Monday, May 17, 2010

A SEO KPI: Organic Clickthrough Rate

SEO measurement image
How do you evaluate the performances of your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts? Too many times, the focus is on measuring patiently your ranking in search results for those holy keywords you have identified. When finally you achieve high ranking in Google (what?! There are other search engines than Google?! You must be kidding? ;-)), you think it is time to party and make the joy dance. Are you sure?

Measuring your SEO success: ranking is not a KPI!
Hold on your horses! Search engine optimization ultimate goal is not about being #1 in search results. It is about increasing quality traffic, getting visitors engaged, driving more conversions and hopefully more revenues. That is why you should do SEO not for the pole position - search optimization is not a race.

You must measure if your efforts drive traffic to your site - the quantitive part - but also the quality of those visitors. Do they just “come, puke and leave” (to quote Avinash Kaushik’s bounce rate funky definition)? Or do they actually explore you site deeper? Do they “convert”? Do they make you richer?

Audience quality can be measured using bounce rate (or any proxy you have defined for “engagement”), conversion rate and average revenue (if possible). Such metrics or key performance indicators usually come from your beloved Web Analytics tool (or hated one – depends on the relationship you have with your tool) – segmented on organic traffic (and per keyword for deeper analysis).

Conversion rate trend for organic search traffic

One can use organic traffic share (% of visits coming from organic search) as performance indicator for evaluating how your SEO efforts impacted your site traffic. But the problem with such ratio is that it can be influenced by other factors.

For example, your organic search traffic rate can go down if you are doing search engine advertising (SEA), banner campaigns or any major offline campaign. It doesn’t mean your optimization efforts are not performing well. Or if search results are misleading visitors and driving inappropriate audience to your site, effective optimization efforts can result in a significant decrease of search traffic share (but compensated by an increase of quality).

What you may want to know (and you should if you are doing search engine optimization) is if your optimized copy texts are sexy, attractive and driving action (i.e. click on the result link). Are people more likely to click on results that point to your site after you made the changes? What changes delivered the best improvements? And which ones failed?

The Organic Clickthrough Rate
To answer these important questions, you need to measure the clickthrough rate of your organic listing texts – in a similar way as you do for adwords or banner ads. Yep, the infamous clickthrough rate also known as CTR. It is calculated as follows:

Organic CTR = Number of clicks on Organic search results  / Total number of impressions

The number of impressions being the number of times pages from your site were viewed in search results. “Yes, sure but how can I measure organic impressions? I don’t have this info and no way my Web Analytics tool can measure that – I can only get clicks and visits” you may say.

Traditional Web Analytics tools can not provide you organic impression figures but Google Webmaster Tools offer this valuable information in the new Search queries report that was released last April.

New search queries report from Google Webmaster tools

It provides you with all you need to calculate global Organic Clickthrough rate and more:
  • Total number of impressions 
  • Total number of clicks
  • Impressions, clicks, clickthrough ratio and average position per keyword
(Note: Figures provided by Google Webmaster Tools are rounded therefore the number of clicks will not match 100% the number from your Web analytics tool).

But the best part is that you can drilldown and gets details for each keyword: you can see impressions, clicks & CTR per position and per entry pages. And results can be sorted on the different columns.

Keyword detailed viewed in Google Webmaster Tools - search queries report

The key features of the new Search Queries report are:
  • Impression & click trends over time
  • Configurable time period (over a bit more than last 30 days)
  • Segmentation per search type: all, Web, Mobile, Mobile (Smartphone) and Image.
  • Segmentation per country
  • Keyword bookmarking to follow-up and analyse your important keywords
  • Export to CSV format

How to use Organic clickthrough rate?
Well, if you did a good job, it should translate into an increase of your Organic CTR over time or at least for the keywords you have optimized. But looking at the Organic CTR is not enough. You should keep an eye also on the “quality indicators” such as the bounce rate, conversion rate and average revenue.

Google Webmaster tools allow you to easily identify keywords that are performing well and those that don’t while looking at the impression level. Make sure visible ones get a better organic CTR while trying to improve ranking of those that have a very good CTR.

Too bad it doesn’t give overall clickthrough rate but you can easily calculate it and track it over time. For example, the chart below is based on Google Webmaster Tools report and show how the global CTR evolved during last month.

Example of Organic Clickthrough rate over time

Finally you can segment per platform (i.e. Web vs. Mobile for example) to better optimize each one (segmentation rules!).

Segment the organic clickthrough rate per platform
Google Webmaster Tools is not just a great tool for any website owner involved in search engine optimization. It is a must! It offers many other great features such as inbound links, indexing stats, most common keywords found and more. It’s easy to set-up and it’s 100% free. Thank you Google! I definitely recommend to try it out if you don’t know it yet.

What do you think about the Organic Clickthrough as a SEO indicator? Any comment? Do you have any experience with this new Google Webmaster tools feature? Or any tip to share using Google Webmaster Tools?

I am curious to hear from you.

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  1. Hi!
    This kind of posts are the ones that make me wonder why the hell did I not think about it before??

    I will start to include organic CTR in my dashboard and yes, I reckon it will be interesting to cross the information from CTR with bounce rates and other important KPI's for each organization.


  2. I would only add that when you have great traffic on your website it 's not for sure of its quality when id doesn't convert. The problem can also lay in usability or in other stuff. Then conversion optimization is also helpfull:)

  3. Hi Mariusz,

    Fully agree. Getting rank #1 and increase traffic volume alone doesn't mean necessarily success. That is why SEO success should be measured on a combination of indicators that reflect:
    - Quality & relevancy of your display in SERP
    - Quality of landing page, content
    - Quality of audience reached.

    There is no point in having 1000's of visitors if these are not the right ones, leave on the first page or simply do not "convert" (conversions can be micro or macro ones).



  4. Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  5. @Alamin: thanks for the comment. I guess I should try to work on this blog SEO to get it a higher ranking :-)


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