CTR: An Up-And-Comer in the Ranking Factors?
Tommy Swanson is a social media specialist for KMA, A Pursuant Company. Swanson is in charge of SEO and social media for numerous nationally recognized non-profit organizations. He is also a serial online entrepreneur who has built and sold several large businesses since his early teens.
When the term CTR is brought up, most marketers turn their attention to PPC. It’s a metric that plays a fundamental role in different strategies surrounding paid search. But what most seem to dismiss is CTR’s influence in SEO. Up till now, it’s most frequent use was to project numbers to clients, but now—it could be an up-and-comer in the ranking factors.
Role in PPC
We’re told that the “quality score” is the primary metric that determines your search marketing effectiveness, where your daily budget, maximum cpc bid, keyword relevance and clickthrough rates are all considered in determining this value. Let’s put this into perspective.
Kathy’s knitting company has a max CPC of $2.00, and an average 1% CTR. Google is making $20 for every 1000 impressions. Now let’s say her competitor is getting a 2% CTR; Google makes $40 for every 1000 impressions. If Kathy and her competitor bid the same amount for a relevant keyword, the odds are that Kathy’s ad would always be seeded below her competition.
That being said, CTR plays a fundamental role in PPC. Many believe it’s the key factor in developing your quality score. It’s logical. Google is a business that has shareholders it has to report to, so giving preference to an ad that has a higher chance of getting clicked makes them more money.
An Up-And-Comer in Organic Ranking Factors?
There have been frequent reports that CTR plays a role in the ranking factors. While Google has never confirmed it, it would be simply illogical to ignore the data.
Adam Audette of SearchEngineWatch brought a great quote to the table in his recent article. Audette quotes Edmond Lau, a former member of the Google search quality team.
“… using click and visit data to rank results is a very reasonable and logical thing to do, and ignoring the data would have been silly.”
“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. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they’re less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top. Building a feedback loop is a fairly obvious step forward in quality for both search and recommendations systems, and a smart search engine would incorporate the data. The actual mechanics of how click data is used is often proprietary, but Google makes it obvious that it uses click data with its patents on systems like “Rank-adjusted content items.”
Many search marketers often create test environments to see how specific factors are weighted in the algorithm. But CTR has so many looming questions around it, that it’s extremely hard to develop a solid answer or even a starting point for a test that is measurable.
Many SEO’s have experiences with clients that point to CTR as a substantial ranking factor, despite that it cannot be confirmed. It recently happened to me (which prompted this article).
Tommy Swanson isn’t just a search marketer and social media strategist. He’s also a former Baylor basketball player who has outranked me for my own name since the beginning of time. His BaylorBears.com page had much more domain authority than my blog for obvious reasons.
I recently wrote a controversial guest post that caused quite a ruckus in the industry. It prompted more traffic in one day to my blog than I had seen in months. People were searching “Tommy Swanson” in Google and clicking on the search marketing snippet, rather than the Baylor basketball snippet.
The next day, I suddenly for the first time ranked #1 for “Tommy Swanson,” beating out the Baylor basketball player. There were no new links to my domain or even mention of it anywhere on the web the previous day.
While my name was mentioned quite frequently on Twitter that day, it’s hard to imagine that Google can decipher which Tommy Swanson was being talked about. CTR seems to be the only viable theory.
Since the post, the amount of search traffic for “Tommy Swanson” to my blog has dwindled, suggesting that the Baylor basketball player has started to capture the traffic for that query again. Sure enough–he’s reclaimed his #1 spot.
But despite the fact that it’s not measurable shouldn’t make us turn a blind eye to it. Even if it isn’t a ranking factor, CTR optimization is imperative to increase the volume of visitors to your website.
Optimizing for Higher CTR
First of all, let’s address some of the common optimization techniques.
- Brand Recognition: If your brand is noteworthy, don’t hesitate to show it off.
- Including Keywords in the Title and Description: When a user types in a query, seeing results that display the keywords they just searched for often leads to a click through.
- Have Your Call-To-Action in the Meta Description: One of the most common mistakes in SEO is letting Google auto generate your meta description. Your meta description does not play a role in the ranking factors anymore, so don’t keyword stuff, but rather use your strongest call to action.
Another great technique is the use of sitelinks. Google auto generates these but gives you the option in Webmaster Tools to remove specific ones. By filtering out less desirable pages, you can attempt to feature some of your higher converting pages.
One of the most unappreciated concepts in search is that of real estate. Google understands the value though. They are constantly adding more real estate to paid search ads, which in turn, makes them more money.
Similarly, SEO’s can add real estate to their snippet. Google allows us up to 150 characters in the meta description. Use it! Don’t use your one line call-to-action and lose all your potential real estate. It’s been proven with PPC: the more real estate you have, the higher the CTR.
At the end of the day, don’t overlook CTR in SEO. Even if CTR isn’t playing a significant role in ranking factors, the pure increase in volume from click-throughs is worth optimizing for.