Declining CTRs on Desktop & Mobile

Sean Dilger
By Sean Dilger

If you’ve noticed a downturn in your click-through rate (CTR) on desktop and mobile, you’re not alone. In fact, this is a concerning trend that’s being seen across the U.S. and even in Europe. Paid clicks and feature snippets are reigning supreme, as Google controls what goes on top of search engine results pages (SERPs), which is starting to catch up with organic CTR for overall Internet dominance.

But what exactly will this mean in the grand scheme of things? Why is CTR declining for organic traffic? And perhaps most importantly — what does it mean for your SEO?

We’re going to answer these questions and more here in this post. Keep reading for our breakdown on what declining CTR on desktop and mobile means for you!

Recommended: Desktop vs. Mobile Click-Through-Rate: Understanding the Differences

The Declining CTR Rate By The Numbers

As far as desktop is concerned, organic clicks are down more than 2 percent over the past two years here in the U.S but still account for roughly 60 percent of all clicks. Paid CTR, meaning paid ads, has risen to 6 percent of the overall haul, while no-click searches are at 33.6 percent, according to data from Search Engine Land.

As for mobile, the trend is much more dramatic. Organic CTR has dropped from 40.1 percent to 29.7 percent of all SERPs. At the same time, paid clicks have more than doubled.

What is CTR, Anyway?

Let’s back up for a minute and help you gain a better understanding of CTR.

CTR, or click-through rate, is really important in search engine marketing. Your click-through rate refers to the percentage of people who click into your website after seeing your ad/website in the search engine results pages (SERPs) after they view it. When someone views your ad/website, it is known as an impression.

You can, therefore, think of your CTR mathematically as Clicks/Impressions.

You can also think of search engine marketing as a constrained system, in which CTR is one of the constraints. Your online marketing success in both Google Ads and organic SEO can be improved by getting more people to view your ad, having more people click on that ad, and converting those clicks into sales on your dedicated landing page (known as conversions, the ultimate goal).

Why You Should Care That CTR is Declining

Because driving organic clicks from mobile SERPs is going to continue to be challenging.

While it is unknown if the current decline in organic CTRs will continue its steady decline, it seems clear that ads and answers will continue to be the first thing you see in mobile search results. For Google, the motivation is clear — to get more marketers to participate in paid Google Ads, provide answers to searches questions in the SERPs and in Google My Business (for those with physical locations). Unfortunately, marketers won’t have a choice but to follow along if they want to keep above their competition.

Why is the CTR Declining for Organic Traffic?

Perhaps the most obvious reason that organic CTR has declined less on a desktop than it has on smartphones is that a desktop has a larger screen with more real estate available.

On mobile, you have to compete with answers, ads, and carousels. There are typically four paid ads on the top of each mobile query, which are usually followed by a local pack. These results are followed by organic links.

As you can see, that’s quite a pile to be buried under even if you rank #1 organically (which, of course, there is no guarantee that you do). However, the main culprit in the decline or organic traffic is Google Featured Snippets.

Google Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets in Google are selected search results that Google features at the top of the organic search results, just below the ads. These snippets are featured in a box, known as “answer boxes,” and aim to answer the user’s question immediately. If your brand is not featured in this Snippet, then you will be pushed down below this Snippet.

This may be especially true for companies who have a large organic content portfolio, as roughly 15 percent of organic results include a Featured Snippet. This means that if you rely on content for organic growth, Featured Snippets are likely eating away at a much larger chunk of your organic CTR.

The Local 3-pack

The Local 3-pack in mobile search results has replaced the former 7-pack, which was simply too long to fit on mobile screens. This is a block of three relevant search results that will be shown when a user makes a local mobile query. The results are hyper-local, and if your business is not included, your organic result will be further pushed down the results page.

Google Ads

Of course, cash is king, and those who pay for Google Ads will see their results at the top of the page (assuming they won the Google Ads bidding process). These ads take away from organic traffic as well and will have an associated cost per click. As you might now guess, this cost is the reason that the ads rise to the top — whenever you click one, Google gets paid.

What is a Good Click-through Rate?

Because there are so many things listed before you even get to the organic search results, it is imperative that you rank within the top positions in the organic SERPs. Users very rarely move onto the next page to find what they are looking for, so if your business isn’t listed at all on page one, your target customers may not find you.

Data shows that the average CTR of a first-place organic ranking is at roughly 30 percent. The percentage plummets from here. Thus, a “good” CTR can be thought of as 10 percent or above, as it almost certainly means that you organically rank within the top three results.

What Does This Mean for SEO?

There is much debate as to how much impact CTR has on your SEO, but what is agreed is that it is extremely valuable when it comes to bringing more traffic to your site. This makes sense given that a higher CTR means more people are clicking through and visiting your site, however, what might be surprising is that having a higher CTR may not directly increase your organic search engine ranking.

This is because SEO is evolving rather than shrinking. Since many answers appear in the SERPs in the Featured Snippets we mentioned above, it will continue to decline organic traffic. Marketers should, therefore, change their thinking and seek to optimize their efforts into these Featured Snippets, so your site is the one listed in the answer box.

It also is a wise idea to optimize your Google My Business profile if you are a local business so you will show up in Local 3-pack results. These are tweaks to your marketing strategies that can make a big difference in your CTR and visibility while assisting your SEO at the same time.

Summary

Hopefully, you now see that declining CTR in organic results is not a doomsday scenario, it just signals a change in the tide of online marketing. You can adapt and implement using the strategies listed above.

As we don’t see the decline in organic CTR stopping anytime soon, this change in mindset will be what is required to keep your business and ads towards the top of the results.

Sean Dilger is an SEO Project Manager at Power Digital with a passion for all things digital. He was born in Ireland and moved to San Diego in 2015. Sean has many years experience in the digital space and has worked in email marketing, PPC, social media and of course SEO. Sean graduated college in Ireland with a Master's Degree in Marketing and Management Strategy.