Click through rate is a key optimisation metric in most paid channels because there is explicit data regarding the number of page impressions provided by the publisher. Natural Search and social media activity don’t generally provide marketers with that kind of information although there are ways to approximate it and to produce valid data to work from when optimising a campaign for more efficiency.
Optimising CTR in Natural Search
Unless you’re running a paid search campaign in parallel with your natural search activity, then getting valid CTR is difficult. Google do provide some information via the Adwords keyword tool:
While there are numbers of searches provided within the interface, they’re not all that accurate, but they’re a good starting point to work from.
In terms of expected CTR, there have been a number of studies done into user behaviour on the search results – some based on the AOL data that was leaked a few years ago, and some based on usability tests that have been carried out. In most cases, the expected CTR across the SERP is expressed as a curve like this:
The implication of this type of curve is that ranking in position 1 will give you about 22% of the available traffic, while at position 3, you get about 3%. Below that point, the traffic becomes negligible. What’s important to note though is that the data that has been used is always based on the first click on the results. Some people will return to the SERP several times as they complete their research, and this can lead to multiple interactions, and will result in higher levels of traffic further down the page. Arguably, if you are ranking lower in the rankings, you may well have a better chance of conversion than in position 1 as you are the “last seen” result.
Having said that, you always want to rank at number 1, for the traffic benefits…
Based on these two approximations, you are able to get a feel for how much traffic you should be getting for a given position for a given search term. For example, if you are ranking at position 2 for a term that has 2000 searches per month, you would expect to get around 115 visits (5.75% CTR).
This still isn’t much information to work from, especially if you want to carry out effective optimisation that requires you to change things on a daily basis and monitor the results. You need to get a day by day traffic volume estimator.
The best way of doing this is to look for a search term in your analytics that you have had a consistent ranking for a month for. Ideally, this should be a keyword that is highly related to the test term so that usage patterns are likely to be similar. Once you have this term, you can plot the traffic over the course of a month and then create a model about how the search volume is distributed over time:
This chart shows a typical weekly demand pattern, with lower search volume at the weekend, and a general growth over the course of a month.
Using the Data
Once you have some benchmarking data, you can start to optimise your listings for improved CTR. There are essentially two elements you can work with to create a better click through: Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. You ideally want to make your search listing look as eye catching and appealing as possible, and there are some restrictions you need to consider. 66 characters in your title, 160 characters in your Meta Description. Any more, and you will not have the full message displayed.
To Brand or Not to Brand
In theory, when you’re working with a well known brand, this is a no-brainer. Having a clear association with a brand and a product should have a positive impact on CTR if you include it, however there is only one way to know for sure. Test. Conventional wisdom is often wrong, so don’t just assume anything. Also, only ever test one thing at once. It’s much easier to reproduce results when you know what had the impact:
Try branding in different places in the title: the beginning and the end, as well as leaving it out altogether:
- Brand / Product
- Product / Brand
Run each for a period of time, and see which performed better vs expected traffic:
From the sample above, you would take the conclusion that the having the brand first in the page title was the optimal variation, and then move onto the next subject.
There are numerous different things that you can test within your SERP message including:
- Use of modifiers (cheap, cheapest, luxury, UK etc)
- Different call to action (click now, visit the site, buy now, don’t miss out)
- Your USP (free delivery, UK call centres)
- Offer data (current price, % discount / save 10%, actual discount / save £5)
What will appeal to one group of potential customers will not necessarily appeal to another – for example, a large value item may get a CTR boost with an actual discount amount – eg. £100, while a lower value product might elicit a better response from a percentage discount.. You might also find that a larger actual number: £50 vs 25% might get a better response, even though the physical amount might be smaller.
Isn’t that a lot of work?
Yes. It is. But, it should also be a fundamental part of any ongoing SEO campaign, because it ensures that even if you’re not seeing an improvement in rankings, you can still see an improvement in traffic, and given that Google are tracking CTR as part of their social and personalised search overlays, you might find that they implement some kind of EdgeRank like algorithm into their general search results in the future, and as a result, any site that out performs the expected CTR from a given position in the rankings is likely to get a boost.