June 08, 2008 - 20 comments

Does Google Use Click-Thru Rate (CTR) in their Organic Listings too?

Update: I'd like to thank all of the Sphinners out there who helped put this article on the front page.  A special thanks goes out to these two who helped get this article there.  Thanks!

We all know that Google uses the Click Thru Rate (CTR) in their paid listings. Heck, you can even see the CTR of each of your own running ads in the Google Adwords dashboard.

So with that same technology, is it sensible to think they use the same technology to improve the relevancy of their organic results too?

Case + Point:

Google has a limited amount of factors that they can distill from their own personal analytics. With that set of data, they have to try and extract the most meaning possible.

If Google serves the same 10 results for "WordPress Consulting" over and over then hypothetically each result should get 10% of the clicks.

(Even when we consider that people have a tendency to click on the higher ranked results, there should still be some kind of average curve that Google is well aware of. Just for fun, let's say that Google's Average CTR on the average search is something like this:

seo traffic curve

Google would easily be able to factor into their algorithm any anomoly in this curve for any search. So if one result seems to be getting more clicks than it should be (based on the curve), it would seem that it is appealing for some reason to users.

Did someone saying "appealing to users"? That sounds like something Google would like. (Insert contradictory example here... but you know what I mean)

An anomoly might look like this:

seo good curve

Google's best move at this point would be to boost up that result so more people see it. (Note to Google Staff... I KNOW you guys read my blog, like, DAILY, so contact me and I might be open to some freelance stuff at your headquarters. But only because of the food.)

To take this mental experiment one step futher, I'm going to ask all of you to put on your thinking caps for a moment... we are about to go down the rabbit hole.

Search Engines are large mechanisms that direct an impulse. They connect us to our queries.

But if you've ever looked at a large set of search queries, you'll realize that people are searching for their needs, wants, and desire; they're not the search terms we would expect as webmasters and SEO's.

You're more likely to see a search like:

"Why do my feet hurt when I wear tight socks" then
"Comforable Socks"

People are hoping that Search Engines are going to send them to the right place, and obviously the users are having luck with it.

As a result, the Search Engines are looking for TASTY (compelling, interesting, intriqing) results even more than they are looking for "relevant" results. Tasty results send the user away happy. If Junk Food Content gets people coming back, then why serve them a veggie plate (ie An Authoritative result that might be more complex to mentally digest)?

Not everyone wants an authoritative result, sometimes they just want a bite-sized morsel of information candy.

So by measuring the Click Thru Rate (CTR) of their users' searches and impulses, Google is helping to seperate the tasty results from the general index made up of anchor text and sheer number of links.

And by determining what content is tasty, they can send users away happy, even if the best result for their impulse wasn't the one that had the best anchor text and highest number of links.

How to Live in a World Where Google DOES Factor CTR into their Organic Results:

If Google did incorporate the CTR into their organic listings, it is all the more important to write compelling titles and meta-descriptions for each of your pages. And it wouldn't hurt to have more descriptive URL's too.

There is also the task of making your meta data appealing, but I think few users are savvy enough to really look at your meta-data to determine if it meets their search criteria.

End Result:

You should be doing this stuff anyway:

1. Write compelling (and length-appropriate) title tags
2. Write compelling (and length-appropriate) meta descritions
3. Have clean urls that have compelling words in them.

But if you aren't already doing this stuff, you have been warned. And if you want to find out how to do this better, ask me about how I pay the bills.

Published by: Bradley in Uncategorized


Ramon Eijkemans
June 8, 2008 at 3:42 pm

I couldn’t agree more. I wonder how the google toolbar fits into this thought-experiment. It seems to me that that is another tool Google really is using to find out stuff like this.

Compelling title-tags and descriptions are something you should write anyway, especially when you’re against tough competition in the SERPs.

Jim Cropcho
June 9, 2008 at 11:30 am

Interesting way to look at it. You make me realize that PageRank and CTR are related.

Liam Delahunty
June 10, 2008 at 4:37 am

The thing is, if you had this data and were Google, would you use it? Would it improve the experience for their users?

IMO, CTR, bounce rate, saving to favourites etc are indicators of quality and would be factored into the results.

June 10, 2008 at 8:26 am

Interesting point of view!

Brad Coffey
June 10, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Wouldn’t that open Google up to fraud though? I could just run a search for a keyword I’m targeting for repeatedly click on my own link. It’d be another form of click fraud (although one without targeted victim for sure)

June 10, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I just commented on the sphinn, but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts here. I think click through and bounce rate are an incredibly fascinating metric, but a slippery slope of determining (spellcheck, LOL) user intent. What do you think?

June 10, 2008 at 2:52 pm

@Brad Coffey:

Yeah, I totally agree that click fraud is certainly a consideration… as an SEO, that’s the kind of stuff I’d be interested in testing.. (wink wink)


Ann Smarty
June 11, 2008 at 5:47 am

I am happy to see the post went hot!

July 27, 2008 at 11:52 am

This is some great information. I also 2nd the bounce rate concern if you have visitors that click on ads immediately after entering a site.

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