Organic Click Through Rates: Study me this, Study me that

There has always been much debate about the value of the top position in Google – sure everyone knows that’s where the clicks come from but how much of the first page share are you likely to get by being the best (in Google’s eyes at least!).

There have been numerous studies over the years but I’m drawing on two conflicting studies that have been published over the last 6 months.  We have a massive discrepancy between the two studies – who to believe?

Number 1 Position in Google gets you 36.4% of the clicks

According to the study from Optify, published in April.  Interestingly the data from this study came through the month of December 2010 – perhaps a strange time to be doing this study due to the normally huge changes in user/buyer behaviour during this busy period online. I’d personally say this is the wrong time to be doing a study like this…

They produced some great numbers & graphs from the study – the natural conclusion was that ranking number one for a search term can yield as much as two or three times the traffic of positions 2-4.

Organic Click Through Rate Curve. Optify: Changing Face of SERPs: Organic Click Through Rate

Study of: 10,000 keywords & 250 sites
Sample data: December 2010

Number 1 Position in Google gets you 18.2% of the clicks

So now to the more recent study from SlingshotSEO – this shows a completely different story to the Optify study.  This report showed a massive reduction in the first position click through rate, and also is much lower than other similar studies.  Again – pinch of salt time….  In fairness the data was taken over a longer period of time so should be more stable than the Optify study (six months vs. one month) but there must be something here that explains the differences…

It looks like the maths may be letting down both studies – or at least the base numbers used from the Google AdWords Keywords Tool are skewing the figures for both studies.  The search volumes published in the keyword tool are widely regarded to be good guesses at best – sometimes wildly inaccurate!  For both studies the base estimates of search volume for the sample keywords was used – we’d expect in December for the search volumes to be underestimated, at other times of the year probably rounded up.  This could be the best explanation for the huge differences in numbers between the studies.

It’s worth mentioning that Search Engine Watch have a great in-depth article about the differences between the studies.

First Paeg Click Through Rate Curve. Slingshot SEO - Mission ImposSERPble: Establishing Google Click-Through Rates

Study of: 10,000 keywords (only 324 used in study)
Sample Data: 6 month period (Jan – June 2011), sites with ‘stable’ rankings over a 30 day period

What to take away from all of this?

Basically any of these studies always need to be taken as snapshot with various faults – there are too many variables to get accurate estimates of the top position click through rates.  Sure Google knows, but do you think we’ll ever see that data!?

We tend to estimate positions 1-3 to have a click through rate averaging 20% for our models although these are always taken with  pinch of salt & there are many other variables at hand.

As a rule – look at all the studies, average them out & find a happy medium.

Final Thoughts

Without doubt there is great value in getting number 1 rankings – you can see two or three times the level of traffic.  This seems to be more of the case for head terms – long tail terms seem to be more evenly spaced out over the whole first page.

Push for number 1 position but remember it takes a lot of effort to get there & stay there!


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