No one – probably not even Google’s search engineers – understands all the factors that go into ranking search results. Particularly with the integration of AI, I’m convinced that even the people who built the system no longer know what goes into determining which results show up in which position, let alone the respective weightings. Way back in 2009, Matt Cutts was reputed to have mentioned that Google uses over 200 ranking factors for its search results. But in today’s data-heavy world, I’m sure that number is in the thousands. But here’s the question for this article – is search CTR one of those results?
Google Says that CTR Doesn’t Matter
Google has said that the number of clicks from the SERPs to your site doesn’t count as a ranking factor. They’ve made this point before, and just a few days back, John Mueller said the same thing:
Of course, his commenting on the Google search algorithm doesn’t mean anything. I remain convinced that John Mueller doesn’t know any details about Google search. Instead, he’s a spokesperson for the Google team to keep us plebs happy. It’s an important job and one that he carries off with aplomb. But it’s a mistake to take anything he says as the truth about Google search.
Raw CTRs are Manipulable
I’m willing to believe Mueller that Google wouldn’t use something as crude as raw CTR or volume of click-throughs as a ranking factor, as people would find that very easy to manipulate. There are probably agencies that offer to search for stuff and then click them repeatedly, perhaps from different locations using VPNs. Something like this shouldn’t work, as everyone would be doing it.
I’m 100% sure that someone has already tried this, and if so, Google is aware of things like this and can filter out such practices.
But Google Can Control for CTR Spam
However, I’m sure there are things Google can do to reduce the noise and extract the signals. For one, they could only count searches from people logged into their Google accounts. And if that’s the case, then it becomes much easier to filter out spam since it won’t matter if the user has a VPN or not.
The other thing it can do is use its bot detection algorithms to determine whether or not the user is a human being. After all, they already have re-CAPTCHAs that ask users to click a checkbox that determines whether they’re a human. It should be easy to filter out all automated clicks to search results.
These measures, along with other heuristics controlling for things like keyword search variations, should give Google a pretty good idea of the number of actual users that click through to genuine search results, as well as measure the metrics of how long it takes for them to bounce back and more. I’m pretty sure processed CTRs are used for ranking sites in Google. They would be foolish not to use this data, as it’s the only real-world feedback they get as to the efficacy of their algorithms.
It’s Very Hard to Game the System – So Don’t Waste Time Trying
Even if you put in the effort and find some way to game the system, it’s only a matter of time before Google finds out and clamps down on the practice. Search is their bread and butter, and they have more resources than you ever will. Instead, spending that time and energy improving your site and giving customers what they want is far more profitable. It’s cliched, of course. But all of SEO is one big cliche, and most “advice” you get is stuff you should already know – like creating quality content, thinking of the users, structuring your website properly, etc.
So if you focus on that long-term, it’s the best investment for your site. Don’t worry about CTRs.
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!