Ep. 124 | Why Clickthrough Rate and Engagement are the New SEO

Bradley Benner believes click-through rate (CTR) and engagement are the new SEO tactics businesses should be leveraging to improve their organic search results and generate more revenue. 

This week on the Rethink Marketing podcast, I interviewed Bradley about why he thinks CTR and engagement are the new SEO, as well as other trends in SEO that businesses should be tracking.

Bradley is the founding partner of Semantic Mastery, as well as owner/founder of Big Bamboo Marketing. Together with his partners at Semantic Mastery, Bradley also hosts “Hump Day Hangouts,” a weekly live-streamed digital marketing Q&A session. The team’s YouTube channel is packed with useful SEO resources on topics ranging from content curation to drive stack.

B2B already pay attention to their CTR for email, landing pages, and paid search traffic. But it is increasingly looking like Google (and therefore other search engines) are paying attention to the CTR of their organic search results and how users are engaging once they land on your website.

Picture of Bradley Benner for the Rethink Marketing podcast where he talks about how CTR and Engagement are the new SEO

Why is Click-Through Rate important for SEO?

Nathan: B2B marketers, and all businesses really, obsess with click-through rate metrics for emails, landing pages, or PPC ads. But how does it relate to SEO?

Bradley: That’s a great question. You mentioned Rand Fishkin and Moz. Each year, they come out with the biggest ranking factors that influence search results. One of the things that surpassed traditional links and a lot of the traditional metrics for what helps a website to rank in Google was CTR, click-through rate. And that passed, I think two maybe three years ago now, to where that is the number one ranking signal and it’s not just the click-through rate in itself, it’s a matter of click-through rate and engagement.

So, yes, I understand what you were saying about click-through rate from emails and from ads, for example. That’s absolutely right. One of the things you always want to optimize for is trying to improve your click-through rate, which means a lot of that is accomplished by having compelling ad copy, right?

For example, from ads, if you have an ad that compels somebody to click through, if your ad is catchier than the other ads that it’s surrounded by, that kind of stuff, that will entice the click through. And that’s what you want.

But the same goes for SEO, in that, the click-through rate from Google search … if somebody goes to Google search and types in a query or, as we just mentioned, they verbally speak a query into their mobile device and they look at the search results, if they click through to your particular website or Google My Business whatever the case may be, whatever they click through to, that’s a great signal. It’s a great signal because first of all, your ranked in the search engines for whatever that query was, and I mean hopefully you’re ranked for that.

That’s something you want, you ultimately want. But if somebody clicks through … let’s say that there’s 10 results on the page and they click through to your result, then there’s obviously, a reason that they clicked through. It’s your titles and your meta descriptions were optimizing compelling enough to where it enticed them or encouraged them to compel them to click through.

But then if they engage on the page, so again, click through rate in itself is not the be all, end all. You want some sort of engagement on that page.

Image quote from Bradley Benner for the Rethink Marketing podcast about the importance of click-through rate

Engagement can be measured in any number of ways. It could be dwell time, so how long they stay on the page, it could be scroll depth, which means if they’re scrolling through the page to go further down the page to read more of the content or view more of the content or whatever the case may be. So scroll depth is another one. Clicking through to other pages on the site from that first landing page that they landed on. That’s another one.

Submitting a form or contact request form or something like that, any sort of submission would also be. Another way to improve engagement on a page is have a video or an audio player that they click to press the play button because, again, that’s just another engagement signal or according menus. So, like, you know, questions and answers.

We just a moment ago spoke about the hummingbird algorithm and one of the things that, that specifically addressed was questions and answers because people typically speak questions. Like whole questions into Google search now from their mobile devices instead of those short little search queries like what I was talking about earlier when people would just type them out.

People will voice whole questions, complex questions sometimes, in the search. So, if you have question and answer sections on your landing pages, and it’s the question and it’s bolded or whatever the case may be, but it stands out and then it’s got like a plus button or something that will … you click on it, then it reveals the answer. So that’s like an accordion menu.

Those are great engagement signals because, again, somebody’s engaging with the content on the page. They’re clicking through to expand content, to get their questions answered and that kind of stuff. So, you know, again, click-through rate in itself is a great signal, but without the engagement signals, in other words, if somebody clicks through from your listing on the search results page, but they don’t engage on the page or they see page that is really non-relevant to their query, it doesn’t satisfy their query, what they were searching for, then they’re going to click the back button and that’s considered a bounce.

I’m sure you all are familiar with bounce rate and that can actually accrue and become a negative ranking factor or negative ranking signal.

So, what Google’s goal is, is to provide, especially on the first page, is the results that are gonna satisfy the searchers query. Which leads me back to, again, the Google My Business assets or properties. Because if you think about it, when somebody does a search on Google, if your primary goal is to rank your website, so your own self-hosted website, what are you ultimately doing? You’re taking people off of the Google platform to answer their question or to satisfy their query, their need, their interest. ‘Cause you’re taking them from Google search to your own self-hosted website. So, know it’s off of Google’s platform. But by utilizing the Google My Business assets, which includes it’s own website, it’s free. Google My Business website, the posts. Again, the posts are very powerful feature, you can satisfy those search queries with a Google property. And Google is very narcissistic. It loves itself. So, if you can satisfy a Google search query and keep that user in the Google ecosystem, Google will reward you for that.

So, once again, that comes back to using the Google My Business assets as well as optimizing for click through rate, optimizing for engagement, so make sure that you’re copy is compelling, that you provide options, things that you can encourage the people to engage with once they land on your pages. Those are the kind of things you can do to improve those engagement signals and when you do that, that’s where the magic happens. Google will reward you with higher rankings, more exposure.

Check out our additional related content:

Turn Your Website Into a Lead Generation Machine

How can companies track their CTR and website engagement?

Nathan: How does a business get a sense of how they’re doing with their click-through rate on their pages and the engagement on those pages?

Bradley: Well for self hosted websites, it’s actually kinda easy because obviously, you can install analytics, Google Analytics. There’s a lot of data that you can be revealed, excuse me. From having Google Analytics on the pages themselves.

But you can also use heat mapping applications. One that we use a lot is called Hot Jar or Hotjar.com. Which is really cool. It’s just this little piece of code you can add to your site and it will essentially take screen shots or little video recordings of visitors when they land on the page and it’ll show you what their cursor is doing and where they navigate around. So, you can start to optimize your pages for more engagement.

So, if you got a piece of content that you know from analytics you’re getting a lot of click throughs, you’re getting a lot of traffic to the … and that’s like the entry page, that people come to your site on, but they’re not … they’re bouncing back or they’re not engaged and they’re not dwelling long, whatever the case may be, you can actually install Hot Jar, for example, or any other of those type of apps and start recording what the visitors are doing on those pages and then start making changes to elements on the page or adding things or subtracting things to try to get more engagement on those pages.

Then that will, ultimately, again, as you start to increase the engagement signals, you also increase your SEO value or rank factor, if that makes sense?

How often do you need to optimize CTR and engagement?

Nathan: Is this a one time sort of exercise or is this something that you’re always having to regularly do and add a little bit more content six months from now or a year from now to those high performing sort of ranking pages, you know, those initial pages, just to get that engagement … boost that engagement along?

Bradley: Well, that’s a great question. You know, obviously, people’s habits change over time, right? I like to think we’re all more sophisticated online now than we were, you know, even three, four years ago, right?

But for local businesses, honestly, it’s not the same as if you were selling products online. If you are an affiliate marketer or you have an eCommerce site where you’re constantly, like your money’s made from people landing on your pages and then taking action on the pages.

For local businesses, most of the time, what is the conversion goal? What is it they you ultimately want? You want somebody to pick up the phone call and call you or submit a contact request form for a callback or request driving directions, if you have a store front. Like literally, those are probably the three biggest conversion goals for local business.

So, the compulsion to try to constantly tweak and improve conversion rates on those pages isn’t necessarily as critical as it is to like an e-commerce site would be or for like an affiliate marketer or any sort of online sales funnel.

And so my point is, with local businesses, I’ll be 100% honest with you, I get it to where it’s just good enough to where we get a high percentage of visitors that convert either via phone call, web form submission, or again, clicking driving directions or whatever, if it’s a storefront type business.

Then once I’ve got it to a point where it’s converting well, we leave it alone. Because otherwise it … you can drive yourself crazy, you can end up always optimizing. You will never end up finding a page that will convert as much as you want it to. So, there is the law of diminishing returns, that’s what I was getting at.

Try to make it as good as you can to get the kind of results that you want and then from there, kinda leave it alone. Then of course, like I said, as our habit evolve, I wouldn’t say you do it one time, you get it to where you want it, and three years, four years down the road it’s still the same page. Obviously, you can go in and add and stuff. But I would say, to keep costs lower or time to where it’s reasonable, manageable, then for my local business clients I typically just get it to a point where it’s good enough. It’s producing higher than the industry average and then we leave it at that.