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The ultimate guide to understanding click-through rate and best practices to improve it.
The more eyeballs you get on your content, downloads, and landing pages, the more likely you are to win a conversion. But getting those much-needed eyeballs in the first place is hard. Doing so involves nudging people who’ve seen your ads and links in search results to click-through - something that’s easier said than done when you consider the sheer amount of competition around today.
This is where your click-through rate (CTR) comes into play. The more people that click, the better. We’ve created this detailed guide that shows you what CTR is, what it means for your paid and non-paid campaigns, and how you can improve it across all your marketing efforts.
CTR pretty much does as it says on the tin. It’s essentially the percentage of clicks on a specific link compared to the number of people that were exposed to the link (a.k.a. the number of impressions).
The link could be anything from a call-to-action (CTA) to an ad or a link at the bottom of an email. For example, if 1,000 people see your link and 10 people click it, your CTR is 1%. As a metric, your CTR tells you how relevant and compelling your CTAs are.
We’ll talk more about what a good CTR might look like later on but, as a general rule, if you have a relatively high CTR, chances are people find your links, CTAs, and ads very relevant. If you have a relatively low CTR, people might not be as enamored by your links and CTAs. This doesn’t mean your marketing isn’t performing well; in fact, there are plenty of actions you can take to improve your CTR, which we’ll cover in this article.
There’s a very simple formula for working out your CTR:
So, if a link gets seen 750 times and generates 35 click-throughs, the formula would look like this:
Aside from telling you how many people have clicked on a link or CTA, your CTR gives you important insight into your customers’ mindset. Think about it: knowing the kinds of links and commands they click on provides an understanding of their motives and pain points.
Let’s imagine you have two CTAs on your site:
If you get a similar amount of impressions on both CTAs but the first one gets a higher CTR, you can be pretty certain that your audience is more interested in winning back their time than planning events.
Your CTR helps you understand what messages, phrases, and copy resonate the most with your audience.
Having a low CTR might mean you’re targeting the wrong people, or you might not be using language that resonates with them. As such, experimenting with your links and CTAs is crucial if you want to learn what makes visitors tick.
Knowing what your CTR is means you can work to improve it, whether that’s in your ad campaigns or to drive organic traffic. Tweaking different elements can help you deepen your understanding of what your customers want and, ultimately, drive more click-throughs and conversions. When you look at it like this, your CTR has a big influence on the number of sales you generate and your overall revenue.
The more clicks you get, the more Google and other advertising platforms assume your ad is relevant. This means it’ll be served up more and produce a lower cost per click.
What’s more, the higher your CTR, the better your ad Quality Score will be. Google’s algorithms assume that the more click-throughs a page gets, the better the quality.
You’re probably eager to know what a good CTR rate looks like to see if you match up. The thing is, CTR can vary depending on a multitude of factors. These include:
For example, a link that is directing people to buy might not get as many click-throughs as one that invites visitors to read a blog post because it requires more from the visitor. Only people that are interested in buying will click-through, and if you understand the conversion funnel, you know that there are far fewer people at the bottom end of the sales cycle than at the top.
That being said, you can get a ballpark figure if you start by researching the CTRs in your industry. There’s plenty of research out there that reports on industry averages and, once you have a benchmark in mind, you can start optimizing your links and CTAs to either hit that benchmark or surpass it.
This chart shows the difference in ad CTRs by industry. It highlights the difference between display ad CTRs and search ad CTRs in sectors like travel and hospitality, ecommerce, and B2B.
Having a benchmark figure in mind provides a springboard for improving your efforts. For example, if your CTR is particularly low for your industry, you might find that your copy isn’t up to scratch, you’ve been targeting the wrong audience, or you’ve been using ineffective keywords.
It’s also important to note that your CTR can be affected by other factors. If you’re in a particularly saturated industry with a high average CTR and your ad doesn’t rank very well, your CTR will be much lower than the average. On the flipside, if you manage to get your ad ranking in the top spot, you’ll experience an inflated CTR compared to the rest of your industry.
Likewise, the type of ads you run will affect CTR. According to research, ads in the search network have a wildly varying CTR depending on their rank. Ads in position one have a higher CTR than ads lower down the SERPs.
And, not surprisingly, the channel your links and CTAs are shown on has an impact on CTR too. The same link can be shown on Facebook and Google and experience different CTR in both places. Twitter ads have the highest CTR at 2%, while LinkedIn seems to have the lowest at 0.06%. You’ll probably find this is because of the intent of each platform and the different audiences on each one.
It’s easy to confuse CTR and conversion rate. However, they are categorically not the same thing. CTR shows you how many people who saw your link, ad, or CTA clicked through, while conversion rate tells you how many people converted (that is, made a purchase, signed up, or took another action).
You can have a high click-through rate with a low conversion rate, particularly when you’re running ads. For example, if you’re running an ad to a landing page for your latest download, you might find that a lot of people click-through from social media to the landing page, but barely anyone actually hands over their details to receive the download.
From this, you can tell that your ads and CTA are working well, but the landing page might not be relevant or you might be missing the mark with your free offering.
Regardless of whether your CTR rate is higher or lower than your industry’s average, you’re going to want to increase it as much as possible. Because there are so many elements that come together to encourage visitors to click-through, there are plenty of ways you can optimize your CTR.
The headline or copy of your CTA is one of the most important drivers behind CTR. If the text isn’t compelling enough or doesn’t provide the right information, people simply aren’t going to click-through.
Tweak the headline of your ads or the copy around your CTA to see what phrases your audience respond to best:
The headline on this ad shows users what value they’ll get by clicking through (they’ll supercharge their business) and tells them what to do next (sign up for a free trial).
CTAs are the driver behind click-throughs. They give your audience the confidence to click-through and tell them exactly what step you want them to take next. Without one, they might not know you expect them to take action.
When experimenting with CTAs, use action-powered language, first-person pronouns to inspire connection, and describe exactly what your audience needs to do next.
Gap uses the simple but effective “Shop Now” CTA. Users are in no doubt about what action they should take next.
If you’re trying to improve your CTR from ads, images are everything. High-quality visuals capture attention and spark your audience’s imagination. Depending on what channel you’re using, different types of images might perform better than others. Run A/B tests using a selection of images, including videos, graphs, illustrations, and even user-generated content to see what type of visuals get the most clicks.
H&M Home uses strong branded imagery with overlaid text to capture attention.
Meta descriptions provide context to your links in organic search. They tell searchers what they can expect from your piece if they click-through and help your articles stand out against the competition.
Use your meta descriptions to boost your real estate in the SERPs. Explain the article and touch on the value users will get if they choose to click-through to your piece over another.
This meta description not only taps into an audience pain point (what data should you be capturing?), but it also has a CTA built-in.
You might not think that your URLs matter that much in organic search results, but they can make a difference to whether someone chooses to click-through or not. Not only does your URL provide an opportunity to implement long-tail keywords, but it also gives you extra space to describe the value searchers will get if they click-through.
Compare these two URLs in the SERPs:
This one reiterates that the piece is about time management at work.
Whereas this one doesn’t provide much more information about what the piece will be about. “Time management 101” could relate to managing time in any context.
Most of the time you’ll find that CTR relates to ads, whether that’s social media ads or search ads. It’s easy to track how many impressions your links get and then to go on and measure how many people click-through. All of this information is available in your ads dashboard.
Measuring CTR through organic search and other methods is slightly harder.
The most common CTRs you’ll want to track are those happening on your website. You might want to track how many people click from one page to another or how many visitors click to download a lead magnet.
To track your CTR on your site, you’ll need access to a tool like Google Analytics or Google Search Console. There, you’ll be able to see how many people visit a page and what links they click on within that page.
You can take it one step further and set up “Goals” in Google Analytics. This will tell the tool exactly which CTAs you want to track and the action you hope visitors will take. Then, Google will tell you the ratio of people that visited a page compared to those that actually clicked-through.
For example, if you want to track how many people click-through to sign up to your newsletter, you can set a goal that tracks how many people make it through to the Thank You page (a.k.a. people who gave their details and were redirected).
Tracking click-throughs from search results is slightly harder. You can check the search volume of a keyword you’re targeting and check Google Analytics to see how many people make it through to your page from search results. While this gives you a rough CTR percentage, it’s worth remembering that the position your post holds in the SERPs will dramatically affect CTR. If your piece ranks in the first, second, or third spot, you’re going to generate considerably more click-throughs than if your piece was further down the results.
CTR is one of the most important and insightful metrics you can monitor when running paid campaigns. To calculate your CTR from paid acquisition methods like social media ads or search ads, you can tap into your ads dashboard.
Once there, divide the number of people who have clicked your ad by the number of impressions it generated and multiply that by 100 - exactly the same way you would figure out CTR in another capacity.
Your CTR essentially tells Google how valuable your piece is. The higher it is, the more Google will consider your site helpful for people searching for a particular keyword. In fact, Google has openly stated that they use the expected click-through rate of an ad to calculate Ad Rank during auction time.
Google’s ultimate aim is to provide users with the best experience possible, so it strives to serve up relevant posts that have a high CTR. To create a hierarchy of ads, they assign a Quality Score to each one, and ads with a higher CTR automatically get given a higher Quality Score. This means they’re more likely to be shown to users who search for the relevant chosen keyword.
CTR is a hot topic in email marketing. Encouraging subscribers to click-through from an email is one of the main goals email marketers have - no surprise really, since email generates the highest ROI out of any other marketing activity. CTR in this context lets you measure the success of your email campaigns and provides a detailed insight into whether the copy, design, subject lines, and CTAs in your emails are effective at driving click-throughs.
If we go back to basics, CTR in emails tells you how many people that opened your email clicked through on a link provided within it. It provides a baseline for engagement and can give a good overview of the kind of content your readers want to receive.
Email CTR is calculated in a similar way to the CTR of paid ad campaigns and organic CTR methods. The formula looks like this:
For example, if 500 people open an email in your welcome campaign and 150 clicked through to a tutorial blog post you shared in that email, the CTR would be:
You can use some of the tips provided above to improve your email marketing CTR, but there are some tweaks you can make that are unique to email.
If you bombard subscribers with multiple links, they might become paralyzed with choice. Instead, stick to one clear action you want them to take, whether it’s clicking through to a blog post, reading a case study, or following you on social media.
There’s a chance the number of links in this email from Shopify might be too many. Subscribers might find it hard to know what exactly to do next.
Not all your subscribers will be interested in the same things. To increase your CTR, only serve them content that’s relevant to their individual needs and pain points. Segment your list based on past engagements, purchases, and content they’ve shown interest in before.
For example, if you’re marketing a project management tool, you might have a group of subscribers that manage teams looking for insights into better project management, and you might have individual users who are using your tool for personal use. Both groups get value from your product, but they get it in different ways. Sending a link to a blog post about workplace management to the group of subscribers who use your tool for personal use won’t be as effective as sending them something that relates to their own needs.
Indeed sends emails to subscribers based on where they’re at with their profile.
When reaching your audience in one of the most sacred places possible (their inbox), it’s important to show them that you value them. The easiest way to do this is to personalize your messages. According to research, personalizing emails can generate a 14% higher CTR.
No one likes to feel left out, so tap into the power of FOMO (Fear of Missing out) to encourage subscribers to click through. Share testimonials, reviews, and ratings to give people the nudge they need to click-through.
Adidas incorporates reviews and ratings into its marketing emails.
The length of your emails really depends on your goals as a brand and who your audience are. Some people prefer longer, pithier emails, while other audiences crave brevity in a busy world. Experiment with the length of your emails to find the sweet spot.
Giving people a time limit can push them into action. Use countdown timers or limited-time offers to encourage click-throughs. Urgency is one of the key psychological factors you can play on in your emails to improve your CTR.
Shopbop encourages subscribers to click-through with a limited time offer.
Your CTR can tell you a lot about your marketing efforts. It shows you whether your message is resonating with the right people, but it also gives you a deeper understanding of what your audience wants.
Improve your CTR in emails, ads, search results, and on your website by experimenting with copy, design, and images, as well as choosing the right keywords and showing your audience what value they’ll get by clicking through.
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