Google SERP CTR Data by Search Rank

Generally I have not been a huge fan of registering all your websites with Google (profiling risks, etc.), but they keep using the carrot nicely to lead me astray. :D ... So much so that I want to find a Googler and give them a hug.

Google recently decided to share some more data in their webmaster tools. And for many webmasters the data is enough to make it worth registering (at least 1 website)!

AOL Click Data

When speaking of keyword search volume beakdown data people have typically shared information from the leaked AOL search data.

The big problem with that data is it is in aggregate. It is a nice free tool, and a good starting point, but it is fuzzy.

Types of Searches

There are 3 well known search classifications: navigational, transactional, and informational. Each type of query has a different traffic breakdown profile.

  • In general, for navigational searches people click the top result more often than they would on an informational search.
  • In general, for informational searches people tend to click throughout the full set of search results at a more even distribution than they would for navigational or transactional searches.
  • The only solid recently-shared publicly data on those breakdowns is from Dogpile [PDF], a meta search engine. But given how polluted meta search services tend to be (with ads mixed in their search results) those numbers were quite a bit off from what one might expect. And once more, they are aggregate numbers.

Other Stuff in the Search Results

Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that the appearance of vertical / universal results within the search results set can impact search click distribution. Google shows maps on 1 in 13 search results, and they have many other verticals they are pushing - video, updates, news, product search, etc. And then there are AdWords ads - which many searchers confuse as being the organic search results.

Pretty solid looking estimates can get pretty rough pretty fast. ;)

The Value of Data

If there is one critical piece of marketing worth learning above all others it is that context is important.

My suggestions as to what works, another person's opinions or advice on what you should do, and empirical truth collected by a marketer who likes to use numbers to prove his point ... well all 3 data sets fall flat on their face when compared against the data and insights and interactions that come from running your own business. As teachers and marketers we try to share tips to guide people toward success, but your data is one of the most valuable things you own.

A Hack to Collect Search Volume Data & Estimated CTR Data

In their Excel plug-in Microsoft shares the same search data they use internally, but its not certain that when they integrate the Yahoo! Search deal that Microsoft will keep sharing as much data as they do now.

Google offers numerous keyword research tools, but getting them to agree with each other can be quite a challenge.

There have been some hacks to collect organic search clickthrough rate data on Google. One of the more popular strategies was to run an AdWords ad for the exact match version of a keyword and bid low onto the first page of results. Keep the ad running for a while and then run an AdWords impression share report. With that data in hand you can estimate how many actual searches there were, and then compare your organic search clicks against that to get an effective clickthrough rate.

The New Solution

Given search personalization and localization and the ever-changing result sets with all the test Google runs, even the above can be rough. So what is a webmaster to do?

Well Google upgraded the data they share inside their webmaster tools, which includes (on a per keyword level)

  • keyword clickthrough rank
  • clickthrough rate at various ranking positions
  • URL that was clicked onto

Trophy Keywords vs Brand Keywords

Even if your site is rather well known going after some of the big keywords can be a bit self-defeating in terms of the value delivered. Imagine ranking #6 or #7 for SEO. Wouldn't that send a lot of search traffic? Nope.

When you back away the ego searches, the rank checkers, etc. it turns out that there isn't a ton of search volume to be had ranking on page 1 of Google for SEO.

With only a 2% CTR the core keyword SEO is driving less than 1/2 the traffic driven by our 2 most common brand search keywords. Our brand might not seem like it is getting lots of traffic with only a few thousand searches a month, but when you have a > 70% CTR that can still add up to a lot of traffic. More importantly, that is the kind of traffic which is more likely to buy from you than someone searching for a broad discovery or curiosity type of keyword.

The lessons for SEOs in that data?

  • Core keywords & raw mechanical SEO are both quite frequently heavily over-rated in terms of value.
  • Rather than sweating trying to rank well for the hardest keywords first focus on more niche keywords that are easy to rank for.
  • If you have little rank and little work to do then there is lots of time to focus on giving people reasons to talk about you and reference you.
  • Work on building up brand & relationships. This not only gives your link profile more karma, but it sends you a steady stream of leads for if/when you fall out of favor a bit with the search engines.

Those who perceive you well will seek you out and buy from you. But it is much harder to sell to someone who sees you as just another choice amongst many results.

Search is becoming the default navigational tool for the web. People go to Google and then type in "yahoo." If you don't have a branded keyword as one of your top keywords that might indicate long-term risk to your business. If a competitor can clone most of what you are doing and then bake in a viral component you are toast.

Going After the Wrong Brand Keywords

Arbitraging 3rd party brands is an easy way to build up distribution quickly. This is why there are 4,982 Britney Spears fan blogs (well 2 people are actually fans, but the other 4,980 are marketers).

But if you want to pull in traffic you have to go after a keyword that is an extension of the brand. Ranking for "eBay" probably won't send you much traffic (as their clickthrough rate on their first result is probably even higher than the 70% I had above). Though if you have tips on how to buy or sell on eBay those kinds of keywords might pull in a much higher clickthrough rate for you.

To confirm the above I grabbed data for a couple SEO tool brands we rank well for. A number 3 ranking (behind a double listing) and virtually no traffic!

Different keyword, same result

Informational Keywords

Link building is still a bit of a discovery keyword, but I think it is perhaps a bit later staged than just the acronym "SEO." Here the click volume distribution is much flatter / less consolidated than it was on the above brand-oriented examples.

If when Google lowers your rank you still pull in a fairly high CTR that might be a signal to them that your site should rank a bit higher.

Enough Already!

Enough about our keywords, what does your keyword data tell you? How can you better integrate it to grow your business?

Published: April 15, 2010 by Aaron Wall in google marketing business


April 15, 2010 - 2:11pm

This is great information from When you find that Googler to hug, give them one for me. I can see I will be digging around in this data for a few days now - still a little hesitant to start putting WT on every site, but glad I have it on one of the main money sites. Pity the historical data doesn't go back too far yet - but the data it has is enlightening.

April 15, 2010 - 2:20pm

Group hug!

Seriously, though, I was playing around with the new functionality this morning and coming to the same conclusions. Really a home run from Google here.

Another great part about GWT is it's ability to lock in on keywords on potential "money" keywords that have begun delivering trace impressions but no clicks (something that you cannot decipher using Google Analytics, since it only reports a keyword when you actually get a referral from it)

April 15, 2010 - 3:38pm

My data isn't entirely scientific, but I definitely see that behavior depends on horizontals and verticals.

I'm aware of one domain where Google's results are just awful (compared to user desires) and users have been trained to click on links further down the page and ... GASP ... even click through to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and further result pages.

April 15, 2010 - 7:33pm

If you have an indented listing, Google counts them separately and doubles your impressions. This is valid data and probably the only way to handle it, but if you are showing a double listing, be sure to divide the total impressions by 2 to understand your CTR for a given keyword.

April 15, 2010 - 9:58pm

Yup...and the core CTR is shown as 1/2 of what it would be if you added up the individual numbers. I was surprised to see that we had a non-branded keyword where a double listing with sitelinks pulled in nearly a 90% CTR, at least according to their data when you add up the individual pieces.

April 15, 2010 - 9:16pm

Now if they would link that to Analytics/Adsense that would be really cool. Of course I can do it on my own, but you know for simplicity sakes.

I say that because the "data" shows a phrase that isn't worth the bytes its stored in, but yet it actually pays pretty well.

Of course that also means you have to look below the surface.

Thanks for the post on this.
cd :O)

April 15, 2010 - 9:41pm

You can link those together Chris. :D

Which is what I wrote about in this thread. ;)

April 16, 2010 - 9:00am

I sort of like this feature but am feeling stupid these days so can't really work out how to use them properly.

Anyone got any (simple) ideas?


April 16, 2010 - 9:23am

The new reporting looks very nice, indeed.

However, I am not sure why the reported numbers are so much lower than actual keyword traffic numbers. For the sites I have just checked it shows only approx 20-30%

April 16, 2010 - 3:15pm

Well first of all, this is probably my favorite post ever. Great job.

I still call BS on #1 getting 42.13 percent of shared info. What does that mean anyways? I'm just not buying it when #1 can likely be 2 scrolls down the page these days with the way maps, local, ppc, video, etc. are being pushed.

Most importantly, what does this mean for clicks?

And since i can hit he AOL building with a 7 iron form my office, and considering how they should be ruling the world by now, i simply don't trust them.

The wrong brand keywords section is fascinating. You always impress the heck out of me Aaron.

April 16, 2010 - 8:23pm

That 42% was *before* Google rolled out all the one-box results & universal search features. Also some searches are navigational and get a 90%+ CTR on the top that helps offset a bit the informational searches which might typically get a lower CTR.

April 17, 2010 - 5:27am

Thanks Aaron! This is some great data. I've been looking over my website and my clients - mainly looking at the impressions. See you can setup custom Google Analytics graphs/charts to show you how many clicks come from which keyword and to what pages but knowing how many impression you got was a bit tough. I would usually use Google's Adwords keyword tool to determine this or data from an actual Adwords campaign but this is great.

I just really hope this data is real. I'm going to do a study on one of my own websites and see if the data actually matches up - Google's Adwords keyword tool VS the Webmaster Tools data. I'll let you know my findings.


April 17, 2010 - 6:42am

The data might be just as real as any, but scrub out duplicate visitors which are not scrubbed out in Google analytics or some such.

And even if there is a bit of a data parallax issue, you can still easily account for it by tying together multiple Excel spreadsheets of data.

April 17, 2010 - 8:25am

Thanks Aaron. The results are in from my study and it doesn't look like Google can add! Something is not accurate - it's either one or the other or both. Or maybe it's me, but it just doesn't look right. Here is my blog post from my study: Google Can't Add - New Webmaster Tools Impressions Data Doesn’t Add Up

April 17, 2010 - 9:03am

It just seems like the data is off too much after looking over my study. Also as the impression numbers get larger the data seems to be off more and more at a greater amount. I also did the study on a few other domains than what I put on my blog but I got the same results. The only thing I could see is that the analytics data just is not true or the averaging (since it's an average of past months) is throwing it off.

And for the analytics data it could be duplicate visitors but I've tested analytics verse other visitor tracking software and it seems to be pretty accurate - even when I used other software which showed me the IP address of the visitors so I could really tell if there were any dups. Although that was quite a while ago I did that study - some years ago.

Any thoughts? Thanks for your input and time.

April 17, 2010 - 11:06am

Awesome waiting for this kind of stats from Google Webmaster, This is somethings that really rocks :)

April 24, 2010 - 1:28pm

Aaron - a bit off topic, but wondering if you have seen our new Google Suggest keyword research tool?

It's called Suggester and can be found at:

As far as I know, no one is really exploring the significance of the deep list of terms stored in Google Suggest. (Sorry if this got posted twice, I'm not sure if moderation is on and I don't see the comment.)

April 24, 2010 - 5:18pm

Yup, I saw it. Cool tool. We also offer a Google Suggest scraper, but have not iterated through the alphabet of extensions and whatnot with ours. :D

Glen Woodfin
November 21, 2011 - 3:50am

Aaron, hope you don't mind, I used your graphic on my site and put a live hypertext link back to your site below it: I just published it, but I'll be upgrading it with a premium theme shortly.

I'll be happy to alter it in any way. Just let me know. Otherwise, if it's okay, I'll proudly display it as I'm an SeoBook fan.

November 21, 2011 - 4:32am

thanks for the link Glen :)

Glen Woodfin
December 11, 2011 - 1:16pm

Aaron, this time I gave you a better link to this post on a PR4 site because I used your graph again : )

I love this illustration because it makes it so easy to see the critical importance of ranking in the search engines. It so clearly shows that about 97% of traffic from a Google search goes to the first page...especially above the fold.

December 13, 2011 - 12:43am

thanks again Glen :)

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