Organic clickthrough rate (or organic CTR) is a handy metric that you should measure and improve as part of your SEO strategy.
By understanding your CTR, you’ll better understand how optimized your SERP snippet is for keywords, and the impact changing them has on your organic traffic.
In this guide, we’ll explore what organic clickthrough rate means, how to improve it, and provide some data insights from the free Advanced Web Ranking Organic CTR tool.
What is organic CTR?
The clickthrough rate is the number of times a link is clicked divided by how many times the link is shown; organic CTR is this rate for organic search results.
The higher your CTR, the better.
Many factors influence your CTR; some you can control directly (such as title tag, meta description, and rich results), and others are out of your control (such as SERP features and the searcher's intent).
Why is CTR important for SEO?
Increasing a keyword's CTR means more traffic to your site. Focusing on improving your CTR maximizes traffic received without having to improve where you rank.
While it’s highly debated among SEO experts and denied by Google, multiple studies, tests, and insights from Google themselves strongly suggest CTR or user engagement signals impact where you rank.
Even if user engagement doesn’t impact where you rank directly, we know for sure user engagement plays a part in Google’s process to measure the success of an algorithm change.
That means improving your CTR could also impact where you rank.
Some key insights include a presentation from a Google engineer where Paul Haahr stated clicks are used to evaluate experiments.
A report Google made to the FTC stating they watch clicks to evaluate the quality of search results suggests CTR as an indirect ranking factor.
Google confirms watching clicks to evaluate results quality. FYI Google still won't say if clicks used as rank signal pic.twitter.com/jzNGc5reQk— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) March 25, 2015
Rand Fishkin tested to see if positions could change based upon many users clicking a particular result. The results were that they did.
Have 20 seconds? Would love help testing this. Just follow quick directions in the graphic: pic.twitter.com/oSf7lAkyma— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) June 21, 2015
There are also Google patents that reinforce the idea of clicks and other behavioral signals as part of their algorithm or measurement process. However, a patent doesn’t necessarily mean something is actively used in an algorithm.
Google vehemently denies CTR as a ranking factor. In a recent Reddit AMA, Gary Illyses said this about user behavior data as a ranking factor:
“Dwell time, CTR, whatever Fishkin's new theory is, those are generally made up crap.”
So it could be that patents and mentions of CTR as a direct ranking factor are more for personalized search. Or maybe Google doesn’t want to state CTR is a ranking factor publicly to prevent blackhat tactics being used, like what has happened with links and PageRank.
Nobody can say for sure.
A takeaway is that if you have a higher-than-expected CTR for the position you’re ranking in, Google might rank you higher because the CTR shows people are interested in your result.
But ultimately, try to achieve a higher CTR to increase your traffic; anything that claims a SERP position can be improved with a higher CTR is hypothetical.
CTR best practices
Here are some of the top recommendations to include in your strategy to achieve a high CTR.
Match your title tag to what people search
Optimizing title tags is as simple as matching the users' search queries to your title.
By matching what people search to your title tag, you increase the chances of them seeing your result as relevant.
To find the most important titles to match, go to the Google Search Console (GSC) performance report, select the pages tab, and choose a page.
Once you’ve selected a page to optimize, go to the queries tab.
Scan the top queries, then check your page's title tag. Is the top query included at the beginning of the title?
If not, this may be an opportunity to align your title with users' queries.
Write an enticing meta description
Meta descriptions are an easy way for the user to see what they’ll view before they click, so ensure the meta description is relevant to the query!
One tip is to look at PPC ad descriptions. PPC specialists regularly test ways to improve CTR, so you can quickly gain insights into what works.
But be aware, an Ahrefs study found 62.78% of meta descriptions are ignored and rewritten by Google, so your efforts here may be in vain.
Use power words
You have few words to play with; ensure these are as effective as possible in prompting the user to click through.
Think of trigger words such as new, exclusive, or instant — these are likely to grab the user's attention without sounding too clickbaity. Check here for an extensive list of power words to include.
Improve your ranking
As of January 2021, the CTR of links on the first page increases as their position increases, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Use traditional SEO methods to improve how well you rank in search, including link building, content creation, internal linking optimization, and more.
If you’re in Ecommerce, we have a huge Ecommerce SEO guide that will be helpful.
Enhance your listing with rich snippets
You could add structured data to your page to capture rich snippets.
Implementing structured data can take your listing from this:
The additional information and reviews will make your listing more attractive to click and increase its size. Evidence points toward these kinds of enhancements improving CTR.
Take advantage of SERP features
While data suggests these SERP features reduce overall CTR on a result (more on that later), in most cases, getting into these SERP features will increase coverage and improve CTR compared to not showing in them.
Take the following SERP, for example.
You want to appear in both the featured snippet and people also ask boxes, or you’re going to end up far down the SERP.
Put the current year in the title
This shows the searcher the content is up to date and more relevant than competing articles, increasing CTR.
Do not just start updating your title tags with years. Keep your articles fresh, relevant, and up to date, as Google has algorithms specifically looking at freshness.
Second tip, don't put the year in your URL. That way, you can reuse the same URL every year you update a piece of content without needing to redirect it.
Add brackets to your title tags
Studies have shown that adding brackets could increase your clicks by up to 40%!
Brackets can act as a content preview and will be more likely to be clicked on if the searcher knows what to expect.
Some examples of what to include in brackets are [Video], [Free template], [Cheat Sheet], [eBook], and more!
Use emotive language
Adding emotive language helps persuade the reader to read your content by reaching them on a human level.
Emotive title tags are vital in enticing someone to click through to you.
CoSchedule found headlines with a higher Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score massively increased the amount an article was read and shared.
CoSchedule also has a great guide on including emotive language in headlines that would be an excellent place to start.
I’d also recommend using headline analyzers to see how emotive your titles are currently.
Mobile Moxie summarizes what fraggles are and everything you need to know about them here if you’re not familiar with the term.
Fraggles are simply jump-to links that you see directly from the SERP.
Adding fraggles means adding information on the SERP for users.
The more valuable the information, the more likely the searcher will want to read more, resulting in a click.
Create shorter, descriptive URLs
The searcher uses the URL to understand the context of the page. URLs also show on the SERP, so try to keep them as short as possible and match the user’s query.
Take the SEO report template we’ve released; it’s quite clear what query we’re optimizing CTR for on the SERP.
Increase your brand awareness
Increasing brand awareness might not be one that you can quickly apply, but it’s well worth working on! The more recognizable you are, the more likely you are seen as a trustworthy source and encourage clicks to you rather than a competitor on a search result.
Check the list of results below as an example.
How do users pick which result to go for? All the content seems pretty similar.
Users will tend to gravitate toward whichever brand they know well and have had previous positive experiences with.
Use numbers in your title tags
Numbers work well for list posts, and they’re known for attracting more clicks on Google. Lists also work when sharing data if you have an impressive figure to share.
Sometimes, just by having a larger number than everyone else, you’re more likely to be clicked on.
What is a good clickthrough rate?
Now we’ve gone through ways to improve your CTR, but how do you know if you have a good CTR?
Truthfully, this is a hard question to answer.
A good CTR depends on intent, SERP features, and ad competition, just to name a few.
One tip is to look specifically at your industry and measure based upon those averages. You can do that with the Advanced Web Ranking CTR tool by using the industry view.
You then can compare these figures against your own CTR by position.
If you’re an Advanced Web Ranking user, you can see that easily within organic CTR reports found within the tool.
Check what your CTR is for positions 1-5. Is it below the industry average? If so, there may be room for improvement.
Tracking and finding CTR opportunities
So now you’re familiar with what CTR is and how you can grow it, you’ll want to keep track of it.
One way to track your CTR is through GSC.
With GSC, you can identify the pages/queries on your site with a high or low CTR and measure them over time.
As a quick guide on doing this, use the CTR tool to see what CTR you should be getting within your industry from positions 1-3.
Next, head to the performance section of GSC and filter for keywords with a position below 3.1.
Now check the CTR you should have for position 3 in the tool; in this case, it is 10.83%.
Next, add a CTR filter for below that amount.
Check the keywords returned; it will give you a variety of CTR opportunities to track and improve.
If you want to take this a step further, you can also analyze keyword opportunities, including CTR ones within Google Data Studio.
CTR data insights
I’ve explained why CTR is essential and how you can improve it; here are some insights that I’ve found from the CTR tool to help guide your SEO strategy.
Commercial Search Intent has a higher CTR
As of January 2021, searches with commercial intent have a CTR of 33.92% for position 1, compared to 23.35% for position 1 of informational searches.
Commercial intent began to beat informational for position 1 CTR in 2017, and its CTR is increasing each year.
This could be because of featured snippets’ prevalence and answers on the SERP for informational search terms, while commercial queries generally require a click to the site.
Brand CTR is always higher than non-brand
CTR for brand positions 1-3 is 81.2%. CTR for unbranded positions 1-3 is 61.2%.
This stat shouldn’t come as a surprise; when a user searches for a brand, the intent is specific.
This stat carries on even to page 2, with CTR consistently being higher than non-brand.
The key takeaway from this is to invest in your brand. Sites can lose tons of traffic to their competitors if they have a weaker brand.
As you’d expect, big brands drive a lot of traffic through branded search, but one of the great benefits is that well-known brands can also see an improvement in non-branded CTR.
Long-tail keywords have a higher CTR
As of January 2021, data suggests that one-word keywords have a higher CTR than long-tail phrases for position one, but from position 2-10, three- to four-word keywords have a higher CTR.
This is all due to long-tail keywords being more specific in their intent.
Look at the "searches without clicks" data for "jeans" as an example.
A massive 61% of users do not click any result on the SERP. As you get more specific when searching "mens jeans," the searches without clicks decrease.
Long-tail keywords aren’t always as prioritized because they’re associated with lower search volume.
Don’t let that stop you. Lower search volume for longer, specific keywords could still mean more traffic and less competition, like in the earlier example.
As well as an increase in clicks, conversion rates also tend to be higher.
Featured snippets + people also ask reduces CTR
A common question I’ve seen is, "Do featured snippets lower CTR?"
It’s a good question because surely, if the searcher’s question has been answered on the SERP, why would they need to click through?
As of January 2021, this is the case. CTR dropped a massive 22% when comparing classic organic results to a SERP with both a Featured Snippet and People Also Ask box.
SERP features pretty much always drop CTR
Most SERP features reduce CTR.
As you can see from the data above, when comparing organic-only SERPs to ones with different SERP features, the CTR is always lower.
The lower CTR results from user intent being satisfied without needing to visit a website outside of Google.
The local pack allows you to call and get directions without visiting the site. Featured snippets and people also ask provide answers on the SERP, and the image SERP features help you find the image you’re looking for without leaving the SERP.
This does not mean, however, that you should ignore SERP features.
The time of higher CTRs from classic ten blue link SERPs has long gone. Instead, try to make the most of current search results by targeting all the different available features.
CTR dropped every year from 2015 - 2018
From 2015 to 2018, organic CTR dropped every year.
It begins to pick up in 2019, increasing by 1.57% from the previous year. In 2020 it increased by 1.93% compared to 2019.
While there isn’t any data to confirm the negative impact on CTR, I’d speculate the drop is due to featured snippets, and other SERP features increasing the number of no-click searches.
Videos increase CTR on the SERP
Despite this data, it’s not ALL negative! Video is a SERP feature that sees consistently increased CTR.
This trend chart from January 2021 shows that video on the SERP has a positive impact on the CTR, in positions where videos show up.
Video is an engaging piece of content; in fact, 30% of the neurons in the cortex of our brain are for vision, so it’s no surprise this format compels the searcher to click through to you.
So, what should you do with this knowledge?
First, use your rank tracker of choice to spot videos that are showing across your tracked keywords. In Advanced Web Ranking, there is a simple SERP feature filter that makes this easy.
Once you’ve done that, start investing time into creating videos for crucial search results you want to increase your CTR and clicks on.
CTR can change massively between industry
By checking the "categories" section of this tool, you get an excellent overview of how CTR differs by industry. Here is a summary of some example CTR curves by sector:
As you can see, they vary a lot.
Different SERP features can have a considerable impact on this.
For example, in the travel industry, you have Google flights which shows at the top of the search result.
The impact this has on the travel industry will be a lower CTR because of it. As new SERP features are introduced, you can expect them to make a difference.
Google also has SERP features like a mortgage calculator that takes clicks away from organic listings in finance-related searches.
And paid text ads and Google shopping are more prevalent within Ecommerce.
Google also has SERP features in jobs and education. While still classified as an organic result, it does make Google the search engine for jobs rather than other businesses.
These factors mean CTR modeling for opportunities has to be done against averages specific to your industry.
Don’t use top-level generic CTR figures that are in other studies; as you can see in this data, it varies massively.
So there you have it; hopefully you understand the importance of CTR and are armed with a list of implementations that, over time, will increase that figure!
Sam Underwood, a digital marketing expert with proficiencies in SEO, data analysis, site speed, CRO/UX and content strategy.
Sam has experience working on enterprise search strategies for some of the UK's largest brands such as AO, Reiss & Compare The Market.