Do Search Click-Throughs Help Determine Where a Page Ranks?

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Do Search Click-throughs help rank pages at Google?

In a recent article at Search Engine Land, we were told that Google Posts That Local Results Are Influenced By Clicks, Then Deletes That. It caught my attention and had me investigating further.

Patents Involving Search Click-Throughs Influencing Search Results

It made me recall three patents that described when search click-throughs might influence whether or not pages appeared for certain queries.

The first patent I wrote about in a post titled Google Patents Click-Through Feedback on Search Results to Improve Rankings. The patent that post was about was Modifying search result ranking based on a temporal element of user feedback

The second patent was one I wrote about in the post How Google May Identify Implicitly Local Queries, which told us that Google might start showing additional web search results in response to queries when they had some kind of local significance. I noticed Google doing this for a client in Florida, and on searches in the two counties where the client operated, a link to the site was showing up at number 4 in the search results for a very relevant and broad query. The patent that this post was about was Identification of implicitly local queries.

Google local relevance

In February of 2012, Google reported upon an upgrade of this nature in the post Search quality highlights: 40 changes for February, where they told us about this:

Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.

But that first version of the patent had nothing to do with search click-throughs. Those appear to have possibly been an added feature. I noticed that this patent had been updated a couple of years later in a continuation patent, where an author had been added to the patent (Navneet Panda – the search quality engineer that the Google Panda update was named after), and the claims section was rewritten to include both web search results and local search results, and a kind of a search click-throughs requirement appeared to be added so that the elevation of results that were showing that might have been added to results because of some local significance seemed to depend upon whether or not they were getting clicked upon sufficient numbers of times. As the claims section of the newer version of the patent tells us:

9. The method of claim 1, wherein selecting a final set of search results responsive to the search query comprises selecting, for inclusion in the final search results, local search results that have at least a minimum threshold click-through-rate when presented in response to the local search query.

The newer version of the patent is:

Locally Significant Search Queries

locally significanct search queries

Check to See if Your Pages are Considered Locally Significant

It can help you to perform searches that may appear to be local to a place to see if it is showing up in search results as a locally significant page. One of my co-workers, Dan Hinckley, wrote a post today on the Go Fish Digital blog about how you can use the Emulator built into Google Chrome to do so, in the post How to Change Your Location for Local Search Results – The Always Up-To-Date Guide. Try it out, but be careful. I was being blocked by a Chrome Extension from using the Emulator built into Chrome.

In 2007, I wrote about another Google patent in the post. Google’s OneBox Patent, where I wrote about the Google patent Determination of a desired repository. This patent told us about when Google would choose to show off an Answer box result in response to a query, which often would be a local search Maps result at the top of search results (and sometimes it would be an image result, or a news result, and possibly now Question Answer results). The patent seemed to tell us that it would decide upon what to show as a One Box result based upon people clicking that result and showing an interest in it, and the decision of what to show us might be based upon a history of searches associated with a query:

21. The system of claim 18, further comprising: a model generation system to generate a model that determines a score associated with a likelihood that a particular user desires information from a repository when the user provides a particular search query.

22. The system of claim 21, wherein the model is a lookup table and the score corresponds to a click-through rate associated with a repository when the user provides the particular search query.

23. The system of claim 21, wherein when determining a score for each of a plurality of repositories, the search engine system is configured to determine a score for each of the repositories based on the model.

24. The system of claim 21, wherein when generating a model, the model generation system is configured to store log data associated with a plurality of prior searches, and use the log data to train the model.

Google Model based upon Instances

Search Click-Throughs Take-Aways

Google does have some patents that illustrate how they might use search click-throughs upon specific searches to determine what results they might display in search results, and where those might be ranked.

Whether or not Google uses information about search click-throughs seems to be something that Google spokespeople have been denying, and it is something that we can’t be certain about. Google has told us that just because they have a patent on something doesn’t necessarily mean they are using what is described in that patent. But, a patent is filed to protect a process that may be in use and to prevent other search engines from also using a process. So, for some reason, Google is protecting processes using search click-throughs that may be influencing search results.

I wrote about a more recent Google patent in the post User Click-Through Rates and Search Result Rankings at Google

Do click-throughs determine whether certain pages appear in search results? We can’t be certain, but it appears like a possibility.

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56 thoughts on “Do Search Click-Throughs Help Determine Where a Page Ranks?”

  1. I think they do not use this data solely : They combined it with consultation time, bounce rate and next clicks (To the next search result?) to compute a user’s satisfaction rate regarding a page for a given query.

  2. Hi Nicolas,

    It is quite possible that a number of signals may be looked at together in conjunction with one another. It’s not unusual for processes to develop and evolve over time. Matt Cutts wrote about PageRank around in the late 2000s, and told us that it had evolved significantly even in the earliest days of Google. We can look at processes described in patents to get an idea of business decisions that Google might have made, but they may not be tremendously good at telling us about the actu

  3. I think they click-throughs matter. We have launched several campaigns and we got clicks from Facebook Ads. After a few hours, we just noticed that blogpost went to the top 3 spot on our main keyword. I’m sure that clicks actually help and Google has a way to check if these clicks are legit or not.

  4. I think for newbies it will definitely help. Your post is very informative. Hopefully You will keep updating new Post Regularly.

  5. Hi John,

    It’s difficult to say, from our view, of how much clicks upon search results might help with rankings. With the local results I mentioned in the post, those seem to look like they would keep appearing as locally significant search results as long as people keep on selecting them from search results. The same with one box results – as long as people keep on clicking upon those, the longer they will show as a one box result, which is what the one box patent seems to indicate. If the people doing that clicking are logged into their Google Accounts when they click upon those results, that’s one way to tell that the clicks weren’t performed by robots.

  6. Hi Bill, I agree with you. It may be possible that they also consider the IP address, device, and other data when determining if the click throughs will help or not. I see earlier this year that someone known in the industry (forgot the exact person who did) tried using mechanical turk and other similar service to drive traffic to a blogpost and it helped the blog post rank. I’ll try to find the link to that case study, I bookmarked it on my other pc.

  7. Curious about the value of a click-thru for ranking purposes. It’s widely known that Meta Description is not a ranking factor and really, that’s what entices folks to click a link in the SERPs, resulting in click-thru. The catch, if there is one, is that Meta Description is entirely manipulative in nature – it’s intent is to get a click. So if Meta Desc. doesn’t affect ranking, why would click-thru? I can easily see the other metrics coming into play once the user is on the site (bounce rate, dwell time, pages visited, etc, etc) but I don’t see how CTR is a reliable factor for ranking.

    That being said Bill….once again, excellent post!! Great background information and detail

  8. Hi Perry,

    Thank you for the question. The purpose of a snippet on search results pages is to give searchers a glimpse of what is contained on a page. Snippets are often (but not always) taken from meta descriptions that are on pages, especially if those contain the query term that someone used to find the page through the search engine. The content of a meta description doesn’t help a page rank higher for the terms contained within it, but it may influence viewers to click through the search result to the page listed in those results. That has nothing to do with whether or not searchers selecting a particular page in response to a query (which a search engine can easily track) could be used by the search engine to influence the rankings of that page, in response to a query. If Google see’s searchers continuing to select the same page over and over in response to a query, it might decide that page is a good choice for those query terms.

    That is what the three patents I pointed to in this post seem to be saying about the selections of specific pages – that the act of searchers selecting those pages appears to be a reliable factor for them to continue being a high ranking result for the query they were found with. Thanks.

  9. First, I admire you for arranging past details as you tried to predict something valuable which can be seen in the future. I personally feel that click through rate should be taken care as a ranking single however, there isn’t any proof of this statement after fraud clicks found.

  10. CTR shouldn’t be used for anything… with Google’s Knowledge Graph, Map Listings & Ads in SERP, they’re encouraging the user to NOT click through to your website’s organic result. This is even more apparent with Google testing 4 ads above the fold instead of 3.

    Add into that competitors trying to negatively influence your rankings by bouncing, not clicking through, clicking on your paid ads, etc and you can see the slippery slope this could lead down towards further manipulation of Google results.

    Just say no to CTR as a ranking factor.

  11. Hi Bill

    I worked with a client in the past that was convinced this had an impact.

    So much so that he set up a farm of raspberry PI’s using separate phone numbers to attempt to manipulate the results in this way.

    Unfortunately we no longer work together so I did not get to see the results, however it looked like an interesting experiment!

  12. I appreciate with you. It may be possible that they also consider the IP address, device, and other data when determining if the click throughs will help or not.

  13. Bill,

    Thank you so much for this detailed and extremely helpful article. At the end of the day, we think the jury is still out regarding whether CTR is a ranking factor. From our experience, it doesn’t seem to be – but you never know. From all of us at More Clicks More Clients, thank you and keep up the great work!

  14. Hey Bill,

    I think the CTR is definitely a factor but to what extent and how it’s being used are the big questions for me. Shooting from the hip I would lean towards the idea that CTR is being combined with other data but as always with Google, we’re all playing the educated guessing game. We’re testing CTR’s right now on two different websites and from the looks of it there does seem to be an influence developing. Time will tell I guess… great post!

  15. Hi Nick,

    Thank you. I agree that chances are Google will look for signals that reinforce each other, but it is true that we are making educated guesses.

  16. Hi More Clicks,

    I do think it’s worth considering how user data information might be used by Google, if at all. And I do think they do try to consider its use. Thanks.

  17. Hi Sagor,

    I suspect that Google might look at information such as you state, and also whether or not a person is logged into Google when considering those click throughs.

  18. Hi Tom,

    That does sound like an interesting experiment. I suspect that some search engineers at Google are dedicated task-wise towards trying to identify and squash some types of manipulation – I suspect that there are many people who try to abuse Google search results.

  19. Hi Scott,

    Google could use clicks upon Knowledge graph, Map listings and Ads, to determine if it should keep on showing those in response to certain queries. If people click upon those when shown, it might be a good idea to keep on showing them. It seems less of an encouragement to get people not to click than it does a reaching out to see if they will click on these nonorganic results.

  20. Hi Vikas,

    Google may be trying to understand better when fraud clicks happen. For example, they might only pay attention to clicks from logged in users whom they have more faith in, that they aren’t bots.

  21. I have just started a website and I want to thank you for such a wonderful post. I am sure this post will help me to rank my site better. I hope you will post similar articles in order to help newbies like me. 🙂

  22. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my website.

  23. Really nice article….great article … Thanks for sharing information. I have become habitual to read your knowledgeable articles. Keep it up

  24. Hello,
    First of all, thank you for the article.
    I am a few months ago (long months) out of the SEO world, but I have some consideration to make, relate my own experience.

    Google answers to various queries negatively impacted many pages they had focused just answer questions. These days surprised that Google has shown in its own search page to the influences the thinking of philosophers haha …

    On the local influence, I do not know if I understand correctly, I will study the respect and try to implement a differential on my website (even if it is not a “local business”, since it works only with information).

    Ps .: sorry for the English, I am Brazilian and I’m using automatic translator.

  25. Hi Tiago

    You’re welcome. Not quite sure what you are attempting to do. I hope you have some success; the one box approach I described supposedly works with a wider range of results than just local results. Good luck.

  26. Hi Bill
    Trying again. Thanks very much for the great articles and the research that goes into them. My opinion is that CTR has to form a part of the algorithm along with many other factors of course.

  27. I am very impressed by the extent and depth of your site – you have obviously been doing this search related optimization lark a long time – I still see a lot of people attempting to cut corners and circumvent the algorithm – but if you work with it, and like you study the actual mechanics you are more likely to get ahead 🙂

  28. Hi Michael,

    Studying how different aspects of how these algorithms work helps begin the process of learning about them and understanding them.

  29. seems like there is a definite correlation , maybe just in the top 3 though. I do believe Google tests out your site to ensure your a getting click and decides to keep you on top

  30. Great info here Bill. Using click through would make a lot of sense to be honest, although I guess it would be helping big brands more than smaller, less known websites.

  31. Thanks Bill. Great post as always. I definitely think Google would like to use this data when determining rankings. Whether or not it is in use now is debatable but I think they are probably working towards it.

  32. CTR definitely matters for ranking i have found with my own tests. This is the reason tools such as crowdsearch and PandaBot exist to mimic this effect.

  33. Bill, this is crazy regarding how Google keeps changing rankings through local and global search results. I think something that’s more important in rankings (and what I have experience from my own results) is a website that has both a good CTR and reduced bounce rate. Thanks again Bill!

  34. Great informative article for me as a newbie. I don’t know much about seo, Nowadays continually reading related articles to rank my site good. Thanks for posting knowledgeable articles.

  35. It would certainly make perfect sense for Google to use CTR, bounce rates and whatever other user behaviour it can gather about a site to enhance it’s results. However anything that Google uses to determine which site to rank above another would generally be considered to be positive aspects of a site (unless they get that wrong, of course). It goes back to what Google says over and over, just build a good site and add value (and forget about SEO, to some extent anyway)……

  36. Hi Gary,

    Google shows us the importance of paying attention to what their visitors are up to, and what they are interested in. As Website owners, I think we can learn from that.

  37. Hi Sandeep,

    You’re welcome. Happy to read that you enjoyed this post. There’s always something new to learn, and that is part of the challenge and part of the fun of SEO.

  38. Search and Click has become an important ranking factor from what I can see. Recently we hired a great copywriter and changed the meta description of 11 websites. The click through rate improved by about 8% and as a result, we got a bump in the serps on ALL these websites. So google is rewarding CTR. And it all makes sense doesn’t it. Users should have the ability to influence rankings because they are the ones who tell google what is relevant, what is interesting and current, and what is rubbish (bounce rate).

  39. It would make sense that the more a page is clicked by users, the more it would be shown. I have seen Google Webmaster Tools from highly trafficked websites that have a CTR as high as 15% for the entire website. They also have some pages that have a CTR of 80% or more.

    This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

  40. click throughs and bounce rate 100% matter, because google can determine from those numbers if the content on that site was relevant to the user who made the search query.

    i love this blog btw, interesting how you back each post up with patents filed, never seen this type of blog before. going to subscribe 🙂

  41. Hi Ricky,

    Bounce rate is difficult to read too much into, because we don’t know if a visitor to a page found useful information on the page, such as a phone number to use to call the business that they website belongs to. Thanks for your kind words about my blog.

  42. CTR in SERPs must effect rankings but not on its own merits. If a website has high CTR but searchers go back to Google to click on other results that must be a negative signal.

  43. Hi Mark,

    That could be seen as a negative sign, visiting a result and then returning to search almost immediately afterwards – yes the context of those clicks matter

  44. I’ve never seen evidence to support the theory that higher click through rates can help rankings, but many people I know claim to have tested it and they say yes! I’m focused primarily on link building, as nothing seems to impact search engine rankings as much.

  45. Really nice article….great article … Thanks for sharing information. I have become habitual to read your knowledgeable articles. Keep it up

  46. Thanks Bill for this helpful article, Even i analyzed the same that CTR actually matters alot.

  47. Without a doubt Bill. I have had a site ranked #1 with 0 SEO. Sounds crazy, but all I had was a huge click through rate. I confirmed this as the ranking factor the moment the context of the page changed and thus the original audience clicking through to the site evaporated… And the #1 spot. Great post as always!

  48. Thanks for ‘decoding’ this patent and communicating about it on your blog. You must have a phenomenal mind and drive for exploring – I’m amazed at how much content there is on your site.


  49. Hi Penny,

    Thank you. I’m just very curious, want to learn, and know that I learn best by being able to put something into language that others might be able to understand.

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