Every business that’s serious about search engine optimizations has one main goal: reach the top 3 organic search results on Google. Naturally one of the main KPIs in SEO projects is the organic position on your targeted keywords.
For most of my clients, it’s obvious that their positions in the search engine result pages (SERPs) is vital. But how exactly being in the top 3 Google results will affect your business? Sure, you typically get more visibility and dramatically higher click-through rate (CTR) in positions 1 to 3, compared to the pages in lower positions. But how high is it exactly? For the past 10 years, online marketing agencies have been regularly publishing their own click-through rate (CTR) studies on the Google’s search positions. Their results, though could be dramatically different, from one study to another.
That’s why I think that it is important to look at more than one study in order to have a clear idea of what your business will gain by being on first page of Google.
In this article, I’ll be going through some of the major CTR studies from the past 10 years and see how they compare.
The first study I’ll start with is also the most recent one. In 2019, backlinko.com made an extensive study across CTR data from 874,929 pages and 5,079,491 search queries.
Their findings are presented in the graphic below:
According to their results, the #1 result in Google’s organic search results has an average CTR of 31.7%. This is about 10x higher compared to the #10 position.
Depending on the positions ranges, moving up 1 spot in the search results may increase your CTR by 30.8%. But the increase in CTR you will see, drastically varies depending on from where to where the page will move.
For example, moving from position #3 to position #2 will usually result in a significant CTR boost. But if your page is moving from position #10 to #9 you way not see any significant increase in traffic.
According to this study, organic CTR for positions 7 to 10 are almost the same. Therefore moving up a few spots on the bottom of the first page may not result in more organic traffic.
An interesting finding in this study is the significant CTR difference between #1 and #2. The study suggest that it may be due to the many instinctive clinks that first Google result gets, according to a recent Moz survey
And it was not surprising to see that the top 3 organic results, receive collectively 75.1% of all the clicks.
Internet Marketing Ninja’s study from 2017
The second study I will be looking at was conducted in the summer of 2017 by the website www.internetmarketingninjas.com.
Their CTR results are presented below, and some interesting finding were made:
According to their study, the CTR for the #1 position was just over 21%: a number that’s much lower than what was recorded by many other CTR studies.
Another difference between this and other studies is that the collective CTR of the first 3 results is also lower. And, similar as with the previous report, the top 3 organic results, receive collectively 39.3% of all the clicks.
The #2 ranking has just over 10% of the clicks and a #3 ranking has a CTR of 7.5%. Rankings at Positions 4-8 were in the 5% to 1.7% range.
Another interesting difference between this and other studies is the higher number of clicks on the second page: the CTRs did not drop below 1% for any position on the second page (while other studies show CTRs of 0.8%-0.3% at the bottom of the top 20 results).
But similar to other studies, this one also shows a significant CTR difference between #1 and #2: the CTR drops from 21.1% to 10,6%. This suggests that the first Google result gets two times more clicks than the second result!
IMN also differentiated rankings between for B2B and B2C sites and the overall CTRs are very comparable:
Still, according to their results, B2B sites tended to have higher CTRs on the top half of Page 1 compared to B2C sites.
And they also compared the CTRs between Branded and Non-Branded queries:
Unsurprisingly, the data shows that banded queries have much higher CTRs than non-branded queries and the fact that 99% of the clicks are going to the first 3 positions can be explained by the lack of completion on branded search terms (users find what they’re looking for in the first 3 results).
Chitika study from 2013
In June 2013, Chitika.com conducted another study on CTR.
Almost 33% of searchers click on the first result on Google.com. The second position gets nearly 18% of the clicks and third result’s CTR is 11%. The CTR of the first 15 results is listed below:
Chitika’s findings from 2013 confirm the important difference between position 1 and position 2 (the top one spot gets almost 15% more clicks).
The #1 organic position drove 32.5% of all traffic in the sample.
The combined total of positions 2 through 5 slots, and more than the combined total of traffic to positions, 5 through 20 (the end of page 2).
Their study also confirms the very small percentage of users click through to the second page: 99.8% of the traffic is going to the first page of SERPs.
Slingshot SEO study from 2011
In late spring of 2011, Slingshot SEO, conducted another CTR study, based on both Google and Bing results. They examined more than 200 major retailer & enterprise sites using 324 keywords. Back in the time, this was considered the largest Click-Through rate study that’s been done in the past five years and it was very commented over the web.
But the results were quite different from many other previous studies. Comparing both search engines, Slingshot SEO also concluded that the CTR differentiation of the number 1 position compared to lower positions was not nearly as previous studies indicated.
The data for the top 10 from each search engine is shown below:
Based on their sample of 324 keywords, the Slingshot SEO study reveals an 18.2% CTR for the number one position on Google and 10.05% CTR for position two.
So according to their results, moving from position 2 to position 1 will result in only 8.15% increase in clicks and traffic.
Nowadays, it’s difficult to believe the low CTR results from this study, especially when many other subsequent studies show that the collective amount of click for positions 1 to 3 s much higher. However, I think it’s important to mention Slingshot SEO’s results here, because they show the big discrepancies in data that may exist between one CTR study to another. It’s also good to have in mind that it’s possible that No. 1 position may receive a CTR lower than 20%. You can consider this number as an average #1 position CTR in a pessimistic scenario, when you estimate SEO budget and costs.
Optify Study from 2010
And the last study I will mention is from December 2010.
In 2010, Optify conducted an organic click-through rate study, based on 250 randomly chosen B2B and B2C sites and between 200 and 1,000 keywords. The study was only based on U.S. Google search engine results pages.
They concluded that the top 1 position in the Google SERPs gets on average 36.4% of all clicks. A link at the Number 2 position sees a drop in the CTR to an average of just 12.5%, and it continues to decline from there.
All of their results for the top 20 positions are listed below:
The surprising finding of this study is that:
- the top 3 organic spots receive 58.4 of all clicks from users.
- website visits could triple by moving up from second to first position;
being number one in Google, is the equivalent of all the traffic going to the sites appearing in the second through fifth positions;
- the first link on Page 2 (position #11), is actually a more valuable position in terms of CTR than Number 10, the last spot on the first SERP page;
- position 14 appears to be the least effective spot, on average, in the list!
- Head terms (keywords with more than 1,000 monthly searches) in the number one position have 32% CTR – and 4.6% overall CTR on Page 1
- Long tail terms in the number one position have 25% CTR – and 9% overall CTR on Page 1
Optify concluded that you won’t see “huge benefits” until you don’t rank in the top positions with head terms. However, long tail terms can see decent CTR almost anywhere on the first page, though there is less benefit of moving up to higher positions.
What we can tell for sure about organic CTR?
As you can see, there could be big differences in the results of one CTR study to another. That’s because data sets, sizes and methodologies differ greatly for CTR studies. In addition the long time period we’re looking at is also making it difficult to compare the date.
But, while the exact figures and data sets vary from study to study, they all confirm that ranking at the top of Page 1 on Google continues to be incredibly valuable.
There are several other conclusions we can make by looking at these organic CTR studies:
- The first 3 positions of the SERPs are the most advantageous for receiving clicks and combined they receive between 60 to 80% of all the clicks.
- The #1 position is the most important in terms of clicks and traffics: its expected number of clicks can be its CTR can be much higher than the clicks received by positions #2 or #3, and can be 10 times higher compared to the #10 position.
- All results ranked on the second page of Google’s SERPs receive very few to no clicks, so being on second page should not be seen as an SEO goal.
- The organic CTR for positions 7 to 10 are almost the same and very low.
- The popular opinion that “the higher you’re ranked, the more clicks you get” is not exactly true. For example, moving from position #3 to position #2 will usually result in a significant CTR boost, while moving from position #10 to #9 you way not see any significant increase in traffic.
- Banded queries have much higher CTRs than non-branded queries.
Limitations of these CTR studies
We shouldn’t forget, however that click through rate studies have their limitations. There are many mitigating factors that affect the average CTR per ranking position, some of them are:
First, they present generic CTR numbers based on averaged values from large, aggregated website samples.
The query type
The click trought rates on organic search results also depend on the type of the search terms. Branded queries have much higher CTRs than non-branded queries. Highly competitive head terms have higher CTR than long tail terms.
Rich snippets, videos and shopping units affect the CTR
Second, they don’t take into consideration various factors affecting CTR Overall, such as rich snippets markup, videos and Google shopping results.
For the recent years Google keeps on including rich snippets, videos, shopping results and other items in the search results will heavily effect the CTR of organic search listings. The introduction of in-depth articles in 2013 and the knowledge graph in 2012 are some of the many examples of changes in the SERPs which have affected the way users engage with the search results.
The Website awareness
These studies pass over brand awareness of different websites. A popular study by Distilled (and published in the SEOmoz blog) analyzed the “Wikipedia Effect” and about the power of Wikipedia as a brand. It revealed that Wikipedia results, have their own very high CTRs, even when they are not ranked #1 for a query.
On-site SEO factors impacting CTR
The studies don’t take into consideration the impact of meta titles and descriptions on CTR. In theory, well-written and appealing meta titles and descriptions could increase your website’s CTRs. This depends, however on the type of the query. For example, the relevance of the metadata of search results for informational queries, has a lower impact on clicks, as searchers simply trust Google’s judgment on the matter.
Potential timing factors
CTRs may also be affected by factors such as timing, seasonality, algorithm updates, mobile search, user interface changes.
One targeted audience can have and display different user behavior habits from another. For example, most people in the tech industry will avoid clicking on Adwords ads in the search results and this can affect the CTR of the organic results. In contrast, other google users still don’t distinguish between organic and paid ads, which may lead to a higher CTR% of paid ads targeting less tech-savvy users.
CTR Varies between Different Industries
And at last, the click-trough rates on organic results vary from one industry to another. That’s why, in more recent years, some agencies are conducting CTR studies specialized in specific industries. Even thought these studies are also based on large aggregated subsets of data, they are decreasing the industry effect on the results.
Even though it’s impossible to predict what will be the exact CTR that you will get, there is no doubt that your website really needs to be on the first page of Google’s results to get any real chance of being seen.
And to build a successful online business you need to target positions 1 to 4 for a variety of terms.
While the exact figures and data sets vary from study to study, they all confirm that ranking at the top of Page 1 on Google continues to be incredibly valuable and the best advice is to invest more heavily in search engine optimization and stay on top of SEO best practices and strategies.