SEO Behavior: Click-Through Rates Drop Per Search

Studying user behavior through click-through rates highlights the importance of ranking among the top 10 positions in Google search engine page results. But how much do CTR behavioral patterns influence search engine optimization campaigns? As keywords increase their positions in the SERPs. can companies expect more visitors on their sites?

A study released Monday from Slingshot SEO looks at ranking values and traffic, and tries to understand user CTR behavior. For starters, it finds the No. 1 rankings in search engine results gained 18.20% CTRs; and No. 2, 10.05% based on a sample set of 324 keywords. CTRs for each position below the fold returned 4% or less.

“These numbers are significant, considering the huge decline in click-through rates for the top 10 positions,” said Evan Fishkin, head of research and development at Slingshot SEO, comparing the results with the leaked AOL data in 2006, the Enquiro study in 2007, and a recent Optify study, which all showed CTRs above 25% for the first position and higher percentages across the board.

Fishkin said the goal of the study is to give clients a baseline model, so marketers know the return to expect for keywords with about 10,000 searches monthly ranking in the No. 1 position. That expectation should sit between 2.43% and 76.73% for CTRs. The baseline model or average curve — about 18.2% — gives marketers a low-end realistic value.

Searchers do not make a click on the first search — it may take several. This means being found becomes just as important as the click, Fishkin said. It’s no longer about obtaining rankings, but obtaining a variety of rankings for all the searches done by the consumer to find the information they need.

For any given SERP in the Slingshot, the percentage of users who click on an organic result in the top 10 was found to be 52.32%. The study notes this typical user behavior is a result of searchers window shopping Google SERPs, and then searching again before clicking on a domain.

The CTRs for long-tail keywords become a little more unpredictable.

The study looks at keywords with a “stable 30-day position” to find the percentage for CTRs on all long-tail terms that stem from the keywords during the same period. For example, “if ‘cars’ ranked at No. 2 for June 2011, then how much traffic could that domain expect to receive from ‘new cars,’ ‘used cars,’ or ‘affordable cars’?” Ranking No. 2 for “cars” likely means that marketers can also drive a lot of traffic for the related keywords, partly because of the halo effect.

Slingshot researchers observed an average between 1.17% and 5.80% for each position for long-tail keywords. The average long-tail CTR associated with each primary keyword with a stable ranking between positions 1 and 10 results in 2.75%.

While the “halo effect” — a cognitive bias where the perception of one characteristic influences another — of long-tail CTRs associated with primary terms can become unpredictable, marketers should not ignore them, according to the report. Every SERP is different, and employing a successful marketing strategy requires multiple factors about each keyword phrase.

The study, which began about four months ago, became the impetus for creating an RD department at Slingshot, Fishkin said. It is based on more than 170,000 actual user visits — making it one of the largest studies of its kind, with a client database of more than 200 major retailers and enterprise groups, according to Slingshot. The SEO company chose the sample set from thousands of keywords based on specific criteria.

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