Is Click Through Rate (CTR) A Ranking Factor?

Earlier this year searchmetrics released its 2015 Ranking Factor Whitepaper based on the extensive data it collects of organic search (the paper is well worth a read).

A small section of the whitepaper focussed on click through rates with an attractive graph (below) on how CTRs of search results compare with organic ranking positions.

Searchmetrics data shows that on average the higher a result ranks in Google search, the higher the CTR of this result.


search metrics click through rate

Source: searchmetrics

The Argument For Yes

In 2014 Rand Fishkin of Moz conducted a quick experiment by asking his Twitter followers to search ‘IMEC lab’ in Google and click on Moz’s IMEC Lab page currently ranked 7th (we should point out that Rand currently has 264k Twitter followers so clicks likely weren’t in short supply).

moz click through rate test

Source: Search Engine Land

At 6pm Rand’s page was at #7.

3 hours later, and Rand estimates around 175-250 clicks later, the page was #1.

moz click through rate test

Source: Search Engine Land

But before we jump to conclusions let’s go back to some experiment basics. This experiment:

– Had no repeatable methodology

– Was not repeated

– Was not monitored for a period of time before or after the experiment

– Other important on page factors that could influence the results were not monitored (bounce rate + time on site)

– Click volume and CTR of other search results is not known

Which all raise issues with the credibility of the results.

Nonetheless, ignoring all of the variables in this instance we can confidently say that as more people clicked on a result than the results above in a short period of time, the lower but more frequently clicked result moved up in a short period of time.

What Does Google Say?


Source: Twitter

Danny Sullivan, co-founder of Search Engine Land, shared a comment from Google’s former chief of search quality Udi Manber as saying, on very loose terms, that CTR does have a direct correlation to search rankings.

The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No.2 and only 10 percent click on Result No.1, after a while we figure out, well, probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.”

The evidence seems to heavily suggest that CTR influences search ranking positions.

Or does it?

The Argument For No

Search Engine Land contributor Bartosz Góralewicz ran an interesting test earlier this month in which he sent bots with unique IP addresses to do the following:

– Open browser.

– Go to

– Enter the query and click on “Google Search”.

– Search for (his) domain in the search results page. If not found, go to the second page, and so on, up to the 12th page.

– Click on the result.

– Stay on the website for ~2–4 minutes while going through random pages.

As Bartosz notes:

“After the experiment, my search rankings remained flat for two months, only to start plummeting around June 1, 2015.”

search console click through rate experiment

Source: Search Engine Land

Again however just as Rand’s test did, this experiment fell short on a number of adequate controls so the validity is somewhat subjective.

It would also be a jump to correlate the click bot test to the later drop in rankings.

What Did (Someone Else At) Google Say?

But here’s an interesting point – Gary Illyes from Google stated at SMX Advanced that CTR data is not used for ranking, only experimentation and evaluation.

He noted that it is well known that bots can be setup and run to click on search results to boost (or for negative SEO hurt) rankings and therefore Google ignores it.

And yes, that does contradict a previous statement from a Google employee!


Clearly the tests conducted so far, and mixed comments from Google, seem to contradict any conclusion one way or the other.

So my opinion is to take it from a search relevance perspective – the purpose of Google’s search engine:

If people are clicking on the bottom result far more than the top result, wouldn’t it make sense for an algorithm built to deliver the search result that is best for the user to take this into consideration? I would say yes.

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