Understanding SEO Frenemies: Google RankBrain and CTRs

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Did you know that oxygen can be toxic at depth for scuba divers? Classic frenemies, right? After all, divers need oxygen to live. That’s why nitrogen is added to air mixtures and depth limits are set in place.

SEO has many frenemy duos. Keep in mind that SEO also has a number of working pieces and relies on multiple things in order for it to fulfil its purpose. In some cases, there can be contradiction between two or more of these components.

This article will focus on the relationship between Google RankBrain and CTRs (click-through-rates) revealing how the two are integral to running a successful SEO strategy, and how they can exist in a conflicting nature as frenemies, followed by research-backed tips on initiating the right recourse to ameliorate that conflict.

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The Best SEO Agencies Harvest Conflict

In order to run a growth-driven organic search strategy, businesses partner with the best SEO agencies from Los Angeles to New York in order to benefit from deeper strategic insight that fill those gaps existing between conflicting pieces.

In the world of SEO, RankBrain is paramount to any strategy, and one of the many pieces that can pose a conflict is the CTR.

First, what is RankBrain? In October of 2015 Google rolled out a its hybrid machine learning and AI algorithm that enables the search engine to process search results based on user intentions. As the algorithm empowers the crawling of content and studies user click behavior, it self-educates in an agile environment with the goal to always provide the most relevant results based on search query needs.Google also announced that RankBrain is the third most important factor in the ranking algorithm that aligns with content and links. Since more than 70 percent of a site’s ability to rank relies on content, it is important to write for RankBrain. That said, this will require writing for your target audiences.

Now let’s explore CTRs. Click-through rates are important for SEO because every time someone clicks on a link powerful signals are sent to Google. So if a link gets hundreds of clicks each month, Google obviously isn’t going to banish it to page nine aka the land of misfit search results. Here’s the catch-22: CTRs need to be accompanied by lengthy session durations in order to create maximum value. On one hand, clicks that lead to high bounce rates will let Google know the content wasn’t valued by the user. However, even if these results get mass amounts of clicks, they aren’t always going to drop down to the bottom of the SERPs.

You can improve click quality that leads to longer session durations by ranking content for the right people with Schema. Take some time to learn all about Schema and the many plugins available, and once you learn to use structured data to improve SEO clicks, you will see ranking and conversion rates increase.


Understanding Click-Through Rates and Ranking for SEO

Before we delve into the research, keep in mind that CTRs for PPC and SEO can mean different things. For SEO you take the percentage of received clicks divided by the number of impressions you receive in Google. This is calculated by taking the number of impressions in Google Webmaster Tools and dividing the number of clicks.

We ran a number of tests that looked at session durations, CTRs and ranking correlations in March of 2017. 20 pages were studied that had CTRs of 86 percent. Of these, each had an average session duration of four seconds which contributed to a high bounce rate. Organic conversions were at a dismal three percent, yet the target keywords for each page had an average organic position ranking of eight. All in all, rankings were performing well and links were getting clicked. Yet session durations and conversions were paltry.

This is where one of many potential conflicts can arise. Though high CTRs with dismal session durations will often pull rankings down, this is not always the case. And if any such organization is in a similar situation, knowing how to align search behavior to comply with RankBrain is crucial.

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Meta Descriptions Indirectly Improve SEO

Your meta descriptions are going to have a significant impact on your CTR and session duration (and an indirect one on SEO results), which is why it is crucial to absolutely nail them. In other words, you will want to create meta descriptions that entice clicks by targeting your ideal audience, while reflecting the page content with 100 percent accuracy.

First things first, your meta description will need to entice clicks. Your meta descriptions should be between 155 and 160 characters in order to fully appear. According to Moz, links with meta descriptions that are completely visible garner more than 20 percent of the clicks.

A good meta description that leads to a high CTR will also be written to specific buyer audiences with a dangling carrot designed to entice and intrigue. When creating buyer personas you will discover what your customers common pain points are, and how your products and services can provide the best solution.  If your meta descriptions are able to show searchers that promising content with valuable insights await on the other side of the click, your CTR will improve. Now the page content must live up to the hype in order to make the most of click through rates while writing for RankBrain.


URLs and Headlines Matter for SEO

URLs and headlines play directly into CTRs and facilitate the desired engagement signals that will make RankBrain roll over and purr giving you improved SEO results..

URLs are not only visible to searchers letting people know what to expect with page content, they also help Google understand what kind of content is on the page. Before the search engine crawls a page, it first scans the URL. Various studies show that if the URL, H1 tag, and content reflect one another, rankings improve making the page more visible in Google.

Want to Learn More About Insightful SEO?

Understanding the relationship between RankBrain and CTRs is one of many hundreds of talking points that savvy SEO agencies cover when initiating a strategy. If you found value in these tips we think you will be blown away by our FREE guide on how SEO can be performed customized to every client, and generate revenue. Give the guide a read, and call us for a chat afterwards!
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