Optimizing for click-through rate (CTR) makes sense; the more people click your links, the more organic traffic you get. But anyone in the SEO world knows it can take months for your content to appear on search engine results pages (SERPs). So when days turn into months with little to show for it, you might question your efforts, shifting to questionable tactics such as CTR manipulation.
So let’s unpack what it is, how people do it, and ways to improve yours organically (so your site doesn’t get flagged, penalized, or banned from search results).
What Is Click-Through Rate for SEO?
CTR measures the number of times a person clicks your link compared to the number of times it was shown in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Let’s say your article got 100 clicks and was shown to people 3,000 times.
100 / 3,000 = 0.03
Your CTR for that web page is 3%
You can view your site’s CTR data in Google Search Console. Head to Search Results > Queries.
Here’s where you’ll see the top phrases’ impressions and their number of clicks.
Why Does Your Website’s CTR Matter?
You’ll get more clicks to your web pages the higher they rank in the SERPs. More clicks = more traffic = more sales.
Businesses with the most clicks thrive because content that ranks in position one on the first page of search results gets ~30% of that page’s clicks.
And if you win a featured snippet, searchers see your web page’s enhanced results with more information.
Position two gets half the clicks. And spot three, even less. So, it’s no wonder bloggers jockey for pole position.
Takeaway: Regarding search engine optimization, more clicks signal to Google that people find your content helpful.
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What Is CTR Manipulation?
CTR manipulation is when you artificially increase the number of clicks to your website to get higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Inflated click ratios fool Google into thinking your content is better and more relevant for specific keyword phrases.
Some digital marketers use this method when they:
- Want a quick SEO win
- Can’t get past page two in the SERP
So, if you can drive more traffic to your site to mimic how a real person would interact with your content online, you have a chance to rank higher.
Sidenote: Search engines don’t support CTR manipulation. Those who are successful risk penalization (more on that below).
How Do You Manipulate CTR?
Let’s start with an experiment.
In 2014, Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin posted this on Twitter.
Care to help with a Google theory/test? Could you search for “IMEC Lab” in Google & click the link from my blog? I have a hunch.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) May 1, 2014
After hundreds of clicks and several hours later, this happened.
It’s evident that the people clicking his link in that short period influenced the SERP. So this is a basic example of how CTR manipulation works.
Taking it a step further, here are two common black hat SEO tactics used to boost site rankings:
- Traffic bots
- Micro workers
Automated CTR Traffic Bots
Automated traffic bots (aka traffic generators) use scripts and IP proxies to drive traffic to your website based on specific keywords.
Once you’ve given the CTR bot a keyword, it combs the search engine for your query. Then, when it finds your term in the SERPs, it’ll click the URL, visit your site, and perform “human actions” designed to give it a more “organic” feel.
Using multiple IP addresses gives the illusion your site is getting traffic from various people online (and not a single traffic source generated by bots).
Finding success with this strategy means understanding the ratio of clicks to impressions for your site’s content to increase clicks over a few weeks gradually.
Another popular click-through rate manipulation strategy is hiring real people to perform searches using keywords for which you want to rank higher.
You can set an estimated number of clicks to specific posts based on your organic traffic’s behavior. Then, when they find your web page in the SERP, they’ll click through to your site.
Paying for micro tasks is cheap, usually a few cents per click.
You can use many companies to outsource this, such as MicroWorkers and Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Does CTR Manipulation Actually Work?
SEO expert, Chris Palmer, said that your content needs to be worthy of the top spot for the above tactics to work.
CTR manipulation aims to get a quick jump in rankings, but it won’t last if your material is low-quality. Search engines are more sophisticated than they were 20 years ago, and Google is quick to demote anything short of an excellent user experience.
There are case studies online (like this one) revealing that it did help improve rankings.
But from what I saw overall, no amount of CTR manipulation will keep your site in the top spot if it’s lacking:
- High-quality content
- Correctly matched search intent
- Excellent user experience for readers
Web pages with high rankings correlate with high engagement; CTR doesn’t last.
It’s like the famous quote says:
You can fool part of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.
Eventually, the search engines will catch on.
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What Happens When Google Finds Out?
Google can flag your site, reduce your ranking, and even ban you. Sites that break the rules get punished.
If you’ve already tried this tactic but are fearful of whether you’ve been penalized, head to Google Search Console.
You can see any manual actions against your site by going to Security & Manual Actions > Manual Actions.
This will display any penalties against you.
If you’re penalized, you have to take the actions to fix the issue, then contact Google to see if you’re compliant.
Once the manual action is removed, your site is penalty-free, although it might take weeks or months before seeing results in the SERPs.
How Do You Improve Your CTR In An Article without Manipulation?
From a SERP perspective, your title tag, meta description, and web page URL are the front door to your site.
It’s the first thing searchers see when scrolling through results and the first thing you should optimize.
In the above screenshot, you see:
- Web page URL
- Your title tag
- Meta description
Simply from reading that, you know what to expect from that post.
Once you’ve optimized your articles for these metrics, use structured data to win enhanced search results (aka featured snippets).
Structured data is the “language of search engines” and helps web crawlers understand what your content’s about.
It also makes your results stand out in the SERPs. For example, this FAQ-style result similar to Google’s People Also Ask:
Winning snippets allows for a more attractive representation of your content. It boils down to providing an excellent experience for your reader, whether from search results or while scrolling your articles.
If you want to read more about how structured data works, read this.
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Get More Clicks In Your Content with Eye-Catching Displays
Like how your headline, meta description, and URL are the front doors to your content, your affiliate links (and other offers) lead readers to product landing pages (ideally to make a purchase).
Staying true to Google’s guidelines about providing an excellent user experience for the reader, make your content (and affiliate links) more attractive by breaking up your post with a product display (like this one below).
A book that absolutely inspired how I approach my businesses. If you want to create the best possible thing, you need to look at what everyone else is doing.
Using Lasso is like having a featured snippet for your affiliate links in your article’s content because they:
- Are uniquely styled
- Grab the reader’s eye
- Inhabit more content surface area
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Run Paid Ads
Anything displayed at the top of the SERPs will get more clicks – even ads. So, an easy way to improve CTR on your website is to run paid ads. The downside to this approach is that you need money.
Things can get expensive quickly, and because of that, it’s not a long-term solution.
Tip: Run ads against your content already displaying on page one. It’ll increase your SERP real estate with two listings on a single page.
Send alerts to your readers’ mobile devices for increased engagement.
One benefit to this approach is that people don’t need to be using the app to get your message. They’re also more intimate because, like email, they already opted in, and you can have more fun.
Building an “owned” audience starts with your email list. The people on it trust you and have already permitted you to connect. If you have specific content to promote, message your subscribers.
The best part:
Your email list isn’t susceptible to algorithm updates, nor will it deny you access, and you can reach out any time you want.
Share your content with your social media accounts. You can also run ads against your more popular content types to broaden your reach.
These will have higher engagement rates with the most shares, profile clicks, and likes. Off-page SEO signals like these inform search engines that people find your material helpful (or entertaining).
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What’s A Good Click-Through Rate?
The short answer: It depends.
There isn’t “one click-through rate to rule them all.” The good news is you can determine CTR for web properties in specific niches with organic CTR tools.
Check out Advanced Web Ranking’s organic click-through data by industry to get an idea of the clicks going to your niche’s top-ranking articles.
It also lets you compare your site against the industry average for specific keywords to better understand the data and how to optimize for it.
Is Your CTR a Ranking Factor?
This is a hot-button topic with opinions on both sides of the aisle.
Google flat out denies that it is despite several patents covering concepts of clicks and behavioral signals used in its algorithm.
But this article suggests that a “patent doesn’t necessarily mean something is actively used in an algorithm” and is probably an indirect ranking factor.
While CXL.com says, Google does indeed use organic click-through rate to determine SERP placement.
Whatever the case, it appears that CTR does influence rankings to a degree. Remember Rand’s experiment from earlier?
Click data is user signals telling search engines what they prefer, but other factors are at play, including bounce rate and average time on page.
These matter to Google; otherwise, you wouldn’t see them displayed in your Analytics.
You can also compare the number of repeated views against an article’s unique pageviews when looking at the below columns in your Analytics:
- Pageviews (repeated views of a single page get counted)
- Unique page views
It’s never a single metric but a combination to determine a web page’s quality.
Bottom line: Optimizing your content to get more clicks by using any of the white hat SEO techniques described in this post can’t hurt and is something every website owner should do.
Think About This When Optimizing for Enhanced SERP Placement
When improving your site’s search engine rankings, remember CTR is only one piece of the puzzle. While receiving a rankings boost may result in a short-term win, your content needs to be stellar if you want to hold that position.
Remember this golden rule when optimizing for clicks and repeat visitors:
Always answer your reader’s WIIFM? (What’s In It for Me?). People are selfish and are only interested in how you can help them.
Demonstrate how you’ll do that, and they’ll come back.
In our experience, CTR manipulation and other black hat SEO strategies aren’t worth it. You don’t want to be looking over your shoulder continuously.
Instead, lead with value, produce high-quality content, and serve your readers. That’s how you climb the SERPs and get more clicks. Curious to know how else we help site owners build a meaningful income online? Read this.
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