Falling SERP CTR – 10 Tips To Protect Yourself in 2020

SERP CTR is the click-through rate you get from the search results page. Average CTR from the search results has been falling over the last 12 months.

In this article, you'll dicsover:

  • why SERP CTR has been falling
  • what 'zero click' search is
  • 10 ways to increase your click-though rate from the search results
falling serp ctr

The Rise of Zero Click Search

According to a June 2019 article on Search Engine Land, 49% of all searches performed on Google result in no-click. The original research was conducted by Jumpshot and SparkToro.

zero click searches in 2019

In other words, the searcher found what they were looking for without clicking through to a website.

This is called a no-click (or zero-click) search. It’s a trend that’s been developing for a number of years.

In the first quarter of 2016, the total percentage of zero-click searches on Google was 36.96. That means that zero click searches have increased by over 12% in the last 3 years.

Many of the bloggers I know are seeing their organic CTRs plummeting. People are becoming alarmed.

So what’s causing the sharp decline in click-through rates from search results?

There may be several factors involved, but one cause, in particular, stands out.

Featured Snippets & Zero Click Search

The prime suspect in the rapid decline of organic CTR is the Featured Snippet.

Also known as ‘Position Zero’ (because it’s above Position #1), these are snippets that take up four or five times the amount of real estate as a normal SERP snippet.

They aim to give the searcher the answer to their search query without the need to click through to the actual web page.

Here’s an example:

example of featured snippet

When you click through to the article itself, you can see what Google has done:

derivation of featured snippet

Google has pulled the numbered headings out of the article and presented them in the snippet.

What’s interesting is that Google not only pulls items out of articles to make its own list, it also numbers, or re-numbers, the list.

You can see evidence of this in the featured snippet. Some of the items have double numbering: the author’s original number plus Google’s added numbering:

featured snippet

Featured Snippets - Friend or Enemy?

How can featured snippets be responsible for a decline in SERP CTR?

Surely, they result in more clicks, not less – that’s why everyone is trying to get them.

Despite their prominence, featured snippets don’t get as many clicks as you might think (that's the whole reason Google is using them - so that searchers don't have to click away from Google).

According to a study by Ahrefs of 2 million featured snippets, the average CTR for a featured snippet is only 8.6%.

Compare this with Position #1.

On a page with featured snippets, Position #1 gets an average of 19.6% of the available clicks. And on a page without featured snippets, Position #1 gets an average of 26% of available clicks:

CTR and featured snippets

If you’re still in doubt, here’s some research by Path Interactive about the percentage of searchers who find what they want in a featured snippet without clicking through.

Among people aged 13 to 18, a massive 40% get the information they need from the featured snippet without clicking through.

And in the 18 to 30 age bracket, over 20% of those surveyed “read the content in the snippet and consider the question answered without clicking the associated blue link”

featured snippets and zero click

Earlier this month, Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner published an article with the title: ‘The Death of Google Search Traffic and What It Means for Marketers’.

Stelzner’s assessment was grim:

Michael Stelzner quote

So what can you do to keep getting clicks from your SERP snippets, even when featured snippets are sucking the oxygen out of CTR?

There are a few things you can do, but before I get to that, not everyone is evenly affected by the move towards featured snippets and zero-click searches.

Immunity From Zero Click Search

Not all content is susceptible to zero-click search.

For example, if you write an article on how to set up WordPress from start to finish, that’s not a question that can be answered in a featured snippet. That kind of content will be immune from the drive towards no-click search.

But a recipe? A DIY article? An article that lists the best restaurants in Paris? That’s the kind of content that is vulnerable to featured snippets and zero-click search.

So the first thing to do is establish whether your content is going to be affected by featured snippets.

These are the niches that are particularly vulnerable to featured snippets and zero-click search:

  • Recipes sites
  • Review sites that compare products in tables
  • ‘How to’ sites (any site that specializes in short ‘how-to’ articles)
  • Websites that specialize in definitions
  • Websites that publish a lot of ‘list’ type articles

SERP CTR - An Important Ranking Factor

Before I get into the details of how to combat the move towards zero-click search, here’s an important point.

Even without the threat of no-click search, it’s always important to watch your SERP CTR and try to improve it.

The reason for this is that Google closely watches CTR. The algorithm assumes that SERP snippets with low CTR are less relevant to that particular search query. And so Google will move low-CTR snippets further down the page.

So CTR is, indirectly, a Google ranking factor. And that means it’s vital to monitor CTR and try to improve it.

It’s actually quite a bit more complex than this.

There’s a strong relationship between organic CTR and where a page ranks in the search results.

Google knows this (of course) and so the search engine has ‘expected CTRs’ for each position in the search results.

In other words, if your site ranks in Position #2 for a given search query, Google will have an ‘expected CTR’ for that position that's different for the expected CTR for Position #7.

If your snippet exceeds the expected CTR for your position, you go up, but if your snippet fails to meet the expected CTR, your snippet goes down.

It’s pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they’re less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top. Building a feedback loop is a fairly obvious step forward in quality for both search and recommendations systems, and a smart search engine would incorporate the data. 

- edmond lau (former google engineer)

How To Increase Your SERP CTR In a Zero-Click World

Here are 10 ways to increase your SERP CTR and protect yourself from zero-click search:

1. Write Compelling SEO Titles

Here are some proven ways to lift the CTR of your SEO titles:

Use Numbers

Numbers grab our attention faster than words and make your title stand out from the others. Try to find a way of including 2 or 3 numbers in your title. For example, 5 Powerful Ways To Get 1000 Subscribers in 30 Days.

Use Power Words

Use power words in your title, such as ‘free’, ‘best’, ‘intriguing’, ‘exciting’, ‘perfect’, ‘instantly’.

Here's a list of '700+ Power Words That Will Boost Your Conversions'.

Use Emotion

Emotion drives human behavior more than logic or facts. Try to invoke strong emotional responses by using words such as ‘want’, ‘get’, ‘imagine’, ‘free’, ‘instantly’.

Here’s a list of ‘400+ Words That Trigger Emotional Responses’.

Use Active Verbs

You want your SEO title to produce an action (clicking the title) so use active verbs.

One way to do this is to imagine the searcher thinking “I want to…” and then finish the sentence for them.

Avoid Truncated Titles

SEO titles that have been cut off or truncated are less likely to produce a click because only a portion of your message is visible.

Use the Yoast SEO plugin to ensure your titles are less than 60 characters in length.

Use This Title Formula

This headline formula works in almost every situation:

[Number] + [Emotional Adjective] + [Content] + [That Does What Exactly?]

Make sure to use it in your SEO titles.

2. Write Enticing Meta Descriptions

As with your SEO title, always include your keyword in the meta description.

Why? Because searchers are scanning the results looking for the search query they just typed into Google.

Include a Call To Action (e.g. “Get Your FREE Copy”) in the meta description. And remember that if you don’t set a meta description, Google will create one for you and (and it won’t be as good as the one you write).

3. Use Descriptive URLs

SERP snippets are much more effective when the URL matches the SEO title.

Use descriptive URL’s and not randomly generated URLs.

For example, for an SEO title that refers to ‘Best Apple Pie Recipe’ your URL should look like this www.yourdomain.com/apple-pie-recipe and not like this: www.yourdomain.com/?p157=id&426

4. Use Your Brand Name in the Title

Brand name recognition could increase your SERP CTR.

To insert your brand name in your SEO titles, use the free Yoast SEO plugin.

Go to SEO > Search Appearance > Title Separator and choose one of the 14 different types of title separators:

increase SERP CTR

Then go to ‘Content Types’ and remove ‘snippet variables’ until you are left with these three variables:

increase SERP CTR

Then hit ‘Save changes’ at the bottom of the page.

Now, when you create a new blog post, Yoast will populate your SEO title with these three variables:

increase SERP CTR

By default, the Yoast plugin inserts the title of your post.

But you can modify the SEO title: it doesn’t have to be the same as the article title (and probably shouldn’t be).

Just click on ‘Edit Snippet’, delete the ‘title’ tag and enter the text that you want for the title:

modifying the SEO title in Yoast

5. Add Breadcrumb Markup

When breadcrumb navigation appears in a SERP snippet, it provides the searcher with valuable context and additional clickable navigation options. This increases CTR.

breadcrumb navigation in SERP snippets

If your WordPress theme does not already have breadcrumbs, you can add breadcrumb navigation using the Yoast SEO plugin.

Here are instructions on how to do it: 'Implement Yoast SEO Breadcrumbs'

6. Add Schema

Use Structured Data Markup to help the search engines pull key information into your SERP snippet. Search Engine Journal reports that when they added structured data to their site:

  • Clicks increased by 43 percent
  • Impressions are up by almost 1 percent.
  • Average position also increased by 12 percent.

You can add structured data using a plugin such as All In One Schema Rich Snippets

7. Target Long Tail Keywords

Content that targets long tail keywords generates higher CTRs than content that targets head keywords.

The reason for this is that long tail keywords represent searchers who have a much clearer idea of what they’re looking for. And so they’re more likely to click on a SERP snippet for a long tail keyword.

The correlation between long tail keywords and higher click-through rates, can be seen in

Research conducted by Calculate Marketing. Although this chart refers to paid ads, the findings apply equally well to organic search.

CTR for long tail keywords

Put simply: long tail keywords produce higher CTRs than head keywords because people who type them into a search engine have a clearer idea of what they want.

8. Get Higher Rankings

This might seem a rather obvious piece of advice. But the fact is, the higher you rank in the SERPs, the higher your CTR, as the following table shows:

correlation between CTR and SERP position

9. Improve Your Site Speed

Search ranking is directly correlated with page speed: the faster your web page loads, the higher it will rank in the search results. And higher-ranking pages get higher click-through rates.

So increasing site speed leads to higher SERP CTR.

For tips on how to increase your site speed, see my article: 27 Easy Ways to Reduce Server Response Time in WordPress

10. Compare Your Highest and Lowest SERP CTR

Find out which blog posts have a high organic CTR and which have a low organic CTR. Then compare the two, and try to identify the differences that give some of your blog posts a high organic CTR.

To do this, go to Google Search Console > Performance and then click on the ‘export data’ button. Choose ‘download CSV’ and then open the CSV file in Microsoft Excel:

google search console

Then just sort the CTR column from high to low:

download CTR data from GSC

Next, copy a search query (Column A) for a high CTR web page into Google and try to identify what it is in the search snippet that is producing the high SERP CTR.

Pay close attention to things like:

  • Action words, emotional trigger words, numbers, and symbols in the SEO title
  • Call To Action (CTA) in the meta description
  • URLs that match the SEO title

Do the same for web pages with low CTR: look at the search snippet as it appears in Google and try to see how it’s different from a high CTR page. Have a close look at things like:

  • Absence of numbers, trigger words, action words, and symbols in the SEO title
  • Lack of CTA in the meta description
  • URLs that don’t match the SEO title

Do this for 5 high CTR pages and 5 low CTR pages and you’ll begin to get an idea of what factors give your pages a high CTR.

Conclusion

Click-Through Rates (CTR) from search results are falling and have been for about 3 years.

Web marketers should always monitor the SERP CTR of their web pages. But now, with half of all searches resulting in no clicks, it's even more important.

Use these 10 tips to increase your SERP CTR and immunize yourself against zero-click search.

This post was most recently updated on September 3rd, 2020

Rob Powell
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