Google Click Through Data & The End of Rankings

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  • April 16, 2010
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

This week Google released a very exciting new feature in Webmaster Tools – the ability to see impression data and click through data for your most popular keywords. On the face of it this is excellent information however the implications of what Google is actually telling us are pretty unprecedented in terms of how the SEO industry reports on results.

Let’s look at the actual data to start with, the report tells me the top keywords along with data for the number of impressions that my search listings have received and the number of people who actually click through to my page. A number of people have pointed out that the figures don’t match Google Analytics but I think we just have to accept that any two systems using different tracking methods are going to give different results.

Click through data

The interesting thing for me is that Google is reporting rankings across a range of results, typically 1,2,3,4,5, 6-10 and 2nd page. With the advent of personalised search most people in the industry have understood that rankings won’t be the same for everybody but there was never a way of tracking the impact of this – until now.

Rankings are not real numbers

What Google is saying with this report is that your site no longer has a particular ranking for a keyword – instead you have a range of rankings determined by loads of different personalisation or perhaps time of day factors even. While in the past an agency or in-house SEO might have reported on a a 3rd place ranking for a big keyword we can now see that the ranking is actually something like this:

  • 1st 4%
  • 2nd 6%
  • 3rd 63%
  • 4th 9%
  • 5th 3%
  • 6-10 8%
  • 2nd page 7%

From this data it seems that the goal of an SEO campaign isn’t to deliver a particular ranking, it’s to give a site a higher probability of ranking in a certain position. If we can change the probability that a site will rank first from 10% to 30% then we might be seeing the same actual ranking ourselves but we have still increased the overall traffic for that keyword.

As an industry we need to accept that results are going to bounce around every minute of every day and focus on improving the percentage of time we are in the top 3, rather than just looking at the ranking at a given time on a given day. If we can provide a report showing a client then had top 3 rankings 60% of the time in April then that’s a lot more valuable than just saying they rank 2nd when we last ran a ranking report.

Google has always told us to stop focussing on rankings and to focus on traffic instead, with this data they seem to be showing us that a ranking is just a probability rather than an exact number.

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