This week, Slingshot SEO’s Research & Development department released its first research project, “Mission ImposSERPble: Establishing Google Click-Through Rates” – a study on user search behavior that was over two months in the making. The study examined CTR for non-branded keywords in organic positions 1-10.
We’d like to give a special thanks to SEOmoz for posting the blog announcing the release and to the readers who provided their feedback and support. The study has sparked a lot of interesting discussions as well as ideas for further research.
You Spoke. We Listened.
One of the suggested ideas was to extend our research beyond positions 1-10:
“I’d LOVE to see the results for 11-20. Who knows…maybe, just maybe 11-20 spots have value after all. Wouldn’t it be nice though to really know that it DOES matter in that spot when talking to clients if you have the data to prove it? … We’re all going for Top 10, but how many times have you been stuck in the mud on page 2” – Kyle Neuberger, Inbound Marketing Strategist, Firespring.
Our R&D team will be conducting a study for the same time period as “Mission ImposSERPble” (January – June 2011) to help determine the relative value of positions 11-20. We can use this to compare to our initial study and use as a reference when comparing with user behavior after even more changes are made to the user interface.
By doing this, we can help answer questions like these:
“And I’m wondering if we will even think about pages 2, 3, 4 in the future if the testing of the continuous page rolls out and sticks. Wonder how that will affect CTRs? #rhetorical” –Dana Lookadoo, SEO Consultant, Yo! Yo! SEO
Breaking Down Each Search
There were a couple of key points made by SEOmoz readers that are important and that should have been explained more in-depth in the blog post.
From our study:
“An interesting implication of our CTR curve is that for any given SERP, the percentage of users who click on an organic result in the top 10 is roughly 52%.”
What this means:
After a search is made, the user is faced with many options, the likelihood of which can be broken down like this:
“For those of you complaining that the study uses Adwords tool numbers, remember it’s the relative CTR that matters (not precise %).” – Rand Fishkin, CEO + Co-founder of SEOmoz
- 18.2% to Position #1
- 10.1% to Position #2
- 7.2% to Position #3
- 4.8% to Position #4
- 3.1% to Position #5
- 2.8% to Position #6
- 1.9% to Position #7
- 1.8% to Position #8
- 1.5% to Position #9
- 1.0% to Position #10
- X% to Adwords Paid Results
- X% to News/Places/Images/Shopping/Videos Results
- X% to Re-queries
- X% to those who go on to Page 2
- X% to those who bounce (not including Page 2 or re-queries)
Many attribute the “lower” click-through rates to a rise in paid results visits, but that isn’t necessarily true. The other 48% of visits go to much more than just Adwords results, which demonstrates the importance of a long-tail strategy to capture as much of the traffic from page one and two results, and in some cases, traffic from the verticals.
Bryant Tutterow, AVP – Marketing, HCC Medical Insurance Services, explains, “The more valuable the keyword phrase, the more competition and advertising you will see. This really points to the need for a solid long-tail strategy even with SEO and ranking for broad and phrase matching.”
From our study: “The statistical inferences that are found in this study should not be generalized to the entire population of SERPs since they are made on the basis of our client databank and, hence, are subject to many confounding variables.”
The study was intended to be used as a guideline, and the CTR curve should not be treated as absolute. Perhaps the most interesting finding from our research is the relationship between the positions along the curve, and how that compares with previous studies.
“It’s the relative CTRs (ratios between 1st / 2nd etc) that provide the insight from this for me (and which fit my pre-existing experience and prejudices!)
So, in terms of traffic worth:
1st is approximately 4x 4th position
2nd is approximately 2x 4th position
3rd is approximately 1.5x 4th position
Great work, but don’t trust the absolute CTRs!” –Dr. David Sewell, SEOmoz commenter.
Discrepancies/Inaccuracies with the Google Adwords Keyword Tool
From our study: “One of the confounding variables is that the data from Google Adwords is likely to be overstated due to rounding, making our click-through-rates slightly understated. However, our CTR curve can serve as a baseline model, as it is better to understate projections than to overstate.”
Rand Fishkin, CEO + Co-founder of SEOmoz, summed up this problem best in his tweet: “For those of you complaining that the study uses Adwords tool numbers, remember it’s the relative CTR that matters (not precise %).”
The Google Adwords Keyword Tool is not as accurate as we would like it to be, and there are several reasons for this. The first is that “Google inflates search volume data to sustain advertising competition. The real search volume of a keyword is generally always lower. So CTR should be higher in this case.” -Himanshu Sharma, SEOmoz commenter
It is highly likely that Google overstates their search volumes, resulting in lower reported click-through rates for organic results. However, no adjustments were made to the Adwords exact match data in our study since we are uncertain to the degree in which Google inflates reported search volumes.
Another reason for some discrepancies, as explained by Matt Cutts, “To give you a little perspective, the Google Analytics team is separate from the Google Webmasters Tool team. In fact they are in different locations. They use different code basis. They’re really sort of completely different silos within Google. So it’s not as if a ton of data sharing goes on between those two areas of Google.”
Click-through rates are one of the most sought after metrics in the SEO industry, and determining a CTR curve depends on a lot of factors, some of which we simply cannot control.
One must think outside the SERP and consider the context of studies on click-through rates to decide what’s really important. Rank isn’t everything. By creating quality, relevant content, links that people will click, a dynamic site architecture, and social signals, your campaign can have a powerful marketing strategy that is based on more than just click-through-rates from primary keywords.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the follow-up report on positions 11-20.