Increase Search Traffic by Boosting Click Through Rates

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Optimizing click through rates (CTR) has long been an integral part of running a successful paid search campaign. So why are click through rates largely ignored when it comes to web search optimization? Perhaps part of the reason is that for many years, search engine results page (SERP) click through rates were largely a black hole – SEOs could only guess at how well their organic listings were performing.

More recently, Google has started giving webmasters access to click through rate data (albeit the precision of this data is subject to debate) at the keyword and URL level. Even with this data, though, many SEOs are not always dedicating resources to maximise organic search CTRs.

Search traffic and CTR are two sides of the same coin

To maximize organic search traffic to your website, you need lots of prominently ranking web pages (via copious amounts of thought leadership content) and a high click through rate. If you gain web search traffic from prominent rankings but get a low clickthrough rate, you’re leaving potential visitors and conversions on the table.

In fact, you could even say that rankings don’t ultimately matter – only click through rates. After all, the primary reason a #1 ranking is perceived to be better than a #5 ranking is because the #1 ranking typically gets a much higher click through rate. Practically speaking, it would be better to have a #6 ranking that gets a 4% CTR than a #5 ranking that gets a 3% CTR.

General guidelines for improving SERP CTRs

  • Write memorable, important and relevant titles. Your page title functions as a headline for your organic listing. The headline just needs to be different, forget about keywords so that your titles stand out from the other sites in the crowded SERPS. It’s all about differentiation.
  • Short and overly long titles can be trimmed, or even completely replaced.  However, long titles according to our lab tests do elicit higher click throughs.  The reality is you don’t need to pay too much attention to title length (other than making sure it’s not less than 4 words) as it’s the content on the page that matters the most.
  • Write meta descriptions as document abstracts.  Just as we recommend avoiding the need to include keywords into titles – write the meta description like prose and use a call to action.  Although it may not be used for determining rankings per se, the description should act as an abstract for that web page.
  • Enhance your SERPs listing with video and images.  Having a rich media content on your webpages supported by the appropriate XML sitemap will result in a screenshot of the rich media supplementing your web page SERPs listing thereby eliciting higher clickt hroughs.
  • Use rich snippets to enrich your SERPs listing.  A rich snippet may use a variety of mark up formats including microdata to display a variety of metrics including user product ratings, authorship.  Paul bruemmer gave several examples on Search Engine Land showing up to a 30% CTR increases could be achieved with rich snippets.
  • Create phrases unique to your own organization.  Having such unique queries becomes representative of your brand and thus as the originator of these unique queries you will ultimately prevail in the click through wars.  Where is the search demand for these titles?  That will come from your loyal readership, constant well written and thought out essays, and the other public relations work happening in the background.

How to track the click through rates of your organic listings

Both Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools provide click through data. Google Webmaster Tools data can also be integrated into Google Analytics. The below screenshots highlight some of the data you can view via Google Analytics and/or Webmaster Tools.


CTR by country:

CTR by type of search:

CTR by keyword:

CTR by listing URL:

It should be noted that the CTR data shown in webmaster tools is not always 100% precise or accurate. The data should be taken with a bag of salt to detect trends and not pinpoint exact numbers.

Specific suggestions for optimizing your CTRs

  • Identify pages that are getting a low click through rate. Try to analyze the underlying reasons.  Could it be seasonal such that the proverbial ice creams are not so popular during the winter? Perhaps the title or descriptions simply weren’t interesting or saying anything new.  The important thing is think hard, get feedback from valued colleagues and peers or even go as far as to employ focus groups.
  • Similarly, the same exercise could be applied to pages that perform well in terms of clickthroughs.
  • Try running adwords campaigns mixing titles and descriptions on separate ads to determine whether it was the title or the description that was actually contributing to a better or worse performance.  Using adwords means that to some degree you may to some extent control the ad positions and keep that variable constant to make the tests more meaningful.

Bottom line: Increasing the click through rate of your organic listings is an often overlooked way to get more search traffic with your current search visibility. Are there any tactics you’ve used to get a higher organic CTR?


Author Bio:  Andreas Voniatis is the Managing Director of Alchemy Viral, a UK based consultancy providing multilingual link building as a trade supplier to digital agencies worldwide.

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