Click Through Rates for Top Search Engine Rankings

We may always assume that top ranking results on search engine queries get more exposure. And that’s not just guess work; heat map studies show that search engine users are likely fixated towards top results that are located towards the top left section of search results. (Sometimes, its proximity can vary as maps, news, images, PPC ads and other properties may also occupy the same vicinity.)


The infamous AOL data leak has opened up ideas on how much advantage is a number one ranking is going to enjoy over #2 ranking , or a #2 ranking over a #3 placer, and so on. SEO Scoop posted a breakdown on how much percentage each rank position is getting; it seems that being on top spot brings almost half of all traffic.

Total Searches:9,038,794
Total Clicks: 4,926,623
Click Rank1: 2,075,765
Click Rank2: 586,100 = 3.5x less
Click Rank3: 418,643 = 4.9x less
Click Rank4: 298,532 = 6.9x less
Click Rank5: 242,169 = 8.5x less
Click Rank6: 199,541 = 10.4x less
Click Rank7: 168,080 = 12.3x less
Click Rank8: 148,489 = 14.0x less
Click Rank9: 140,356 = 14.8x less
Click Rank10: 147,551 = 14.1x less

Being on first page is good, but being number one is ideal. That is why we see a lot of SEO companies advertising for guaranteed top rankings — despite the obvious difficulty in achieving them — simply because of the appeal the advertising message carries to the uninformed prospects.

Recent data disclosures and research findings have given us a better insight.

Neil Walker came up with empirical results that reveal first place rankings get 46.37% of click-throughs, second place rankings get 29.43%, within a pattern similar to that of AOL’s. This is based on Google Webmaster tools and about 2,700 keywords. Very interesting, especially on the click through rates for queries of varying lengths.

Chitika also released its research findings showing that first place results get 34.35% of all traffic, slightly smaller than AOL and Mr Walker’s but still follow the same trend.

Google showed an ideal situation taken from Google Webmaster tools where keyword click-throughs were mapped according to which position they were clicked on. Its example showed that top rankings get 16% of all its traffic from a particular keyword and the figure diminishes the lower (remember that rankings fluctuate) the website ranks.

I looked at SEO Hong Kong’s Webmaster account and found out that for the “seo” query, the website does not rank often on first position, hence the paltry 12 impressions. Yet out of the 12 times SEO Hong Kong got to the top, it did not generate any traffic at all, as evidenced by the zero click-through rate. On the other hand, lower rankings yielded traffic referrals. Other factors may come in such as the Universal search results and attractiveness of search result snippets. When it was ranked fourth, it yielded a respectable 28 clicks out of 720 impressions for a CTR of 4%; at the lower half of first-page rankings, it got 22 clicks out of 3,600 impressions. Given this data, one would be happier to rank lower and get traffic than be on the top and get nothing (yes, brand exposure).

On the other hand, since paid search results occasionally appear on top of organic results, wouldn’t it be more justifiable to advertise for such placements? This is helpful especially for sites in need of PPC traffic.