Desktop vs Mobile Search CTR – Study Shows How Rankings Affect Clicks

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

ctr-mobile-study-580x358No matter what kind of device consumers use to connect to the internet, search engines are where most people begin their journey for information, entertainment and shopping. This makes high placement on search engine results a necessity for businesses that want to use the internet to reach new customers. Though SEO is important for both mobile and desktop marketing, the kind of device consumers choose influences search behavior. A recent study from seoClarity shows marketers just how much device choice and search rankings affects click through rates.

The massive study is a first of its kind given the size and scope. Most prior studies have either focused on the mobile or desktop, whereas the seoClarity study measures the CTR for both and separates the two so comparisons can be made by marketers.

“What makes seoClarity’s study remarkably different from all other studies is the sheer volume of actual data analyzed,” the researchers noted in a posting announcing the study. “The team analyzed over 2 billion impressions and over 2.6 million clicks collected over a 90 day period from approximately 400 Google Webmaster Tools accounts. We arrived at a robust CTR model by device, by keyword type and by industry. This incredible data set provides the most up-to-date and reliable insights into the performance of organic search rankings compared to any other study done prior.”

The main takeaway from the study is that for desktop and mobile the top choice gains a drastically larger share of clicks than lower ranked pages. Furthermore, for each device type, there is a point where the click through rate plummets precipitously.

On mobile devices, the top ranked search result has a CTR of 27 percent, however, the second result only has a CTR a little above 9 percent (i.e. a third of the clicks of the top spot). By the time you reach the fifth result on a mobile search result, the CTR is only a fifth of where is was at the top. The results prove how important SEO is for mobile marketers, since unless a business is at the top, they are missing a lot of opportunities for referral traffic.

The effect was similar for desktop searches though not as drastic. The top spot for desktop search has a 19 percent CTR. And just like mobile, mobile CTR rates fell by 7.9 percent from the first ranking result to the second. And again, by the time you reached the fifth result, the link is getting a fifth of the clicks.

There are several factors at play here, so it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason for these results. One thing to keep in mind is the circumstances when someone uses the mobile internet for search. Since the user is likely is a hurry (more so than if they were at a desktop), it makes sense that they would be more likely to pick the first choice they see.

“I don’t believe one factor independently contributes to the gap, as there are a number of variables such as user intent,” said Ryan Heuser from seoClarity in an interview with Search Engine Watch. “User behavior certainly plays a role, such as if a user wants to quickly find information on a search they’ll be more apt to click the first available link with relevant content to find their answer. Customized results and local intent further impact the results page and inevitably influence click through rates.”

One interesting thing about the seoClarity study is that marketers may not have to wait very long to get more research on the study. According to the company, they have data going back for over a year that can be analyzed this way. They chose the recent 90-day period because they wanted the data to be relevant and because it was for a period that was relatively stable. This means that year-over-year comparisons can be made going forward, now that they have established the usefulness of these metrics.

Lest marketers come from this discussion feeling that SEO is futile, let’s consider the positives. First, it shows that mobile marketing is valuable because the CTR is higher. Users engaged in mobile search are primed for action. According to this study, about one in four people who see the top placed link in a mobile search are going to click it. And about one in 11 will click the second link. These are really impressive rates of engagement and can’t be duplicated by other forms of marketing. Even the lower ranked pages are still getting clicks, just far fewer than the superstars at the top. But it means there’s still some value in continuing to push a website farther up in the rankings. Each position gained means more clicks on the website.

Now that this study has reaffirmed the value of mobile marketing, read this article on the new tool from Google that will help marketers make their mobile site more usable.


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