Is click through rate a ranking signal?

Cheryl Luzet - 17 November 2016

When deciding where to position a site in their search engine rankings, Google uses a number of complicated algorithms to determine how to award the places. Usability, high-quality links and good content are just some of the factors included. However, because the algorithms are fairly fluid and are regularly updated, they incorporate many other elements too, one of which might be click through rate.

What is a click through rate?

Click through rate measures the number of people who click onto your site via a search engine query. For example if you were to search for “the best pizza restaurant in Hertfordshire” you would see the results listed on your screen, and the one that the majority of people chose to click through to would have the highest click through rate.

Many SEO professionals are starting to notice that click through rate could work as a ranking signal – but is this really the case? Google have not given a definitive answer to this question and some SEO companies feel that measuring the click through rate for the vast range of search terms used would be too hard to implement even for Google! However several digital marketing experts have decided to do their own experiments as to whether click through rate can actually impact on ranking.

The Moz experiment

Rand Fishkin of the popular MOZ blog performed a trial last summer that showed that when he spent over an hour clicking on a particular site for a particular search term (he used the search term ‘best grilled steak’) he saw that site quickly move up from number 4 to number 1 in the rankings. However there was a query as to whether this was a short term fix and whether this intensive clicking would only produce short term results.

The Search Engine Land experiment

Search Engine Land contributors Cesarino Morellato and Andrea Scarpetta have also conducted a detailed experiment into whether click through rates have affected a sites ranking in the search engines. Interestingly their experiment did show significant results. After a week of activity, the clicked URL improved its ranking from the 10th to the 3rd position and maintained an average rank for the rest of the time between the 4th and 5th positions!

If you would like to find out more about the full experiment it’s definitely worth a read. To summarise, their conclusion was that whilst they couldn’t say that click through rate was definitely a ranking factor, they did believe it to be a significant offset which would change the search engine results so that there was a correlation between the clicks and visible ranking of a query. This means that making sure your page has an engaging title and well written meta description, in order to encourage people to choose your site to click through to, can have a really valuable effect on your rankings.

We thought this was a fascinating message. At Wagada we have definitely noticed a link between the click through rate and page ranking – and have been testing this out for a number of our clients to great effect!