CTR, how much the click-through rate counts and how to calculate it

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It is one of the most frequently used terms in digital marketing and it is easy to understand why, given its importance in evaluating the concrete effectiveness of the strategies implemented: on the surface, the CTR or click-through rate is a simple numerical value indicating the percentage of clicks and, therefore, of people who visit a web page from an advertisement or from Google SERPs, but in reality it represents an important compass for understanding the success of optimization to capture the interest of a potential visitor or to realise a conversion.

What is CTR

By the acronym CTR we refer to the click-through rate, i.e. the percentage of clicks that measures the effectiveness of online advertising, an extremely important parameter to understand the conversion rate of an ad or to check the relationship between the organic visibility of results positioned in SERPs and the actual clicks on the link, and thus to understand how and where to intervene to increase the results on a site.

The definition of CTR, the click-trough rate

In concrete terms, the CTR is the ratio of delivered impressions to actual clicks and refers to the percentage of people who click on an element they have been exposed to, which can be a link, a banner, a campaign or something else.

Basically, click-through rate is calculated by simply dividing the number of people who clicked on a given element by the total number of visitors to that page, and thus we can define CTR as the percentage of impressions that produced a click in relation to the total number of views obtained by the element itself.

The CTR metric can be used in digital marketing to analyze the results of e-mails, web pages and online advertising (Google, Bing, Yahoo), and more generally it is one of the first values that are evaluated to measure the success of marketing efforts.

For example, PPC click-through rate is the frequency with which PPC ads are clicked, and more precisely the percentage of people who view an ad (impressions) and then continue to click on the ad (clicks). Other common cases where CTR is measured are:

In Google Ads, the click-through rate (CTR) can also be used to measure the performance of keywords, ads and free cards.

Another acronym to know in order to optimise strategies is CTOR, the click-to-open rate, which instead takes into account the number of people who explicitly clicked on the advertising message (excluding, in practice, clicks from the same user).

  • A call-to-action link in an email (email marketing)
  • A hyperlink on a landing page.
  • A PPC ad on a Google search results page.
  • An organic result placed in a SERP.
  • An ad on a social media site such as LinkedIn or Facebook.

In Google Ads, the click-through rate (CTR) can also be used to measure the performance of keywords, ads and free cards.

Another acronym to know in order to optimise strategies is CTOR, the click-to-open rate, which instead takes into account the number of people who explicitly clicked on the advertising message (excluding, in practice, clicks from the same user).

CTR formula: how the click-through rate is calculated

In mathematical terms, the CTR formula is calculated by dividing the number of clicks on an element by the number of people who saw that element, or more precisely the total number of clicks by the number of total impressions.

La formula del CTR

Typically, we can view the CTR within the PPC account dashboard or on analytics tools, and the Google Search Console also allows us to check all information about it, within the Performance Report. Alternatively, we can calculate the click-through rate manually by first taking the number of times an ad or webpage is clicked on and then dividing it by the number of impressions obtained; we now multiply this value by 100 to obtain a percentage, which will be the click-through rate.

To give a practical example, if a banner ad uploaded on a web page is viewed 100 times but only one person clicks on it, the CTR will be 1 per cent; similarly, if a PPC ad had 1,000 impressions and one click, it is a CTR of 0.1 per cent, or if a page placed on Google was clicked 150 times after being viewed 3,000 times it will have a CTR of 5 per cent (because 150 clicks divided by 3,000 impressions multiplied by 100 gives precisely 5 per cent).

CTR meaning: what a high or low click-through rate means

Now that we know how CTR is calculated and that we have obtained this value, we must learn how to use and evaluate it.

Simplistically, having a high CTR means that a high percentage of people who see the element actually click on it, and this is usually a good thing, because it means that the page is well constructed to meet people’s expectations and piques their curiosity and interest.

In practical terms, in the field of SEO, a high click-through rate indicates that our page has achieved good visibility in Google’s SERPs or that the ad is attracting interest; as a result, the site may get more traffic per Google impressions and, potentially, an increase in conversions, depending on the intent of the landing page.

In order to interpret the CTR, however, we need to evaluate a few aspects: first of all, as mentioned above, the click-through rate makes us understand how relevant users consider our ad or web page to be, thanks also to the boost coming from the copy of the metadata, which is actually our site’s businness card on Google.

When the CTR value is high, users believe that the page or ad they saw is engaging and highly relevant; conversely, a low CTR may indicate that optimisation on elements did not result in pages or ads that were sufficiently engaging or highly relevant to be chosen by the user, and ‘under scrutiny’ there may go content, poor creativity or poor targeting.

Which CTR is good?

It is not possible, however, to define some reference CTR thresholds, and thus determine what is a ‘good’ click-through rate for all types of sites, because this value also depends (very much) on the type of site, the type of message and thus the reference benchmark.

And so, from a purely statistical point of view, a good CTR depends on various factors, and click-through rates are naturally different from campaign to campaign and even from keyword to keyword; moreover, all the elements that are part of the way the ad is displayed play a role, from the ad text to the placement of the ad on the results page.

It follows that – beyond the general and generic hope of achieving a high CTR – there is no magic number to aim for, because precisely the average click-through rate varies by sector, and the expected CTR depends, among other factors, on the position of the ad, the set of keywords we are competing for, and also on the individual campaigns within a PPC account.

A few years ago, the WordStream platform analysed benchmarks for the average CTR in Google Ads in 20 common sectors, shown in the image below; according to other, even more recent sources, the average CTR in Google Ads is 1.91% for search and 0.35% for display, although precisely these are average values that must then be more precisely referenced to one’s own sector. As a rule of thumb, however, it is considered that a good click-through rate in Google Ads is above 4-5% on the search network and above 0.5-1% on the display network.

Analisi del CTR con benchmark di WordStream

How to optimize the click percentage

When we are struggling with low CTR, there are several factors to consider when trying to increase click-through rate on different digital marketing channels, and the type of intervention depends (inevitably) on the medium.

For example, if the click-through rate is low on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, we need to consider which hashtags might help us expand the reach to the target audience, or if we are trying to increase the CTR on a PPC ad, we need to pay close attention to the headline and text first.

In principle, there are however four tips that could be valid ‘regardless’ when we are trying to improve CTR:

  1. Optimize title and copy, using keyword focuses and trying to intercept the emotions and needs of the target audience (e.g. solving a perceived problem).
  2. Include a CTA, a direct and convincing call to action that prompts the audience to click.
  3. Using images and visual elements: depending on the marketing channel, different types of images may perform better than others, and running A/B tests allows us to find out which and what works best for our brand.
  4. Use of hashtags, valid on multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for example), trying to discover trending or popular hashtags in our industry and related to our copy to increase the chances of being seen by our target audience.

Click through rate and SEO: why CTR is important

But let’s come to our daily field of activity.

In SEO, the expression click trough rate refers precisely to the click-through rate of a result appearing in the SERPs of a search engine in relation to the total number of impressions (the number of times users have seen the link).

As a metric, then, the CTR tells us how relevant searchers find our ad and, by extension, when the content is perceived as matching the search intent that Google identifies for that query.

It can therefore be a very important performance indicator within a strategy, and essentially its increase can be based on optimization of the preview snippets – title and meta description, for the textual part, or structured data for enriched results – which serve to distinguish our page from the other results and push users to click.

Before clicking on a result, in fact, the average user evaluates the elements he can see in SERPs as a preview, i.e. the title, the description text (or the abstract as abstract), the URL and possibly the rich snippets, and by taking care of these details one can hope to obtain a high CTR from Google towards our page.

CTR and Google: the value of positions

As can be easily guessed, not all SERPs are equal, and positions on Google have different weight: it is no coincidence that SEO is increasingly focusing on trying to reach the top 3, because by now even a top 10 position may not be enough to actually get a click.

Over the years, there have been various studies that have tried to estimate the average value of positions on Google, highlighting some interesting aspects.

For instance, a study by advancedwebranking.com tried to analyze how much a top 10 position on Google is worth in terms of CTR, in the light of the progressive transformations and evolutions of the SERPs, revealing in particular that internationally the number 1 position on Google from desktop gets 33.19 per cent of clicks, while from mobile the CTR drops to 29.06 per cent, with the subsequent positions having obviously lower values.

In the latest update of these tables – available on a monthly basis – it can be seen that in just a few years, the weight of the CTR has dropped further, and today the CTR of the first position on Google from desktop is 31.87 per cent, while from mobile it is still 29 per cent.

IL CTR di Google nel 2022

This image, on the other hand, shows the negative evolution of the curve of organic clicks on Google, comparing the values of 2015 and the current values of 2022.

Evoluzione della curva dei clic da Google

Another report, by Milestone Research, focused instead on the complexity of SERPs, showing the click-through curve with respect to branded/unbranded queries and results for desktop and mobile devices. In summary, the survey reports that the average CTR of all results – multimedia and standard – on Google’s first page is 49.5 per cent (and, thus, less than half of all searches actually lead to a click on any organic result), while the remainder is made up of non-click searches, clicks on paid ads and voice searches. Worth mentioning is the fact that rich results have an above-average CTR (in contrast, non-media results drop to 41 per cent) and that multimedia results with branded keywords tend to have a slightly better CTR of 60 per cent.

CTR and Google ranking: does click-through rate influence ranking?

Speaking of click-through rate and Google, there is another topic to think about, because it often comes up in SEO discourse and is probably a commonplace that still has some credence: we refer to the possibility that click-through rate is a variable taken into account by the algorithm for the composition of positions in SERPs, as some experts claim, or that it is just a rate useful to marketing analysts.

A few years ago, the debate was raised by two renowned digital marketing and SEO experts, namely Rand Fishkin and Brittany Muller (then colleagues at Moz), who engaged in a sort of ‘long-distance duel’ with Google’s Gary Illyes, which was also carried on during a now historic Ama on Reddit in which, in response to a user and in the context of a call for a return to simple SEO, the Mountain View Search Relations representative had branded Fishkin’s theories on the impact of CTR on SERPs as ‘made-up crap‘, because Google Search is ‘much simpler than people think’ and ranking factors consider other criteria.

Moz’s position on Google and CTR

It was a real ad personam attack that Moz had welcomed rather calmly, waiting to be able to hit back at their adversary by catching him in the act, as actually happened when Brittany Muller, then Senior SEO Scientist at the company, uncovered a new Google ‘developer page’ from the Cloud, in which the Big G team expressly wrote that “for example, when you click on a link in Google Search, Google considers your click when ranking searches based on future queries”.

Google e CTR, il tweet di Fishkin
Muller’s tweet was accompanied by lots of smiley faces because, at first glance, the message really does seem to confirm the theory that Google takes the CTR into account for positioning, and indeed there was no shortage of supportive comments from the Moz team, starting with Rand Fishkin himself, who ironically thanked Google for the ‘clarification’, also inviting Googlers not to reply in a nasty way by throwing mud (again, an understatement) at those who highlight such news. But in short, does this message really confirm that CTR influences Google’s search results?

The collapse of CTR from organic searches

According to Moz’s experts, then, it is evident that there is a correlation between CTR and ranking, and in support of this thesis there are also studies on the collapse of the average CTR percentages of Google’s organic search over the years, which are decreasing both from desktop and mobile. In particular, an analysis conducted by Rand Fishkin and SparkToro’s Jumpshot revealed that clicks from smarpthone declined by about 10 points between 2016 and 2019, from 45 per cent to a paltry 36 per cent, while the decline is smaller for desktop SERPs – although now, as seen, the erosion is continuous across all channels.

According to Fishkin, who is often critical of the search giant, what is pushing down the percentages are Google’s strategies, which is taking away “large percentages of traffic to its own properties and answers in the SERPs” by emphasising structured data, featured snippets, carousels, answer boxes and paid ads in the results pages, relegating organic links to lower (and more difficult to reach) areas of the screen. If from the desktop (due to screen size and use of tools and peripherals) it is still possible to scroll down the page until the traditional SERPs are displayed, from mobile it is much more frequent to stop only at the first results, even more so if voice search is used – and a direct effect of this strategy lies in the phenomenon of zero-click searches, a topic that Fishkin himself often returns to (and on which Google has also tried to shed some light).

For other experts, there is no correlation between CTR and ranking

Of a completely opposite sign, however, is the thesis of Barry Schwartz of Seroundtable, who in an article disproved the relationship between CTR and ranking. To put it better, the American analyst tried to clarify the statements on the aforementioned Google page for developers, which should rather refer more generally to personal search display.

Google does not use CTR for rankings

Schwartz’s article was explicitly titled ‘Nope. Google Does Not Use CTR For Core Search Rankings’, and was intended precisely to clarify the issue in a (deliberately) conclusive manner. According to the expert, Google would only use CTR for the personalisation of searches, because it is well known and evident that Big G’s algorithms use previous search and navigation information to ‘adjust’ the queries we privately see: our searches and clicks, however, influence our views, not everyone else’s, and therein lies the whole difference.

Case closed?

Schwartz’s conclusion was therefore as follows: Google does not use CTR for the main ranking, but in a limited way for customised search based on previous queries and clicks made in the past. Again, ‘CTR is used to evaluate the performance of their (Google’s) search ranking algorithms’, but ‘it is not used in real time to adjust search results differently’. Not least because, the expert recalls, the last search engine to officially use click data for ranking was DirectHit, and it disappeared from the business a long time ago.

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