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Google’s Statement on CTR Controversy Only Promotes Skepticism

Last week, we wrote about the ongoing controversy over whether click-through-rate (CTR) impacts rankings, and how we thought adaptive search concepts dissolved the dispute.

Since that post aired, though, Google has made a statement that raises eyebrows, seeds more doubt, and says so much because it says so very, very little.

The Controversy: Does CTR Impact Rankings?

First, a refresher on what we’re talking about.

When you run a query on Google and then click on one of the links on the search engine results page (SERP), you create data: You clicked on one of the links, at the expense of the others. This alters the click-through-rate (CTR) of all of the thousands of results there were for the query – the one you clicked on went up, while the CTR of all of the other pages went down.

The debate is whether Google uses that data for subsequent searches by improving the rankings of the pages that have especially strong CTRs for given searches, and demoting those that have weak CTRs.

At Myers Freelance, we think that Google does not use CTR to alter the global rankings because it would open the floodgates of manipulation—it would allow you to boost your law firm website’s online prominence by Googling “criminal defense lawyer” and adding your region of practice, finding your website in the results page, and clicking on it every hour. Instead, we think that CTR’s influence on the rankings is limited to the results shown to specific people, based on their prior search history and click preferences, through adaptive search principles.

Others, though, are tentatively certain that CTR does impact rankings.

Google Statement Click Through Rate SEO

Google’s New Statement Raises Eyebrows for What It Doesn’t Say

The controversy is an old one, but got new limelight when a search engine optimization (SEO) pro fell into an old (2009) post on Google’s official blog that seemed to suggest CTR was a ranking signal. We covered the reaction to that discovery in last week’s post.

Since that post, Google stepped back into the fray and issued a statement:

“As we’ve commented on before, we use interactions in a variety of ways, such as for personalization, evaluation purposes and training data. We have nothing new or further to share here other than what we’ve long said: having great, engaging content is the right path for success. We’d encourage site owners to focus on that big picture.”

Note: “Interactions” is just SEO lingo for CTR, here—it covers how a user interacts with links on the SERP.

The simple takeaway of the statement was that Google was in a strong position to put an end to the controversy and just say, “no, CTR does not impact the rankings,” or that “CTR only touches SERPs produced through adaptive search techniques.”

But they didn’t.

Instead, Google issued the kind of non-statement that we see from politicians and businesses who want to dodge the question. Why would they do that? Is it because CTR does impact rankings?

Now, we’re more skeptical.