Dave McAnally, Natural Search Supervisor, Content Solutions
I’ve been immersed in new business projects and RFPs as of late. As an SEO, my role in this process is usually to A. Determine how SEO can help our perspective client and B. what opportunities exist for the client. As such, in the latter, while I typically go through some standard things all SEO practitioners do (look for proper tags, see how they rank for certain keywords, see if the site is built in an SEO friendly manner), I find myself spending more time looking at how successful their current successes are. Yes, that last sentence will make sense I promise!
You see, if you have a brand of any ubiquity, chances are, you tend to be quite visible on high volume terms in your industry (with some exceptions here and there). A lot of times, a brand query itself can drive the bulk of the traffic regardless of how optimized a site is (or isn’t). This isn’t a matter of right or wrong, this is just the way the world turns (a belief Google holds as well –or at least Eric Schmidt does).
So let’s go ahead and assume you are a marketeer for “Giant Company With a Huge Website” (we’ll call it GCHW…it’s not a publicly traded symbol….yet). You rank #2 on Term A which yields a squillion queries per month, and GCHW related queries yield around half a squillion queries in and of themselves. There’s no doubt people know who you are and what you do.
Now, here’s where I start evaluating the current success of said potential client. Sure they rank on those terms, and those terms do indeed drive lots of traffic and produce sales, but the million dollar question is thus: How ‘successful’ is that? If a squillion searches are performed on ‘GCHW Widgets’, what is a reasonable expectation for how many we would like to see click on our #2 result (no doubt Wikipedia has the dubious honor of being #1)? 10% of a squillion? Half? 1%?
Now, with respect to the intent of a query-let’s be honest, the broader the search, the more intentions could be behind that query (this is why Google shows you videos, shopping feeds, stock quotes ad nauseum on terms like ‘brooms’), (note to self: ask a professional why ‘brooms’ is the general term that popped into my mind). That is to say, you’d be hard pressed to find a search result that can be all things to all people on a term (and hey, we’re not shooting for 100% now are we?) Nevertheless, if we rank #2 on that term, do we have any kind of benchmark for what kind of click through rate said term should yield?
Well unfortunately, EVERYTHING must be taken with a grain of salt when we’re talking about natural search click through rates. That said, check this out. This study has been duplicated a few times, but all in all, the results/distribution is relatively in the same ballpark.
What I’ve found myself doing with this information is averaging the CTR of page (or even the top 5) and comparing that against what I’m seeing with the perspective client. If the GCHW’s analytics are telling me that ‘GCHW widget’ got 5,000 clicks and my keyword research tells me there are 500,000 queries on that term in a given month, is 1% a fair click through rate if it’s ranked #2 or should I be expecting something like 67,250 (go ahead check my math!).
Frankly I’d much rather low-ball a term that is broad and then rely more on the Cornell study for terms that have a tighter niche. And let us not forget that with the advent of personalized search, GCHW may not rank #2 for every single person searching on GCHW Widgets. If we average those click through rates on the homepage, we get 9.82%.
What does this do? Well for me, this gives me a ballpark figure of how the click through rates of GCHW compares to an overall statistical average. If it is grossly below what I would expect, then I start looking at things that may be keeping it down. The following are some common attributes I’ve noticed over the course of the past few weeks:
Bad Press in the search result:
It happens to best of us folks. If somebody searches on GCHW Widgets and just below your carefully crafted search result is a post in a forum that says “WHY GCHW WIDGETS SUCK AND ARE HARMFUL TO CHILDREN”, what do you think that is going to do to people’s propensity to click on your site?
Optimize (I know, sounds obvious right?). No really though. Align more product pages against GCHW Widgets. Improve internal linking so pages featuring the widgets are linked with ‘GCHW Widgets’ in the anchor text. Do you have a sub-domain for the widgets? Use it. The idea here is to create multiple listings for the term in the search result. Don’t settle for being #2. Be #2 and #3. Crowd out the bad press.
The title and description in the search result doesn’t align with the search intentionality:
Imagine GCHW Widget is a real product that you want to buy. You go to Google and punch in that phrase and look at what comes up (remember you are ready to give a credit card # and everything). You are shown a slew of paid results, some shopping feeds, an amazon.com link, a few forum posts about the product and then the official GCHW website. Almost all but your result has prices. What does this tell you?
Inject pricing into the assets on search engines. If there isn’t shopping feed for your site, get one. Optimize that commercial you hired Billy Mays for and put the price in the description on your YouTube Chanel. Make sure the price is in the meta description (there are a number of ways to do this…scrape internal reviews and include a “Price paid” field for example). The point here is if you aren’t getting a lot of clicks amidst a field like this, look for what your competitors are doing that you aren’t. Typically, I find it is something like this (Caveat: this obviously applies to commerce sites, but the principle remains for almost any result)
Queries around your brand do not yield sitelinks:
These links appear in Google when Google had determined you could be looking for a number of things around the brand query and is showing you as many aspects of the site as possible. They help your users by giving them quicker inroads to your site than just a single search result, and they help you by pushing competitors and other results further below the fold.
This is an automated process, which means you can’t go email Google and talk your way into these appearing. It DOES however mean that you need to have clear and concise navigation. A best practice is to make sure footer navigation exists on the page that reflects what is on the top navigation. Don’t go overboard with this though. Keep it top level and remember what you would like your users to see in search results. NOTE- this is not a sure fire way to obtain sitelinks...nobody can say for sure what combination of tactics will yield them, but at least it is somewhere you can start. You can, however, delete sitelinks you don’t want appearing from your webmaster tools console (you have set that up for yourself right?)
These are just some of the most common things I’ve seen that can disrupt a nice click through rate. The list of reasons people aren’t clicking on your site over others can go on forever. In the end, all queries vary in behavior, but just because your website has been bestowed with a coveted ranking doesn’t mean your work is done. It’s just the beginning. Win those clicks!!
Dave McAnally, Natural Search Supervisor, Content Solutions