Does CTR (Click Through Rate) as a direct ranking factor affect your site's performance?Let's see what the evidence says.
According to this featured snippet, "Google does use organic CTR as a ranking factor.
Of course, fact-checking isn't as simple as using whatever comes up first in a Google search as verification -- in fact, please don't.
To determine if CTR is a ranking factor, we're going to have to do some digging.
Claim: Click-through Rate (CTR) as a Ranking Factor
This topic has been a hotly debated topic for as long as we have practiced SEO.
Thorsten Joachims of Cornell University argued in his 2002 paper "Optimizing Search Engines Using Click-Through Data" that "a good information retrieval system should provide top-ranked relevant documents.He said click data from search engine query logs combined with logs of links users clicked should be used for rankings.
For the past five years, Larry Kim has advocated for CTR as a ranking factor, while Eric Enge has argued against it.AJ Kohn explains why he thinks it's a ranking signal;Dan Taylor delves into why he thinks it's not.
So who is right?
Let's look at the evidence.
Evidence of click-through rate (CTR) as a ranking factor
In 2016, Larry Kim ran an experiment comparing the click-through rate of 1 keyword terms in the same niche in paid and organic search."Something unusual is happening," he said, adding, "The difference (in our opinion) is that RankBrain is improving search rankings for pages with higher organic CTRs.
Kim concluded at the time that CTR and ranking were interdependent variables.There is a relationship there, but its exact nature is unclear.
We must never confuse correlation with causation.Here's the thing - this debate over whether CTR is a ranking factor begs the question: is it direct or indirect?
For our purposes, we are rigorously examining whether Google uses each factor in its ranking algorithm.There may be thousands of factors that indirectly support direct ranking factors, and we need to be careful not to confuse the two.
That's the problem with Rand Fishkin's 2014 CTR experiment, in which he blogged and asked people to search for a specific term and then click a link in the SERPs:
The blog post received 228 visits and was #XNUMX on Google that night.
As Fishkin puts it, "Let's be clear - this is not enough to prove that Google explicitly uses queries and clicks to rank pages.There may be other factors at play.
Even so, he titled the article "Queries and Clicks May Affect Google Results More Directly Than Previously Suspected."A legend was born.
As Enge explained, Fishkin's experiments appear to suggest that Google used CTR in its freshness algorithm at the time to reveal trending topics—not that CTR had a greater impact on Google results than previously suspected.
Evidence against click-through rate (CTR) as a ranking factor
As Roger Montti pointed out in his 2018 evaluation of CTR research papers, even in the aforementioned 2002 paper by Joachims, there are significant issues with CTR as a prospective ranking factor.Even at the time, experts recognized that using CTR as a ranking factor was susceptible to manipulation.
You can buy everything from Facebook likes and Instagram followers to links, comments and rotating articles.
Why don't people buy clicks?
If it was actually a ranking factor, they would definitely do it.
Now, Google has confirmed that in a controlled search quality test, CTR is used alongside other engagement metrics (as Enge documented, based on Google's 2016 SMX West slides, which have been taken private).
But it's not a ranking factor.
Do not believe?Google's Gary Illyes confirmed that CTR was not a Google ranking factor at Pubcon Las Vegas 2016.
"If you think about it, clicking is usually very noisy," Illyes said."People do weird things on search results pages.They click like crazy, and in general, cleaning this data is really, really hard.
CTR is also used for personalization, Illyes said, because the type of results an individual typically chooses can "teach" Google's algorithm what type of results the person prefers.
But can CTR as a direct ranking factor affect your site's overall performance?
CTR as a ranking factor: our verdict
Bottom line: There's no compelling evidence to support the idea that Google uses CTR as a direct search ranking signal.
That means there's no point trying to play the game -- Google has done it decades ago.
Should you track your organic CTR and try to improve it?Yes – because this is a metric you can use to see if your content is successful.
It won't help you rank better on Google.However, getting more traffic to your website is always a good thing.
CTR is too noisy, messy, and easy to play to be taken seriously as a ranking factor.
There are many more productive places to focus on your SEO efforts!