Organic Search 5 min read

Does CTR Have Any Impact on Ranking Performance?

By Scott Donnelly 14 October, 2022

It’s a question that has been asked for almost as long as SEO has been a practice. Does the click-through rate (CTR) a site receives from the SERP have any impact on its ranking for keywords or clusters?

Google has long danced around answering the question directly, often providing non-answers, or deliberately remaining vague.

That being said, there are a number of signs over the years, that do indicate that Google uses some sort of inference from SERP to site click behaviour to assess the quality of their results.

In 2012, a leaked patent surfaced showing that “the ranking itself is affected by the click data”.

The same statement said that if they see lower ranking results receiving more clicks than higher results, then they would look to switch those results around.

Within the same document, it reports that Google founders Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt, confirmed that clicks were used to feedback on whether or not their algorithm was offering high quality results.

Why CTR isn’t probably a ranking factor

Despite this, it is highly unlikely that CTR alone is a ranking factor.

  • Firstly, it’s very easily spammable.

    Simply triggering a result and clicking through on your listing multiple times, in no way should infer quality of result. Imagine the amount of Fiverr requests made for people to do this if it was the case!
  • Additionally, if this was demonstrably true, then we would see far more clickbait styled titles and meta descriptions.

    All of which would have zero intent of serving the users intent or need, but purely to drive clicks – and this is simply not the case today.

So, what role do clicks play?

So, while I do not buy into the fact that CTR itself is a core ranking factor within Google’s main ranking algorithm, that is not to say that I don’t think clicks themselves do play a role within how results are returned.

I do buy into the impact of CTR vs. return to SERP actions as being something that plays a role in the wider ranking algorithm.

Essentially, large volume of clicks that result in quick bounce backs to the SERP are likely to trigger a more negative reaction in ranking than fewer clicks but less users returning and looking for another result.

Bounce Rate is definitely not a ranking factor – it’s an Analytics metric.

However, the speed and frequency of which users clicks a result and returns to Google’s SERPs would be indicative of a poor quality experience for a user.

While this, in theory, could also be spammable, through Google’s intelligent use of machine learning, it is far more likely to be capable of picking up these true signals and using it to inform its ranking algorithm regarding the results and site/s in question.

Clicks do matter, just not directly CTR

In summary, yes – clicks from the SERP to your site do matter and they do play a role in how Google determines your ranking position within their algorithm.

However, it’s not CTR that drives this.

Users finding, clicking and staying on your site is far more important than just the sheer volume of clicks you receive.

However, that isn’t to say that getting a lot of clicks doesn’t help, just make sure the users are satisfied with what they find once they do.

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