The biggest mystery of Google’s algorithm: Everything ever said about clicks, CTR and bounce rate

The biggest mystery of Google’s algorithm: Everything ever said about clicks, CTR and bounce rate - September 23, 2022


By Chris Silver Smith

There's good reason to suspect that Google uses CTR as a ranking factor. Here's how Google addressed the topic over the years.

Chris Silver Smith on September 23, 2022

It’s the biggest mystery and controversy of Google’s search ranking algorithm. For a long time, the SEO community has debated: is the click-through rate (“CTR”) of search results listings a ranking factor? Or the closely related “bounce rate” and “dwell time”?

I present to you everything Google has ever said about this, along with some observations and opinions.

Clicks, CTR, bounce rate and dwell time

If you are newer to SEO, the concept of clicks or click-through rate (“CTR”) being ranking factors is simple to explain. Once a user performs a keyword search, they can then click on a listing on Google’s search results page. Google could count those clicks as a type of vote for the content in the results and lend more ranking ability to those listings that draw more clicks for the keyword in question.

Similarly, “dwell time” would be counting how long one stays on a webpage after clicking through to a page from the search results.

A “bounce” happens when one clicks through to a webpage and leaves without navigating to another page. The assumption is that if a bounce happens too rapidly, the user may have found the page’s content unsatisfactory for their query.

“Dwell time” is also how long the user may linger on the webpage before clicking elsewhere or back to the search results. All of these signals center upon the click to listings in the search results.

The mystery: Are CTR and bounce rate ranking factors?

Despite many of my colleagues believing Google’s official line about CTR or bounce rates not being ranking factors, I will confess that I have long wavered on the question, and I have often suspected it indeed could be a ranking factor. In a recent poll I took on Twitter, CTR was voted the most controversial of all ranking factors.

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(Search Engine Land)

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Greg Tingle

Search Engine Land has partly and significantly opened up the Pandora's Box of Google's algorithm, including the CTR (Click Through Rate) and all, backed up by some Google and government documentation, witness type statements and quotes, and even a series of quotes and tweets from Google taken from over a decade plus. Fool's Gold or authentic gold? Authentic I say, having witnessed much in the digital landscape in a career spanning over three decades..What I learned at the likes of the Google business conference, as well as Telstra, Optus, ID Media, PSI Net and even our Media Man, makes me believe Search Engine Land news investigation unit and co may have discovered quite the Holy Grail of search engine algorithms and related secrets. Now we are going to further fine tune our strategy as we continue to move forward in the digital publishing universe. One click and a time towards Google Business treasure.