We’re taking on organic CTR — a fickle but useful SEO beasty — so that you can better test and measure your SEO efforts.
A click-through rate is typically associated with pay-per-click advertising, but did you know it’s also super useful when it comes to organic search?
Indeed! So grab a snack and your comfiest reading chair because we’re talking all things CTR: why you should know yours, what its limitations are, factors that impact it, existing models, and, last but not least, how you can calculate your own. Let’s get to it!
Why measure your organic CTR?
But first things first. What is an organic click-through rate? It’s simply the number of clicks a search result receives, divided by the number of times it’s viewed on the SERP (also known as “impressions”).
Since no rank is created equal, calculating your organic CTRs helps you gauge just how valuable each rank position is to your site. It also allows you to estimate organic web traffic — depending on your rates, a drop from position two to eight might result in a 42 percent decrease in traffic for that keyword.
And when you have an idea of how much traffic your site drives, you can set realistic expectations around the ROI of projects, campaigns, content, and site changes, and measure the success of those efforts.
Are new campaigns performing as expected? Does tweaking titles and meta descriptions improve click-throughs? All of this will help you understand your target market and what they’re interested in, as well as how they operate.
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The limitations of an organic CTR
While a click-through rate has many uses, it also has some noteworthy limitations:
- A CTR can’t give you any indication of the quality of your traffic. For example, you may accidentally be driving irrelevant clicks from a city or country you don’t service.
- It also can’t help you predict conversions. Even though someone clicks on your search result, it doesn’t mean they’re going to perform whatever action you’ve deemed a conversion (buy, download, contact, etc).
- And CTR may, or may not, improve your rank. After hours of reading the internet, we’ve determined, conclusively, that CTR and rank are causal. And correlated. And codependent. And have less-than-squat to do with each other. But even though we can’t see or say for certain what the nature of the relationship between rank and CTR is, it hardly matters. Effort to improve either will have an awesome impact on your site — it’s win-win, which rarely happens in SEO.
What can affect your CTR?
A CTR is a complicated, fickle SEO beasty. Here are just a handful of factors that can impact it, all of which can be segmented out and calculated for their own unique click-through rates:
Google universal results and other hijinks
Google can be a bit of a bully on the SERP playground, frequently causing click-through rates to fluctuate with the appearance (and then disappearance) of universal results.
For example, you may see a dip in clicks if your SERPs are being dominated by news results, only to see an increase when the news story is done and dusted.
If you notice your click-through rates suddenly either skyrocket or take a nosedive, a Google algorithm update might be the culprit. And while you can’t actually account for this when calculating your CTRs, it’s still a crucial factor to be aware of.
Branded keywords typically have a higher click-through rate than non-branded terms. This is not unusual since the searcher is looking for a specific brand and Google has invested billions into giving searchers exactly what they’re looking for.
In a 2014 Google Organic CTR Study, Advanced Web Ranking notes that this higher average is actually the direct result of a significantly higher CTR for the first position.
On the other, label-free hand, click-throughs for non-branded keywords are more evenly distributed throughout the entire SERP, creating a flatter curve of CTRs across all rank positions.
The explanation is that “for branded searches the first result is almost always associated with the brand’s website, which makes it the obvious choice for most users and very hard to miss.”
Search intent plays a huge role in influencing your CTRs, including the shape of the curve they create. This provides yet another argument for segmenting your keywords by intent, following the searcher as they travel through the SEO funnel.
For example, informational searches have a higher chance of triggering a featured snippet or knowledge graph, which provide answers on the SERP so users don’t have to click anywhere. Plus, the first organic result is typically viewed as most trustworthy, so it brings in the most clicks. This would lower your click-through rates overall and create a curve with a sharp drop-off after the first rank.
In comparison, a search with commercial intent usually involves a lot of research and comparison shopping. This means that more links on a SERP are clicked, creating a smoother CTR curve and perhaps higher CTRs for each rank since they’re getting more love.
And don’t forget, the longer the search query, the stronger the intent, and the higher the click-through.
Due to size and usability, SERPs appear differently on mobile and desktop computers. This also means that CTRs often differ between the two. Mobile searchers are more likely to scroll down the entire first page but far less likely to venture to the second or (gasp) third page of results.
Industry or topic
And if all of that wasn’t enough, click-through rates can also vary by industry. This could come down to a searcher’s needs — those looking for technology, commerce, and food related results might require more information than the others — or Google’s ability to produce the best, most trusted result first.
Existing CTR models and a common curve
If you’d like to incorporate CTR modelling into your SEO efforts but don’t feel you have the time or resources to calculate your own, thankfully there are a number of ready-made CTR models for you to pick from.
If you decide to take this route, it’s important to consider the methodology behind each model and select the one that most reflects your user-base.
After all, the most important aspect of a CTR is not necessarily an individual rank’s click-through rate, but the curve they all fall into. According to Moz’s Dr. Pete, “essentially, while all studies show a different CTR for position one, pretty much every CTR study shows a similar curve. So, we rely on the curve, even knowing the absolute CTR is going to vary wildly for any given SERP.”
“When choosing a ready-made organic CTR model, make sure to select the one that most reflects your user-base.”
“STAT’s mission statement: Unlock insights in complex data to give brands a competitive edge in search.”
You may have noticed that some of the branded topics from the Keylime Toolbox chart above didn’t fall into a curve, and to this Dr. Pete says, “while CTR curves are imperfect (and that may be an understatement), our existing view of 1-10+ ranking assumes that the impact of ranking is linear. We all know it’s not, but when we number rankings 1-?, that’s what we imply. So any CTR curve, used wisely, is better than nothing. Using it wisely is the trick.”
Calculating your own organic CTR
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!
By now you know that no two CTRs or CTR curves — from the site level all the way down to a keyword segment — are the same, and that more factors impact an organic CTR than Donald Trump has stamps on a spray tan loyalty card.
So, since each click-through rate is a unique snowflake of special unique specialness, it’s worth calculating your own.
For a fairly quick and painless way, our friend Mike King of iPullRank suggests you head on over to Google Search Console. Click on Search Traffic > Search Analytics, then select to show CTR and position, and download all of the data.
Next, open the sheet in Excel and calculate your average CTR for each position — add together all of a rank’s CTRs and divide by the total number of keywords in that position.
This will provide you with a pretty basic CTR curve for your site. If you want to get fancy, segment your keywords into branded and non-branded terms, and/or divvy them up into search intent à la the SEO funnel, and calculate the CTRs for those segments.
The world is your oyster so get out there and start CTRing!