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Google Avoids the Question
Although click-through rates are believed to be a signal, Google has never directly said that click-through-rates are utilized for the purpose of search rankings. Google has been rather obtuse about the subject.
“In the context of organic search results, your click through rate is how often people click on your site out of all the times your site gets shown in search results. A low CTR means that, no matter how well your site is ranking, users aren’t clicking through to it. This may indicate that they don’t think your site will meet their needs, or that some other site looks better.”
- Google Webmaster Central Blog
Very Likely a Ranking Factor
Certainly, Google regards click through rate (CTR) as a signal that can be very useful beyond PageRank. In fact, some authorities believe that CTR is a crucial ranking factor signal.
“I’m beginning to think the algorithm may now have a built in extra hurdle for promoting a URL to the first page. Google certainly knows how many clicks a #11 ranking would get, and what kind of performance it would take in that position to predict a decent CTR on page 1. ”
- Ted Ulle (aka Tedster), WebMasterWorld
A major obstacle to many seo’s accepting CTR as a signal is the fact that the CTR could be manipulated. Specifically, sites heavy on advertisements have great incentives to achieve high CTR rates via artificial means. Therefore, the reasoning follows, Google would not place too much weight on such a signal.
Steps Against CTR Manipulation
However, Google has already taken this “manipulation” into consideration. With Patent #8,005,716 Methods and systems for establishing a keyword utilizing path navigation information, Google has a method to determine if CTR is being manipulated. There is a CTR threshold that a web page search result (aka article or item) has to meet. The threshold can neither be too high (red flag) nor too low (poor quality). Furthermore, there is a “geographical processor” that can “can determine a geographical location associated with an article or item, for example, by determining an IP address associated with a user accessing the article or item.”
Excerpts explaining a CTR threshold that is too high and the outcome:
“The threshold click-through data can be expressed, for example, as a percentage of times a user clicks through or selects an item versus how many times the item is viewed by a user. If the click-through data received for an article by the document engine …. is above the threshold click-through rate, then the document engine …can determine that the article is a manipulated article….
The likelihood that an article is a manipulated article can be used in a variety of ways. For example, the information that an article is likely a manipulated article can be used to lower a ranking associated with that article such that the article will be displayed lower in a listing of search results or not displayed at all.”
- Google Patent #8,005,716
From this patent, we can infer that Google has the means to establish thresholds for CTR and if those clicks creating the CTR are coming from specific geographic locations via IP addresses.
Bing Says Yes We Do
Google will likely never admit that CTR can be used as a ranking factor. Bing, on the other hand, has admitted to using CTR as a ranking factor. Bing does not place as much weight on CTR as one might believe. Bing still relies more heavily on inbound anchor text.