Organic search faces increased competition from paid ads, knowledge graph placements, featured snippets, and more. This has contributed to the decline of the organic click-through rate, or CTR in recent years. It’s no longer enough to rank in the top spot organically. You need to entice searchers to actually click your link.

We have mapped out a few processes that can help you improve your rankings and therefore your organic CTR over time. By parsing through Search Console and Google Analytics data, you can pinpoint trouble areas to improve. Then you can take this data and optimize your title tags and meta descriptions for increased click through-rate performance.

Organic Click-Through Rate Is on a Decline

First, it’s important to understand that the value of a #1 Google ranking is being eroded. According to Ignite Visibility, the organic search CTR has decreased to less than 20% click through rate vs. the 27-30% CTR just a few years ago. In previous years, if you ranked in the top position you would expect a pretty high CTR to your website. But, now, here's where the click thru rates are by position according to this study of 5,000 queries by Ignite Visibility in 2017. 

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Additional features within Google search results have changed over the past few years since we first published this piece*. For example, paid ads, shopping feeds and knowledge graph answers have become mainstays. They compete for attention with other algorithmic factors. This leaves little room above the fold for organic search results - or the traditional organic blue links from a distant time ago.

The Google SERP: 2018 vs. 2019

In February 2018, when we first wrote this piece, We shared the image below to show what happens in the SERP when you search “gym shoes for men". In this simple transactional query, you will notice the top 4 results are paid ads (1). Then, lower in the results is an excerpt known as the knowledge graph (2). But wait, that’s not all - there are additional graphical shopping ads in the side view(3).

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Today, just a year and a half later, look at how the SERP has changed. 

SERP GIF for gym shoes for men

What did you notice? First, there are over 300 million more search results for this query than there were in 2018. You may have also noticed that the top result is shopping ads (rather than in the side panel view from 2018). There are no ads featured on this page; however, a "People also ask" feature appears mid-page, and a map on where to purchase shoes near seoClarity HQ in Chicago appears closer to the bottom of my scroll. 

As you can see, SERP features have certainly taken off and I don't doubt that many further changes are ahead. It's no wonder why organic click-through rates have steadily been on the decline!

How to Determine Organic Click-Through Rate

An indispensable tool, Research Grid allows research for any keyword in the search landscape. It also displays the top ranking sites and the cost per click (CPC) for search engine ads.

At the top of our research on the term "gym shoes for men", we see the Average Search Volume and Estimated Traffic for Rank 1.

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As you can see from the example above, the anticipated click through rate is approximately 19.3% for the top position (this is an easy calculation of Estimated Traffic for Rank 1 divided by the Average Search Volume).

Sometimes, high rankings aren’t enough to encourage eager searchers back to your site. It can take a bit more finesse. This is why it’s important to optimize your title tags and meta descriptions to increase CTR. 

Before You Begin

Before beginning your Metadata Refresh journey, you will want to ensure your Google Search Console, or GSC, data is backed up. For seoClarity clients, simply log into Search Analytics which stores all historical data (and actually provides more data, including the keyword that brought the traffic to the landing page). 

Not an seoClarity client? You can complete this process manually through Google Sheets. You’re going to want to collect more than 3 months of data so you can observe trend lines and make year-over-year comparisons.

  1. Sign into your Gmail account.
  2. Create a new Google Sheets document.
  3. Navigate to the “Add-ons” tag.
    • Get Add-ons
    • Search: {Search Analytics for Sheets}

Once you have enabled the add-on in Google Sheets you need to create a new report and schedule a monthly backup of your data. You’re already tracking it so why not store your data and use it to your advantage?

To make this process easier in the future, see a demo of our platform today!

Identify Areas of Opportunity

Using seoClarity

Through Search Analytics in seoClarity, you can identify the top landing pages to optimize the click-through rate within just a few clicks and filters.

In this example, we first sorted by CTR, then filtered by impressions to surface the top landing pages, located our top rank positions (we filtered by <10 in this example, but you could also do <6 to get your top ranked pages).

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The Manual Process Using Google Analytics and GSC

If you don’t have access to Search Analytics in seoClarity, here are the manual steps using Google Search Console and Google Analytics.

To get started, log into your Google Analytics account and look under “Search Console”, “Landing Pages”. Here, we can gather specific criteria to evaluate and determine areas of opportunity.

This report will give you a list of all of your website’s landing pages that are driving impressions, clicks, and contributing sessions to the site. From here, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff. To accomplish this:

1. Add a filter for CTR. You want to include all pages with a click-through rate below the site average.

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2. Next, filter for all pages that have an average position either on the first page or very close to it.

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The end result is a list of web pages with a below average click-through rate that are – on average - placed near the first page.

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Here’s the key. You want to create a filtered segment within Search Console’s Landing Page report to identify growth opportunities. To achieve this you need to filter for pages with a below site average click-through rate that are near the first page for greatest impact.

Once you export the data you can further segment to identify page opportunities that are generating high impressions but low CTR. From here, you can triage which pages need your immediate attention.

That manual process is a lot to take on for even the most advanced teams. Make this process easier next time when you check out a demo of our platform today!

Craft Compelling Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

It’s true.  Use of keywords in title tags and meta descriptions have lost some of their importance. The era of keyword stuffing is long gone. So, we need to write our title tags and meta descriptions to make them more enticing to the user.

Let’s look at keyword stuffed title tags vs. optimized title tags.

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In the example above, think about which title tag & meta description reads better to the searcher. Hint: it's not 3.

Not all of your competitors will take the time to write compelling title tags or meta descriptions. This presents an opportunity for those willing to hustle a bit. Sure, their prominence has diminished as a ranking factor, but they can still improve CTR and drive organic traffic.

Step 1: Gather Ad Copy Ideas

Run a few searches of your core keyword. Look closely at some of the PPC ads that show up. Some of these combinations tend to be better dialed-in than the organic results.

BalloonsAdsSearchResults.png

As we can see above, the core keyword is mentioned in the ads. However, there is also additional copy to entice the searcher to click through apart from the keyword.

Step 2: Identify and Include Your Core Keyword

It’s still important to use your core keyword within your title tags. I recommend using your core keyword towards the beginning of your title tags.

Step 3: Follow up with Action Words

Okay, so you've got your core keyword included in your title tag. Now, you need to give it just a pinch of spice with action words.

A recommended resource that I've used from time to time: 100 Call to Action Keywords. These terms help me put potential behind my content topic. 

Step 4: Add Keyword Variations and Secondary Keywords

Finally, I like to add either a secondary keyword or a brand mention depending on the page type. For “About Us” pages, I like to include branded mentions.

Key Takeaway on Title Tags and Organic Search

You want to write your title tags and meta descriptions to read like ad copy; however, you need to weave in your core keywords in a way that reads intelligently while preserving SEO value. The objective is to grab attention within the SERP and mitigate the loss in organic CTR.

Walking the Walk: Results from Our Own Tests

I regularly conduct title tag and meta description updates (as I did when I refreshed this article for a current audience*). When our team began monitoring this particular metric with our clients, CTR hovered between 2% and 1.5% on average. This was interesting because impressions and rankings were increasing. But we still had some untapped opportunities around our title tags and meta descriptions.

CTRvsPeriod.pngGraph Created using Search Console Backup Data.

As you can see above, the CTR had been rather poor. Using the methods described above, I revised and tweaked metadata until CTR began trending upwards.

Conclusion

Changes within the SERP won't slow down anytime soon. To mitigate some of our losses in CTR , we can write more compelling title tags and meta descriptions. Start today by regularly optimizing your title tags and meta descriptions (try to do this at least quarterly). I'd love to hear about your experiences improving CTR for your site in the comments below!


*Editor's Note: Our industry moves fast! This piece has been updated to reflect changes in the SERP and advancements in SEO.