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December 7, 2010

6 Tips to Increase Search Engine Click Through Rates for SEO

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While no one can deny it is crucial to any business operating online to rank well for their most valuable keywords in their given industry, ranking is only half the battle in SEO.

Many people have a habit of becoming caught up in the battle for search engine rankings, and lose sight of the end goal, to drive customers to your website. Many argue that rankings are becoming less and less relevant as the role of local and personalised search continues to grow as it has done in recent months. In the world of online business improving your sites search engine click through rate (CTR) can be the difference between potential customers giving their business away to you or your competitors.

Luckily, there are a number of techniques that you can use to make sure you always put your best foot forward in the search results.

Title Tags

The first one is possibly the most obvious and the only one to have a real impact on your search rankings. A page’s title tags are literally the first thing that users will see when your site appears in the search results. As such title tags are an ideal place to make a good first impression.

Ideally, your title tags will want to include the primary keyword that your page is about followed by a series of supporting keywords and finally any branding. For example lets say you ran a website that offered restaurant reviews. You want to make sure you include the most popular terms in your title tag to capture the users attention. An example that you might use would be:

<title> Sydney Restaurant Reviews – A Guide to the Best Restaurants in Sydney | MySite.com </title>

Already it is clear that this is far more enticing than simply:

<title> Mark's Restaurant Review Website </title>

When writing title tags for your site it is helpful to keep a couple of simple rules in mind:

  • Make sure each page has a unique title tag.
  • Try to keep your title tags on or under 65 characters.
  • Try to make them long enough to be considered useful by both users and search engines.
  • Make sure that you are using keywords that are relevant to that particular page.

Meta Description

Another common method you can use to improve your organic click through rate is to ensure all of your pages have unique, keyword rich, compelling meta description tags.

Google has for quite some time now said that while they do not *promise* to do so in each instance, many times they will use a site’s meta description tag to generate the text snippet shown to users in the search results.

Meta Description Search Snippet Example

Unlike the title tag, which has conservative length restrictions, the meta description tag is the ideal place to write in a much more natural way what your page is about. Since improving your CTR is the name of the game here, I suggest that in addition to writing an easily digestible summary of your page, that you also include a compelling call to action for the user.

To stick with the restaurant review website example, you might consider something like:

<meta name="description" value="Looking to eat at Sydney's best restaurants? Come and browse our collection of free restaurant reviews from all over Australia here."/>

As I mentioned earlier, Google has said that there are certain instances where they will not use the meta description tags as the text snippets shown to users in the search results. However, there are certain techniques you can use to decrease the chances of that happening.

Firstly, similar to the title tags, it is important that your meta description tags are relevant, well written and unique. When a site has 1000’s of pages with all the same description tags it becomes much more likely that Google will simply just ignore it all together and try to find a better snippet from elsewhere. Another common issue with many sites is that they fail to include a meta description that is long enough for Google to ever consider useful. Try to ensure that your description is as close to 160 characters as possible, think slightly longer than a tweet. By following this advice, you shouldn’t have many issues with Google not using your meta description tags when it comes to looking for a snippet to show users.

However, there is one other thing you can do. Try adding the following tag to the head section of all your pages.

<meta name="robots" content="noodp, noydir" />

This simply informs search engines to ensure that they never use information from either the Open Directory Project or the Yahoo Directory when trying to describe your site in the search results.

If however for some reason you don’t wish to have any snippets appearing within the SERPs you can instead add the tag:

<meta content="nosnippet" />

Structured Mark-Up

When it comes to the area of improving organic search click through rates, one of the biggest factors is the introduction of rich snippets. For those not familiar with the terms structured mark-up and rich snippets, the chances are good that you have seen them more and more often in recent times when using Google. If that is the case then I am sure you are already aware of just how much of a difference this can make when making one site stand out from another in the search results.

Many sites offer sets of data that (such as in our case restaurant reviews) is highly useful for users but up until recently was meaningless to search engines. That however is all beginning to change with structured mark-up.

Structured mark-up allows you to provide additional information to search engines and browsers that allows them to understand the relationship between the data sets on a webpage. Search engines can then use this information to return that information in a much more compelling way to users in the search results as you can see in the example below:

Rich Snippet Example

At this stage Google support a variety of different standards when it comes to structured data. These include: Microformats, Microdata and RDFa. To be honest there is little to no difference in terms of which one is best to use, it really comes down to personal choice at this point in time. To get a better idea of the differences between the three you can consult Google’s official guide on rich snippets.

If your site currently has any reviews, people profiles, business listings, products, recipes, video or events on it then you are able to start using structured mark-up straight away.

As with all the other examples so far there are a few rules to keep in mind when it comes to using structured mark-up, however it can mostly be summed up with a single sentence:

  • Make sure the data is the same as what you are showing to your visitors.

As a final point on rich snippets it is important to remember that at this stage you are required to manually submit your site for review to Google before they will consider showing rich snippets for your website in the search results. As expected, this can sometimes take some time so it’s best to get started on this one ASAP.

Breadcrumb Navigation & Keywords in URL

Many websites use a breadcrumb style navigation structure for a variety of reasons. Not only is it helpful for users to easily navigate between pages on your site but it can also provide some useful SEO benefits. Now, in addition to all that there is a way that combining your breadcrumb navigation structure with the concept of structured mark-up you can increase your organic search click through rate.

Google recently introduced a method whereby you could mark up your breadcrumb navigation links to change the appearance of your URLs in the search engine result pages (SERPs). You can see the difference between the two in the example below:

Breadcrumb Navigation in Search Snippets

As you can see when Google is able to make sense of your breadcrumb navigational links it returns a far cleaner and much more enticing URL structure to the user. One of many subtle differences to hopefully help you stand out from the rest of the competition. If you’re unable to mark-up your navigation in such a way you shouldn’t worry. By following best SEO practices and including appropriate keywords within your URL, you will see that this will become bolded when the user searches for that term as shown below:

Bold Keyword in Search Snippets

Sitelinks

Sitelinks are the links shown below some sites in Google’s search results. Now unlike many of the other techniques mentioned so far getting sitelinks at this stage is something that is completely algorithmic and automated within Google. There is no code you can add to your site that tells Google to display sitelinks for your website in the SERPs. However, as with all other techniques there are things that you can do to dramatically increase your chances.

The most important one is to make sure all content in your site lives in an appropriate theme based silo. Secondly, make sure that you are using consistent keyword rich anchor text to link to the key landing pages within your site. This is yet another reason why breadcrumb navigation works so well for both users and SEO.

Google Instant Previews

Google recently introduced a new feature, which you may have seen in the SERPs known as Google Instant Preview. What this means is that users now have the ability to see a preview of what your page looks like before even clicking on your results. In terms of driving click throughs, this particular one might just be a game-changer. In fact, according to Google’s own in house testing, they determined that results with instant previews were more than 4 times as likely to be clicked.

So now, for the first time website design is potentially a factor in determining what result a user will click on in the SERPs. Of course, as with the example provided in the meta description section, you can disable a visual preview of your site appearing in the SERPs by using the meta nosnippet tag.

Conclusion

I hope that this provided you with some good quick wins that you can easily implement to help you improve your CTR in the SERPs. Essentially, the aim of the game here is to provide clean, helpful results that stand out from everyone else. Many of these tips are considered relatively new and are certainly not common in many industries online. I suggest you get in and make the changes before your competition have a chance to catch up. Once you have mastered the techniques outlined here, you can move into creating and optimising a Google Local listing and start dominating the SERPs. Be sure to leave any questions you might have in the comments.

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4 responses to “6 Tips to Increase Search Engine Click Through Rates for SEO”

  1. Ilana Moore writes:

    Hey Bruce,
    thanks for this informative post. I’m going to try out some of your tips in my upcoming campaign. Wish me luck, and thanks again!

  2. Melissa writes:

    Thank you so much for this. Never thought about adding the call to action at the front of the meta description but I guess it makes sense when someone is viewing this as search result snippet under the title.

  3. Mark Hoad writes:

    Hi Melissa.
    Thanks for commenting, I am glad you got something new out of it.

  4. Mark Hoad writes:

    Best of luck Ilana, be sure to let us know how it goes!



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