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Keyword rankings used to be more important than they are today.
The vast majority of clicks went to the first few positions.
So getting into the first three positions meant everything. Even the third position would receive exponentially more clicks than positions six through ten.
However, that’s all starting to change.
SERPs are personalized to each individual. They’re also evolving to include a variety of different layouts, placements, sponsored listings, and more.
But here’s the real kicker.
Today you can get more clicks than people ranking above you.
All without changing positions necessarily.
The trick is to focus on increasing your SERP click-through rate instead of swapping rank positions.
Studies show that organic CTR data can make an impact on Google’s rankings. Therefore, if you focus on your CTR, first, higher rankings could follow later.
Here’s why your ranking isn’t as big of a deal as you might think. And why you should focus your marketing activities instead on raising your Google CTR.
The Relationship Between Ranking and CTR
AJ Kohn first reported his informal findings on how SERP click-through rate can influence ranking signals.
He included a couple of eye-opening quotes to back up his claim, like this one from former Google Engineer Edmond Lau:
“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.”
More evidence started pouring in from the unlikeliest of places.
For example, the Wall Street Journal got access to an FTC document that explained the following:
“The (search engine result page) ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure out, well, probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.”
Historically, this was never the case.
For example, images like this have been used forever to explain how CTR changed based on SERP position:
The CTR you could expect would fall as your position was lower on the page.
Human behavior at the time meant that people would naturally gravitate towards the higher listings.
However, all of that is beginning to change.
It’s possible now to invert those numbers above. You could get a higher CTR even though you ranked lower.
That would be like position #3 getting a 30% CTR while the second position only received 20%.
So even though you technically “rank lower,” you’re getting more traffic and visibility than the guy ranking above you.
If that’s happening consistently, it will give you another bonus.
Those excellent results could serve as a sign to Google that those two results should be flip-flopped.
Rand Fishkin conducted one of the most popular tests of how SERP CTR can influence Google’s search results.
He wanted to see if click-through rate, alone, could move rankings.
So he asked people to click a specific link to his blog post that was sitting firmly in the seventh position.
The short influx of clicks did, in fact, launch his blog post up to the first position in Google.
However, these were only temporary changes. The short-term ranking boost eventually fell back down to Earth as clicks died off.
The inflated CTR wasn’t natural, so results eventually regressed back to the mean.
It’s just like how you can’t increase your AdWords Quality Scores simply by clicking on your own ads a few times. This is the oldest trick in the book, and it just doesn’t work. (Sorry.)
However, it does show that there is a direct correlation.
Increasing your CTR can not only bring you more traffic, but it can also increase how and where you’re showing up in the result pages.
The best news of all is that increasing SERP CTR with marketing activities is almost always easier than doing the hard, time-consuming work of improving your ranking by getting more high-quality links, for example.
Here’s how this process works.
How to Raise SERP CTR to Skyrocket Traffic
Larry Kim’s data highlights two important takeaways about how all of this stuff works:
- Higher than average SERP CTR can eventually lift your position.
- While lower than average SERP CTR can also drop your position.
So there’s an upside when you get things right. But a downside when you screw it up.
You can’t afford to screw it up.
Here are three tactics from Larry’s research and our own that will help you find the page click-through rates that are already sabotaging your results.
1. Start with Your Low Hanging Fruit
Most people want to focus on their new content or new blog posts. They think that’s what’s driving the most traffic and leads over the past month or so.
But that couldn’t be further from the case.
In reality, it’s the old stuff that’s driving most of your results.
That’s good news believe it or not. It’s often easier to go back and update old stuff than to put all of your resources behind cranking out the new.
So let’s see how to find your old ‘low hanging fruit’ for a quick ROI.
First, start by making sure you have Google Search Console setup. Then integrate it with Google Analytics, so they share data back and forth.
Now, head over to the Acquisition section inside Google Analytics, click on the “Search Console” drop down, and then finally hit “Queries” towards the bottom.
Your queries report will tell you most (some) of the search queries people are using to access your site. The reason it doesn’t show all of them is because of Google’s removal of keyword referral data.
There are ways to unlock not provided keywords, but we don’t have the time or energy to cover that right now as well.
So back to the Queries report. Here, you will not just see clicks and impressions, but the CTR number we’re after.
Look for the queries that send you the most traffic, but have the lowest CTR and position.
You can check out the actual SERPs for those keyphrases to determine how competitive each will be. Otherwise, the trick will be to focus on rewriting your title tags and descriptions to not just focus on keyword optimization but driving more clicks.
Here’s how to do that.
2. Treat Your Organic Copy like AdWords
Here’s how you used to write title tags to rank well in search engines.
- “Keyword” or “Post Title” | “Brand Name”
So the title tag for this post might read something like this:
- Google SERP CTR | Directive Consulting
Obviously, that’s super explicit for search engines.
However, it’s incredibly boring for most users.
Let’s take a page from writing AdWords copy, instead, to make this more desirable.
For example, the average B2B CTR in AdWords is around 2%.
That’s obviously not very impressive. Ideally, you want to see CTR’s of at least 8%+ from ads.
That tells you that your ads are doing their job. They’re making people interested and grabbing clicks away from your competitors.
The way you increase AdWords ad CTR is to use copywriting principles while still hitting your keyword.
So instead of just keyword stuffing “SEO Keyword Research Services,” you’d add something a little extra.
Maybe that’s a certain specialty you work in. Maybe you use proprietary methods or tools to drive better results. Or maybe you will include client case studies to help overcome people’s potential objections to working with you.
Now apply this same strategy to your organic search strategy.
For example, instead of churning out the same old boring “keyword optimized” title tag and meta description.
Case in point:
You can also use tricks like a phone number, hyper localization, specific client improvements, etc.
3. Develop Brand Awareness Before You Need It
Wordstream has found that brand aware people are “twice as likely to click” on your ads.
The goal behind this marketing activity is to use inexpensive, consistent, paid social campaigns to help develop brand awareness.
Facebook expert Andrea Vahl has pointed to video ads as one of the best ways to cheaply build a custom audience on Facebook. You can get views for as little as a cent or two each.
That means you can start building out custom audiences with thousands of potential customers for less than a hundred bucks.
These campaigns are so cheap that you can afford to run them continually, and then retarget them with ongoing content offers as they come out.
That way, by the time they do need your product or service and start searching, your name will get their attention first.
Rankings used to be the one and only search metric anyone cared about.
You did whatever it took to get into the top few results because that’s where the bulk of the visitors went, too.
Those days, thankfully, are going away.
Today, consumers have become more discerning. They’ll scroll down the SERP on the lookout for the best option that meets their query.
They won’t just blindly click on the first few.
That means you can rank in the third position but possibly rival the first for viewers.
The better your CTR performs on these pages, the more you’ll be rewarded with moving up organically.
That presents one of the best ‘hacks’ around today.
It used to take months (if not longer) to move a page’s rank through time-consuming methods like link building.
But now, you can simply rewrite your title tags like ads, work on increasing brand awareness and recognition with cheap campaigns and start moving up ASAP.
That’s why it’s easier, cheaper, and faster to worry about your CTR before obsessing your marketing activities over the temporary ranking.