CTR or click through rate and search engine ranking are correlated. But it is not a straight and simple correlation. There are complications. Fortunately, you don’t have to delve into technicalities that only the SEO and algorithm experts would understand. Click through rate and search engine ranking have always been mutually influenced and yet there are many who still debate and often deny the reality. Let us first understand what CTR or click through rate and search engine ranking signal are.
Click through rate is just the measurement of how many times a link redirecting a user from the search engine result pages to a given webpage is being clicked by the visitors. The rate is obtained by pitting the number of internet users getting to view that link against the number of users clicking on the link. Search engine ranking signals are factors that influence the listings on search engine result pages. Search engine optimization including all its brand mentions, link wheels, optimized contents, popularity of the site, authenticity or originality, authority and traffic among others are the ranking signals. Every ranking signal has the ability to appreciate the rank of a website or otherwise.
Now, is CTR or click through rate a ranking signal? Yes. Is it a consequential ranking signal? Perhaps not!
The Simple Correlation
Let us presume a scenario where Google has ranked Website A as number one in a given category and Website B as number two. There are Websites C, D & E taking the third, fourth and fifth places. Accordingly, a search initiated with the keywords or phrases that are the most definitive in that category will list Website A, B, C, D & E as the first five results, in that exact order.
Now, let us imagine a scenario where a hundred searches have been initiated and of them, around sixty users have clicked on Website C, about twenty have clicked on Website A, around fifteen have clicked on Website B and the other five users have clicked on Website D or Website E. Website A was ranked first because of many factors. From optimization to prior performance, traffic to popularity and several other ranking signals had secured the first place for Website A. But Website C appears to have a much higher click through rate, with sixty people out of a hundred clicking on its link. That means Website C is more relevant for the search or the query. Website C may have a better headline, tagline, description or maybe the website is becoming more popular so people are recognizing it.
The bottom line is that people are finding Website C the more relevant and valuable site among the top five results which have been ranked by Google. Over a period of time, if Website C manages to tower over the other top ranked sites with its click through rate, Google will place it ahead of Website B and then eventually before Website A.
Eventually, considering that the click through rate remains as discussed here, Website C will enjoy the first rank, followed by Website A, B, D & E. The change in order can be in any way or manner depending on the click through rate.
The entire scenario points out to one simple reality. It doesn’t matter how well you have performed theoretically or while adhering to the rules laid out by the search engine itself. If people have chosen you or are choosing you ahead of others, then Google is compelled to honor that choice and reward you accordingly.
Limitations of CTR
While click through rate is very important, as is obvious by the aforementioned scenario, yet it is not the endgame. CTR is just one of the many ranking signals or quintessential factors.
CTR doesn’t work as an isolated phenomenon. It is closely related to every other ranking signal. It is possible that the CTR of a website or link has increased because the other websites have not been reviewing their strategies or updating their website and thus the contents.
While the CTR is being recorded, should the other websites make adequate changes, then those will also come into play. CTR alone cannot appreciate or depreciate the ranking of a website or the positioning of a webpage.CTR is a ranking signal.
Sporadic bursts of CTR, which could be due to sales or promotions, will have a bearing but the long term implication on rank will depend on all ranking signals put together. Just as Website C can climb a spot or two based on its CTR, the other websites can climb up or down the spots just as easily and in just as much time.
The best inference is that click through rate does affect the transitory or temporary rankings of websites, given all other websites don’t undergo noticeable changes in their CTR.