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More on Organic Click-Through Rates in Google
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Quite often we get asked about click-through rates in Google.  Specifically organic click-through rates.  Recently Slingshot SEO released their study on establishing Google click-through rates.  The study makes reference to a study from Optify as well as Marketing to a B2B Technical Buyer that we released at Enquiro back in 2007.  The results from the Slingshot study are significantly lower than other studies and numbers that we have seen.  Establishing click-through rates for Google is not an easy task as there are many factors that can impact the CTR of Google’s search results.  The single biggest factor that impacts establishing a somewhat accurate click-through rate report is the nature of the search query.  The type of queries being used for these CTR case studies will result in different findings.  For example when we conducted the study at Enquiro in 2007 we found that for navigational searches, searchers rarely look beyond the first couple of results; with informational and transactional searches, there is scanning much further down the page.  So suffice to say the nature of the search query has a direct impact on the organic CTR.

One thing is for sure, the same as it was in 2007 holds true in 2011 and that is the importance of being on the first page of search results.  Specifically the importance of being in the top three to four results is key to obtaining clicks and organic search traffic.  Regardless of these CTR studies, my experience over the years suggests that there is no single important position to be in than in the number one or number two spot on a SERP.  Being in the top spot is where you want to be no question.  One of the issues that I have with the reported numbers from the Slingshot SEO study is the low CTR of the top spot in which they report a CTR of 18.25%.  While the study acknowledges the fact that their findings are lower than previous studies, their top spot CTR just seems extremely low.  Again it is important to stress that the nature of the search query and the results that are returned will have a direct impact on what people will click on.

Fact:  When we did our original research studies we found that the percentage of organic search results that were clicked when compared to paid results was about a 70/30 split, realistically it was probably closer to 80/20.  Meaning that 80% of the clicks were from organic search results.  Today, even with the ever changing SERP, it is safe to suggest that the 70/30 split holds true.   Yes, the majority of searchers still prefer to click an organic search result.  Even with blended search results populating some search queries, organic is the place to be... well actually having a paid and organic presence for a key phrase can be quite beneficial (but that’s a post for another day).  The fact is more people still click organic than sponsored listings.

Looking at the CTR data from Slingshot, the top 10 organic results turned out roughly 53-55% of the clicks.  Where then did the other 45-47% of the clicks go?  With the study we did at Enquiro, our findings suggested that about 73% of  the clicks went to organic results, 19% went to sponsored results and about 8% went to what we called “missing” implying that people either clicked back in their browser or clicked to another SERP.  Have search behaviours changed that much in the past four or five years?

The Ever Changing Search Results Page
One thing that has definitely changed is the aesthetics of Google’s SERP.  At times it is reminiscent of an ASK.com home page (which I feel was ahead of their time) with blended results ranging from news listings to videos, blog results, local listings, multiple listings from the same domain additional search option links and more.  Add in the fact that since the roll out of Caffeine, Google`s search results have been shall we say questionable as some suggest that Google results are ``broken``, the landscape of a Google SERP is not what it once was.

The slingshot findings suggest that the impact of blended search results remains to be seen.  Well that is not entirely true.  Considering the fact that technically blended results could be classified as organic results, that is results that you do not have to pay for to be listed within the SERP itself.  Additional studies that we did at Enquiro suggest that blended results do have an impact on CTRs, or at least they can impact where the eyes focus as a video result for example “chunks out” a portion of the page drawing the eyes and potential clicks to listings above or below the rich media result.  Or do blended results act as barriers on a SERP similar to other barriers found on SERPs pages?  Again we need to be aware that this can change depending on the nature of the search query.  

I think that these CTR studies are great.  We need more of them and with greater frequency.  Organic click-through and Google click-through data is not as elusive as it once was.  However there are a lot of factors that come into play when establishing accurate CTR percentages.  The fact remains that being in the top three spots of a Google search results is preferred.  Anything else is simply residual clicks and traffic.  Obtaining the click is only part of the battle, engaging your site visitors after the click is a whole other issue that we could discuss at length.

Additional Resources on Organic Click-Through Rates

Organic Click Through Rate - Brand vs Intent vs Research keyphrases
Organic Click Through Rate Curve – Optify Study
Google Organic Click-Through Rates
Eye-Tracking Analysis of User Behavior in WWW Search
Redcardinal AOL data analysis
SEObook CTR post
SEO Scientist looks at Organic CTR and eyetracking studies
More on eyetracking studies

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posted by Jody @ Thursday, August 11, 2011  
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