A useful addition to kick off with: besides the new polished design our free CTR tool got, you can now compare the SERP features’ incidence side-by-side for desktop and mobile, for the US market as shown in the screenshot below:
Clickthrough rate in 2021 vs. 2020
And since the data for the entire 2021 is now available, let’s have a glance at the Year over Year changes by comparing the average CTR values for each position in 2021 vs. the ones in 2020.
The CTR values were significantly impacted on both desktop and mobile devices at the top. Specifically, websites ranked first on desktop recorded a 1.40 pp percentage points (pp) decrease in CTR in 2021 vs. 2020, while on mobile, the drop was even higher (2.40 pp).
Google’s continuous scrolling impact on CTR
We can’t move forward without having a look at what happened to Google’s continuous scrolling on US mobile searches and its impact on CTR. The assumption was that by encouraging users to look beyond the first few results and scroll more, the websites ranked below the top ten results might get some additional clicks.
Well, in reality, this wasn’t quite the case: websites ranked below the 10th position on US mobile queries, witnessed an increase in clickthrough rate, just that this change was barely noticeable (between 0.01 pp and 0.07 pp). Only time could tell if searches will adopt this new behavior of searching past the first page using the continuous scrolling feature or they will stick to the first 10 results.
Now let’s look at how user behavior shaped the CTR values in the fourth quarter of the year compared to the previous one.
We calculated the CTR averages for each position for Q4 2021 (October-December interval) and compared them against the ones retrieved for Q3 2021 (July-September). All significant changes were included in this analysis and expressed as percentage points (pp).
The data set is international and comprises all the available markets such as the US, UK, etc.
Since clicks and impressions go hand in hand when projecting estimated traffic, we also correlated these CTR changes with search demand data at an industry level.
At a global level, the change affected only the websites ranked first on desktop queries, which registered an almost 1 percentage point increase in CTR (0.87 pp more precisely).
Branded vs. Unbranded queries
While the websites ranked for branded queries didn’t notice any significant changes in CTR, those ranked first on desktop for unbranded queries witnessed a boost close to a round percentage point (0.90 pp).
Significant changes were recorded on desktop searches only, with the websites ranked first for queries containing two words witnessing a 1.07 pp growth, while for the ones containing three words, the increase equaled 1.04 pp.
After the previous quarter’s drop in clickthrough rate, the CTR for location queries (containing words such as near, from, nearby, directions, maps, etc.) got on the rising slope this time. Here, the websites ranked first experienced a 2.22 pp increase in CTR on desktop and no less than 3.54 pp on mobile searches. At the same time, websites ranked second recorded a 1.08 pp increase on desktop and a boost of 1.41 pp on mobile devices.
As for commercial queries (containing words such as price, pay, buy, etc.), the websites ranked first gained 1.31 pp in CTR on desktop searches.
Now let’s jump to the industries section, where, just like in the previous quarterly studies, we’ll correlate the changes in CTR to the ones in search demand to better estimate the potential traffic fluctuations.
This CTR report will contain two separate sections, based on the search demand’s evolution.
A. Industries where the search demand increased
After two consecutive quarters marked by drops in CTR, the Technology & Computing seems to be recovering, on mobile, at least. More precisely, websites ranked first on mobile devices registered a 1.24 pp growth, while the overall industry’s search demand increased by +22.35%.
The highest increase in impressions (+119.08%) recorded by our search demand tool was for the Family & Parenting market. One can assume this growth also meant a spike in traffic, especially for the websites ranked first on desktop, which also got a boost in clickthrough rate by 1.24 pp.
As for the Travel industry, the clickthrough rates for the top two websites registered a combined growth of 4.10 pp on desktop, while on mobile, only the websites ranked first were influenced by the changes, recording a 1.79 pp growth. At the same time, people’s desire to travel also increased in this final quarter of the year compared to Q3 2021 (+22.77%).
The Law, Government & Politics market was also affected at the top of the SERPs, where the websites ranked first registered 3.21 pp growth in CTR on desktop and 1.07 pp on mobile. Here, the search demand decreased by +13.76%.
With events such as Black Friday and the holiday season taking place in this fourth quarter, it was expected that the search demand would increase in the Shopping industry, and so it did: our search-demand tool recorded a +41.45% increase in impressions. As for the CTR values, websites ranked first on desktop registered about a percentage point increase.
It’s time to turn our attention to the fourth quarter’s highest decline in clickthrough rate: the Science market. Here, the websites ranked in the first three positions recorded a combined 16.12 pp loss in CTR on desktop (7.77 pp for those ranked first, 6.70 pp for those ranked second, and 1.64 pp for those ranked in the third position). On mobile, the loss affected the websites ranked second only, which witnessed a 2.34 pp decline in clickthrough rate. At the same time, the overall industry’s impressions increased by +48.62%.
While the search demand grew in the Home & Garden market (+3.73%), websites ranked first on desktop registered a 1.78 pp increase in CTR.
A similar trend occurred in the Food & Drink category, where the CTR values for the websites ranked first on desktop grew by 1.59 pp. Be that as it may, people’s interest in this industry grew in this final quarter of the year compared to Q3 (+26.67%).
The first two positions in the Arts & Entertainment industry experienced a combined 3.80 pp increase in CTR on desktop searches and a 3.83 pp boost on mobile. Surprisingly, the growth was higher for the websites ranked second than for the ones ranked first on both desktop (2.58 pp vs. 1.22 pp) and mobile (2.04 pp vs. 1.79 pp). These changes in CTR coupled with a growth of +53.52% in this industry’s overall search demand might translate into a boost in traffic for those websites affected by the changes.
News is the last one to make it into this quarter’s group of industries where clickthrough rate variations were recorded, and the search demand increased. The number of impressions increased by +37.37%, while the CTR for websites ranked first on mobile queries decreased by 1.65 pp.
Here’s a graphical representation of the changes in all ten industries mentioned above:
B. Industries that experienced a drop in search demand
With no major changes since Q2 2021, the websites ranked first in the Real Estate industry recorded a growth of 1.40 pp in CTR on mobile queries. On the other hand, the search demand for this industry registered losses when compared against the previous quarter (-9.07% to be more precise).
A slight change in CTR at the top was registered in the Careers industry, as well, just that this time, for the desktop queries. Therefore, websites ranked first lost, on average, 0.95 pp in this fourth quarter, while the overall industry’s number of impressions decreased by -4.62%.
And now let’s jump to the industry with the highest increase in clickthrough rate for a single position: the Automotive one. Here, the CTR for websites ranked first on queries made from desktop devices grew, on average, by 2.66 pp, while on mobile, the changes reached a remarkable 3.65 pp growth. However, the industry’s overall impressions dropped by -6.27% in Q4 compared to Q3.
The Personal Finance industry continued its CTR decline, which began two quarters ago, for the websites ranked first but only on mobile devices this time. Therefore, websites ranking first on mobile got an average decrease in clickthrough rate of 0.92 pp. At the same time, the impressions for this industry recorded a slight drop of -5.62%.
Good news for the websites in the Education sector, where we need to look back exactly one year ago to find the last time the industry recorded an increase in CTR. Here, the websites ranked first on desktop registered a 1.38 pp increase in clickthrough rate, while the industry’s overall impressions dropped by -52.02%.
Last but not least, let’s have a look at the Society category, which recorded a boost in CTR on both desktop and mobile devices. On desktop, the websites ranked first witnessed a round 1.00 pp growth, while on mobile, the increase was even bigger, equaling 1.34 pp. Here, the industry’s overall search demand decreased by -17.16%.
Here’s a visual recap of all the changes mentioned above:
That’s it for…the fourth quarter
It’s been quite an eventful quarter! We found out what was the impact on the CTR of Google’s continuous scrolling for the US market, we had a look at the YoY comparison and discovered the segments and industries impacted by changes.
Up next, let’s find out what the new year holds in store from a clickthrough rate perspective. But all this in our next quarterly analysis CTR report.
Until then, stay safe and healthy!