CTR (Click Through Rate)

Optimising click through rates (CTR) is an important part of your search engine optimisation (SEO) work. In this article, you'll get an in-depth look at how to optimise your CTR to increase traffic from Google to your website.


What is CTR (Click Through Rate)

CTR (in English also called for click rate) is the percentage of users who click on your website in search results. If the website has 1,000 views on Google and 50 users click on it, the click-through rate is 5 %. The more people click on your website for a given search, the more relevant the website must be to the search and the higher Google will rank it in search results.

The average click-through rate for each of the 10 positions on Google page 1 is shown in the chart below. The chart is based on an analysis of 11.39 million Danish Google searches across 5,828 different keywords, which we compiled to find the average click-through rate for each position on Google.

Studies have shown that more than 40TP3T of all searches do not lead to a click because users get the answer to their query directly on Google. Together with a lower number of clicks on the ads (the paid search results), this is the reason for the relatively low click-through rates. Position 1-10 are search results on page 1.

Optimization of Click Through Rates

There are three factors that affect the CTR of your website: the position of the website in search results, the appearance of the website in search results and Google's display of other content in search results. The first is a result of your ongoing work with technologycontent and links and will therefore not be discussed in this article.

The latter includes Google's display of ads, images, Wikipedia excerpts, fact boxes and digital tools (such as a calculator) among the search results. These elements are beyond your control - except that you can buy ads and optimize images to get more clicks - and will therefore not be discussed here.

The focus of this article is thus the appearance of the website in the search results, which is primarily made up of a title tag (a clickable blue header) and a meta description (a short description) - two elements that you can control to a large extent. Before optimising these, you need to know the click-through rates to your website and identify the pages that need optimisation.

Mapping click-through rates to your website

Data on click-through rates to your website can be found in Google Search Console. Click on 'Efficiency' in the left menu, then click on the three boxes 'Total number of exposures', 'Average click rate' and 'Average position' as shown in the image below:

Click rates in Google Search Console

Below you will now see a list of queries (keywords on which your website has been displayed), exposures (the number of views for each keyword), CTR (the average click rate for each keyword) and location (your average position on Google for each keyword):

Click rates for keywords

Select a shorter date range at the top of the page to view current data. We recommend that you select either 'Last 7 days', 'Last 14 days' or 'Last 28 days' - the keywords displayed should, where possible, have at least 50 exposures each to ensure statistically accurate data. Then click '+ New' at the top of the page, select the country your website is targeting and finally click 'Apply'.

Identification of areas for action

The task now is to identify significant keywords on the list where your click-through rate is below the average level for your position on Google. So you need to compare your click rates with the average shown in the chart at the top. If your click rate is well below the average level, this should prompt action.

In the example above, the website has an average position of 1.5 for the keyword 'outdoor lamps'. The click-through rate should be between 10.7 % (position 2) and 21.1 % (position 1) according to the chart above, but it is only 7.1 %. On the other hand, the click rate for the keyword 'terrace boards' with an average position of 1.5 is quite as expected - 15.6 %.

The reason for the low click-through rate can be found by searching for the keyword in question. Below I have inserted a screenshot from a search for 'outdoor lamps', where I have placed the fictitious company AlfaByg at the top of the search results. It is AlfaByg that is suffering from the low click-through rate, and there are two very clear reasons for this.

Click rates on Google

One reason is that Google displays a large amount of ads both at the top of the page (in the form of text ads) and on the right of the page (in the form of Shopping adr). In addition, Google displays a number of images from Google Image Search below the text ads, and only below that are the actual search results, which have then naturally lost a number of clicks to the elements above.

The second reason is that AlfaByg has a very uninspiring appearance in the search results. Compare with the search result under (BetaByg), which contains a large number of inspiring sales messages and is therefore likely to attract the most clicks. The ads can't be helped, but many clicks can be gained by optimising the appearance of the page (title tag and meta description).

Note that Google may not display the title tag and meta description you have written. If Google can find text from your page that better matches the user's search query, Google will display that text instead. In the page management of your website, you can see the title tag and meta description you wrote the page - provided the website doesn't generate them automatically.

If your website generates them automatically, implement a solution that allows you to type them manually. There are plugins for most CMS systems that can do just this. If you use WordPress, we recommend that you install Yoast.

If your website is targeted at people abroad, you can use our global search engine to see the websites appearance in that country. Note, however, that Google will not display foreign ads as long as you are in Denmark. Therefore, you unfortunately have no way of assessing whether any ads are a contributing factor to a low click-through rate.

Optimisation of website appearance in search results

Your appearance in Google search results is made up of a title tag and a meta description. The title tag is a clickable, blue headline that summarises and creates interest in the page's content. The page meta description is a short description that elaborates and creates further interest in the content:

Example of Title Tag

These two pieces of content have a big impact on the percentage of users on Google who choose to click on your website over your competitors' websites. You can read more about the requirements for title tags and meta descriptions via the links above, so here I'll just list some common and useful optimisation options:

  • Keyword. Write the keyword at the beginning of the page title (as in the example above). Write the keyword in the page description 1-3 times, possibly in different inflections.
  • Sales messages. Write relevant sales messages (e.g. about price, freight, materials, durability and benefits) and include activating words like buy, order and book.
  • Numbers and lists. Use numbers and lists in the page title, for example 'The 8 best...', '412 % more...' and '475 kr.', to the extent relevant to the content of the page.
  • Use emojis in the page title and page description. Be careful not to appear too frivolous - not everyone likes emojis.
  • Length. Make sure the page title is 40-65 characters long including spaces and the page description is 120-160 characters long including spaces.
  • Form. Use vertical bar and dash to separate sentences in the page title, for example 'Standerlamper | Cheap lamps in Danish design - Lampekongen'.

Remember that a page is typically visible on many different keywords, and that optimising for one keyword should not be at the expense of a more important keyword. If you click on '+ New' at the top of Google Search Console, you can enter a page (a URL) and then see all the keywords for which the page is visible. Typically, the keyword with the most exposure is the most relevant to optimise the page against.

Structured data

In addition to the page title tag and meta description structured data is used to boost your visibility on Google and thus increase your click-through rates. Structured data allows Google to display ratings, prices, contact information, reviews, events, address and more directly in search results:

Structured data on Google

Read more about structured data.

Evaluation and adjustment of the action

If you have a large website that is updated frequently, Google will usually detect changes to the site in a matter of days. In other cases, it can take up to two weeks for Google to detect the changes. Therefore, when evaluating your work, you should disregard data for the first 1-2 weeks after you've made your changes to make sure that the changes have taken effect.

We recommend a test period of 14 days after your changes are registered by Google, compared to the last 14 days before the implementation of the changes. Compare the click-through rate and your position on Google during the two periods. To isolate the impact of your work, make no other changes to the page in question during the test period.

If click-through rates have improved, you can optimise new pages based on the lessons learned from your work. If click-through rates are unchanged or worsening, you need to try a different solution based on assumptions about what you can do better. You may want to test several solutions in parallel on different pages with the same position on Google, for example to quickly test different sales messages.

Is Google stealing your visitors?

Google's commercial behaviour has a big impact on your website's Click Through Rates. Some would argue - perhaps rightly - that Google is stealing your content and your visitors, and that this has big consequences for you. However, you can't do anything about it, so maybe it's not an issue worth your time. Nevertheless, here's an explanation:

Over the past few years, we've seen an increasing number of examples of Google using your content to keep users on Google rather than directing them to your website. Google does this to improve the user experience, they say, but the truth is also that the longer Google can keep users, the more ads they can show and the more money they can make. The question is, what impact does Google's actions have on your search engine optimisation (SEO) work, and is what Google does fair?

Google (mis)uses your content

Google increasingly displays the information the user is looking for directly in the search results. Since 2014, Google has been displaying so-called highlighted excerpts (featured snippets) at the top of search results for certain searches:

Featured snippets on Google

In the above example, I have searched for "what are parrot plates". Google gives me an answer to the question right away, which is quite convenient for me as a user. But it's not necessarily so for the content creator, because I don't have to click through to their website to read it.

CelebrityNetWorth.com has felt the consequences of this very problem. Their attendance dropped by 65 % from February 2016 to February 2017, after Google started displaying featured snippets from their website. Google actually asked CelebrityNetWorth.com for permission first, but subsequently chose to follow the adage "don't take no for an answer". Brian Warner, the man behind CelebrityNetWorth.com, himself describes Google's approach as follows:

It's a big ask. Like, hey, let us tap into the most valuable thing that you have, that has taken years to create and we've spent literally millions of dollars, and just give it to us for free so we can display it.

Google Image Search is another example of Google displaying content from other websites. For example, image search allows me to see pictures of all the sights in Berlin without having to visit the travel sites where the pictures originated:

Google Image Search

If I click on a picture, I get to see the picture in large size - on Google. If I then click the "View Image" button, the image opens in a new window, and only the small URL at the top of the browser window reveals that I'm no longer on Google. With Google's new "Saved Images" feature, I can even save andres pictures directly in my private Google photo directory.

Google (mis)uses freely available content

Google displays freely available content from Wikipedia and other sources for certain types of information searches (including searches for people, companies, countries, food and events). Here, for example, I searched for a Justin Bieber concert - with no connection to my personal taste in music, by the way! Note how small a proportion of the results page are actual search results, and that all the areas marked in red are clickable elements that take the user to other Google pages:

Own links in Google Search

A results page like the one above, with so many links to Google itself, leaves little room for users to click away from Google. By the way, note the exposure of YouTube (top right column and bottom left column) - YouTube has been owned by Google since 2006.

Google's so-called Knowledge map (Knowledge Graphs) is another example where Google presents freely available information to the user - in this case statistics from the World Bank:

Google uses self-produced content

Finally, there are cases where Google displays self-produced content, for example in the form of Google Flights - a search engine for airline tickets. A move that has probably cost sites like Expedia, Momondo, Travelmarket and Skyscanner, which make their living comparing airfares, a large number of visitors:

Google Flights

In this way, Google encourages the affected websites to buy Google Ads, as this is the only way they can be displayed above Google's own content. It's clever - and perhaps a little too clever.

On the simpler side, Google has developed a metronome - a tool musicians use to find an exact tempo - which appears when you search for "metronome":

Google's metronome only touches a few searches and a few websites, but it's an interesting tool because it shows that Google is not afraid to produce content for relatively small niches. Google can also display weather forecasts, stock prices, clocks, stopwatches, currency conversions, sports scores, calculators, geographical maps, cinema times, sunrise and sunset times, package tracking and much more.

Google forces you to pay for your visitors

While trying to keep users on Google, Google has changed the layout of Google Adsso they look more and more like organic search results. A move designed to increase the effectiveness of Google Ads - at the expense of organic search results:

Google Ads

On page 1, up to four Google Ads can be placed above search results and up to three ads below search results. On product searches, Google Ads can be complemented by up to six shopping ads in such a way that the entire screen is plastered with ads:

Google Shopping Ads

On a results page like this, stuffed with ads, the visibility of organic search results is very low, forcing Google to pay out if you want visitors to your website. It is also paradoxical that Google since 2012 has penalized websitesnot showing real content above the fold (in the visible part of the screen), and that Google itself is now at odds with its own ethical guidelines. Nice one, Google.

What impact does Google's actions have on you?

It is clear that with all these measures Google is trying to keep users on Google, thereby increasing the likelihood that users will click on an ad. In other words, as a content creator, you potentially lose a lot of visitors if you don't pay for them. This happened to Wikipedia, which two years ago lost over half a billion visitors in six months, probably because Google started displaying Wikipedia content directly on the search page.

It's remarkable that Google - one of the world's largest companies - makes a living by displaying content to users, but that it produces a negligible amount of the content itself. The premise for letting Google use our content is that Google sends a lot of free traffic our way. If Google stops doing that, why should Google be allowed to use our content?

Does this mean we should stop letting Google use our content? No. With a market share in Denmark on 95% is like putting a gun to your head.

Use the situation to your advantage

Despite a few scare examples, there is actually great visitor potential to be gained from Google's featured snippets. For example, Nayomi Chibana experiencedthat traffic to a page on her website more than tripled after the page achieved a featured snippet, and this is not unlike the trends we see with several of our clients.

If your website is ranked in the top 10 for a given search, it can be profiled in a highlighted snippet with a little luck. And the effort required is relatively small. Achieving a top position on Google usually requires a very targeted SEO strategy, but with a highlighted snippet you can leapfrog your competitors with relatively few tweaks to your website - provided the site ranks in the top 10.

Highlighted snippets typically appear on information searches where the user is looking for general information, for example to get an answer to a question. In other words, to achieve a featured snippet, you need to identify what questions your audience is looking for and then provide them with the answer on your website. Richard Baxter has produced a good guide to, how to optimize your content for featured snippets.

Google's image search is also a place where there are many visitors. Many overlook the traffic that image search can potentially generate. There are basically three tips you need to follow if you want to optimize the visibility of your images: 1) Give your images a file name that describes the content of the images. 2) Use an alt tag when you insert the images on the website. 3) Make sure that the images have a short and readable web address.

Google's own content is no match for you. But others are trying. The EU has opened a case against Google claiming that when you search for weather forecasts, stock quotes and other services, Google places links to its own products at the top, while competing products rank lower. Similarly, there is little you can do about Google showing freely available content from, say, Wikipedia. So far, you don't have the option of having your own content profiled - or misused, if you like - in the same way as Wikipedia.


Henning Madsen

Founder, CEO & Head of SEO

Se forfatter

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