seoClarity: In Mobile World, Search Result Placement Is Critical to Clicks

Search engine optimization – and where a website appears in search results – can have a significant impact on click-through rate (CTR), especially for mobile search, according to a study released last week by SEO analytics provider seoClarity.

The study – the first of a three-part series analyzing CTR for mobile and desktop users – collected data over 90 days during the summer to avoid any seasonal impact on the results.

The Findings

First and foremost the study found that if you’re not first, you might as well be last. The most significant findings of the CTR study are those showing mobile behavior. The first ranking result comes in at 27.7 percent CTR, and drops to just 9.2 percent for the second-placed search result. This study claims to be the first to compile a comprehensive data set of CTR for mobile.

ctr-mobile-study

When reviewing desktop metrics, CTR rates fell by 7.9 percent from the first ranking result to the second.

ctr-desktop-model

The study also included desktop results for branded versus non-branded CTR. As evidenced by the chart below, the top-ranked branded result has a 22 percent higher CTR than the number two spot. However, once you reach the fifth ranking result, the CTR stays consistent through the 10th ranking result.

When reviewing the data for non-branded keywords, a much more consistent decline in results is even clearer.

ctr-brand-versus-non-brand

What Makes This Study Different?

  • The team analyzed more than 2 billion imprecisions and 2.6 million clicks
  • Clients agreed to provide access to their data for research purposes
  • This is the first CTR study that drills down into mobile behaviors

To provide more insight into the results, SEW spoke with Ryan Heuser, senior technical account manager of seoClarity, and primary author of the study.

SEW: Do you attribute the gap between CTR on desktop and mobile purely to the platform? Or do you believe the user habits to be different, therefore causing the gap between Rank 1 and Rank 2?

Heuser: I don’t believe one factor independently contributes to the gap, as there are a number of variables such as user intent. User behavior certainly plays a role, such as if a user wants to quickly find information on a search they’ll be more apt to click the first available link with relevant content to find their answer. Customized results and local intent further impact the results page and inevitably influence click through rates.

SEW: When analyzing mobile results, did you differentiate between those that used the Google app and those that used the standard browser on their mobile device?

Heuser: For the study we used Google Webmaster Tools as presented and did not segregate the results for mobile between app or browser. I do not believe it would impact the data in any significant manner.

SEW: How much do you believe changes in search engine algorithm will affect samples like the ones collected for this study in 2015 and beyond?

Heuser: The best studies are those done recently and with a large sample size because of that exact reason of the algorithm changing. Not only does the result set change, but the lay out and display can as well. It would be beneficial to see the study done on a recurring basis to provide the most actionable data.

SEW: As the author of this study, what data points/results do you believe are the most surprising?

Heuser: Certainly the percentage and thereby the value behind ranking in the first position on a mobile was interesting, but I believe it’s understandable considering the custom and local results, as well as the need for speed of knowledge.

The most surprising points beyond that are the higher percentage in position 4 vs. 3 on mobile, which seems to be related to user behavior (aka fat thumb scrolling) and the higher percentages for position 10 vs. 9 (both desktop and mobile) that further speaks to user behavior (part of the reason ad space is sold at the bottom of the page).

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