages can help them to stand out in SERPs and provide more high value information for searchers.
The SERP below for ‘best lasagne recipe’ shows that Schema mark-up has been applied to the top six organic listings to varying degrees. Many of these listings include star ratings, number of votes, cooking time and calories. This extra information will help searchers make an informed decision about where to click next. If they’re looking for a lower calorie recipe, for example, they might choose Jamie Oliver’s lasagne, whereas the norecipes.com lasagne might be preferable for someone who’s feeling time poor.
At this point in time, Schema presents a very real opportunity for your website to stand out from your competitors, increase in rankings, and improve your CTRs.
Action 4: Use breadcrumbs in SERPs
Remember how Hansel and Gretel first used breadcrumbs to help them find their way through the forest? Well, breadcrumbs on a website are a way of showing the route you have taken through the navigation to get to the page you’re currently visiting (see the picture below).
This is particularly helpful on large e-commerce websites to ensure that you can retrace your footsteps if you need to.
What many people don’t realise is that it’s possible to apply breadcrumbs to your search listings too. I ran a search for ‘breadcrumbs in SERPs’ and, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that two of the five top ranked articles had applied breadcrumbs to their pages:
Instead of there being a long URL underneath the title tag, we can see where the page we’re going to visit falls within the structure of the website. This information can help searchers to gauge how relevant the article might be to their search.
Check out the Online Income Teacher for a guide to setting up breadcrumbs in SERPs for your website.
Action 5: Fetch as Google
Whenever you modify tags on your website, I always recommend clicking on ‘Fetch as Google’ option in your Google Search Console. Once you are in this screen, you can either click on Fetch to get Google to re-crawl your entire website or a single URL for an amended page and all of its direct links. The Fetch and Render option shows you what the fetched URL looks like on desktop or mobile devices.
Once you invite Google to re-crawl and index your website, you should see new data in about a week. From this point onwards, you can go back into the Search Traffic>Search Analytics dashboard that we explored at the beginning of this article and begin to track whether the changes you have made are having an effect on your CTRs. If your average CTR per page has gone, more tweaks are necessary, but if your average CTR has gone up, your hard work has done its job. Hurrah!
Review and measure
Anything that you do to improve your SERP rankings will potentially increase your CTRs too. Have you followed our hints and tips about Google’s top ten ranking elements of the future?
Like all things SEO-related, improving your CTRs isn’t a one-time only task. It may be necessary to refresh your meta data in the future – the only way to know is to keep an eye on those all-important click-through rates in your Google Search Console.
Want to know more about improving your click-through rates? We’ve put together a list of useful resources.
- Don’t have Google Search Console yet? Check out the Moz beginner’s guide to setting it up
- Read more about Search Engine Land’s experiment and why they concluded CTRs aren’t a ranking signal
- Check out Link Assistant’s Google cheatsheet
- Backlinko has compiled a list of 200 Google ranking factors based on fact, debate and ‘nerd speculation’
- I also like Backlinko’s 16 copywriting tips to drive traffic to your website
- Read our Schema Made Easy guide and download your FREE cheat sheet
- Check out our beginners’ guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation
- Try out the Online Income Teacher’s guide to setting up breadcrumbs for SERPs or read more about Google breadcrumbs from the Google Developers
When was the last time you checked your meta data? Do you keep an eye on your click-through rates already? Do you think CTRs are related to rankings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below.
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Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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