Click-through rate of rankings on the first page of Google

Posted on August 8, 2013

 

Back in February 2011, we wrote about the click-through rates you could expect to get for your website depending on your ranking on the first page of Google. The figures quoted for that particular article were derived from original data from AOL, rather than Google, and were from 2006 – a number of years prior to the article.

Much has changed with the Internet since then. Facebook has become the most used website on the web, Twitter has been born and grown into the primary destination for news and Google has changed its search results layout to incorporate a variety of new data sources. Rather than just the plain results from good old websites, Google now shows us images, news, blogs, Twitter feeds, Google Local Listings, videos and much more besides.

With all of this in mind, what sort of click-through rate can you now expect based on where you rank in Google? If you currently rank #3, how much more traffic can you expect if you increase to rank #1? Adversely, how much traffic would you lose if your website dropped from #1 to #10, and the bottom of page 1?

Firstly, it’s important to note that Google doesn’t give this information away. The original article from 2011 was based on data leaked by AOL, so was completely accurate. Google plays its cards a lot closer to its chest, and this sort of information can only be extrapolated through trials and vigorous testing. Of course, this means different tests will yield different results, and the results of many tests done over the years do indeed produce vastly different figures.

For example, one study revealed a #1 ranking in Google yielded an average click-through rate of over 36% – meaning more than one in three people who performed a search clicked on the first result. A separate study however found the figure to be much lower, just over 18% – meaning fewer than one in five people were clicking on the first result of a Google search.

These differences also led to variations in the traffic received by ranking in either of Google’s top two positions. The study claiming 18% of users clicked on the first result also stated just over 10% clicked on the second result, which would produce less than double the traffic going from a #2 ranking to a #1 ranking. However, the study showing more than 36% of users clicked on the first result stated just over 12% clicked on the second result, meaning a #1 ranking yielded three times the traffic of a #2 ranking. This second study seems more in line with the AOL data from 2006, but is still lower.

One reason the click-through rates of websites ranking #1 have dropped over the years may well be down to the SEO industry. While Google is battling hard to restrict the impact of SEO, the companies with the deepest pockets have, over the years, risen to the top of the rankings at the expense, potentially, of the websites that should be there on merit. This means when someone makes a search, they will often be faced with the website that’s spent the most on its SEO and not necessarily with the most suitable one for their query.

With Google changing the way it ranks to websites to favour such aspects as user engagement, social interaction and quality of content, rankings are changing for the better. This could see the click-through rates of sites ranked #1 increase over the coming years.

Both studies, however, agree the difference between ranking #10 at the bottom of page one, and ranking #1 in Google is approximately 18 times the traffic. This is a bigger difference than the 2006 AOL data suggested.

What can cause the click-through rates to differ so much?

Where a website ranks on the first page of Google for a particular keyword isn’t the only factor on its click-through rate. Other matters can influence a user to click on a result, including:

The face of Google+1

If a user is logged in, and a particular link has been given a +1 by a friend of theirs, their Google+ profile image could appear next to the result. This increases the likelihood of that particular link being clicked on by the person making the search. This is great news for Google, because it means website owners are incentivised to incorporate Google+ buttons into their websites. It is a boon for website owners too, because it offers a clear way of increasing their traffic and Google exposure simply by adding Google+ to their website.

How a good Meta Description can help

The Meta Description is still incorrectly talked of today as having an impact on your website’s rankings. It doesn’t – at least not in Google – but what it does do is offer you a clear and simple way of adding a call to action to your website’s listing within Google, as the Meta Description is what Google will display under the title of your website when it lists it in a search. You only have a handful of characters to play with, so ensure your call to action won’t be truncated and miss any vital information. You can use our Google search snippet preview tool to help with this.

The power of brand recognition

Never underestimate the power of a brand. Websites for brands have become increasingly favoured by Google in recent years, and users recognise the importance of trust when searching on Google. For this reason, a search result showing an unknown website at #1 and Amazon at #2 will skew the click-through rate figures, as Amazon will receive more than its fair share of clicks simply by virtue of its name.

When AdWords boosts your organic

Similarly with brand recognition, any website can receive brand recognition if they’re also advertising with Google AdWords at the same time. Funnily enough, is also great news for Google, and you can see where all this is heading. By appearing in the organic listings and again in the paid listings alongside them, a website increases its exposure and thus increases its likelihood of receiving clicks.

When data is (not provided)

If you are trying to work out how many visits you could get on a chosen keyword if you ranked #1 based on how many visits you get for your current ranking, a stumbling block could be the (not provided) issue in Google Analytics. Google does not give data for a portion of the visits a website receives, so you never truly know how many visits your website is getting for a particular keyword. You know a minimum number of visits, but the actual number could be much higher. Equally, if you’re working out how much business you could lose if you dropped from #1 in Google, you need to consider the (not provided) data – it could be much worse than your initial estimates.

In summary

What all of this tells us is it’s impossible to work out accurate figures on how your traffic may increase if your rankings change. There are too many parameters to click-through rates and, even if it were possible, Google doesn’t even report all of the keywords for which you receive traffic in Analytics.

As a rough guide, you’re likely to receive almost 20 times the traffic if you rank #1 than if you rank at the bottom of page one, and ranking #1 will net you between two and three times the traffic of ranking at #2. The click-through rate starts to go up sharply around positions three and four, whereas positions five through 10 are fairly consistent.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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