CTR Manipulation Myths vs Reality

CTR has been turning into an increasingly more powerful ranking factor in Google over the last few years so naturally, people started trying to gamble it. Consequently, Google started trying to fight the manipulation. Hence, I will try to post something informative without giving away too much, and those who need to, will make their own conclusions.

To begin with, here are two screenshots.

CTR manipulation done right:

CTR manipulation done wrong:


First and foremost, CTR manipulation surely works and can be done for different purposes. However, doing it is not something as straightforward as many people think. Google already manages to flag poorly done CTR manipulation. The best outcome is nothing changes as it’s disregarded. The worst outcome is, like in the second screenshot, the rankings drop. I’m not the one to call penalties so I won’t go as far as to say this is a new penalty but if CTR becomes disregarded for a site and it is one of a bunch of ranking factors, you don’t even need a penalty to feel the negative impact.

Sloppy CTR manipulation is not only about appearing not credible enough to Google. It looks like using IP addresses (and possibly other detectable patterns) known to Google for CTR manipulation raises an almost instant flag. Hence, a URL’s CTR in the SERPs can be negatively manipulated not only through inflating the CTR of other URLs ranking in the same SERP.

The key to any successful manipulation is reproducing natural patterns. If a URL is not ranking anywhere visible, CTR manipulation will do nothing to make it rank. If your title and snippet look messed up and no real user would click it, CTR manipulation alone won’t help you.

A query has to have a very good reason to go from 0 to 1,000 searches all of a sudden so keep that in mind as well. This is where it ties into Google suggestions for a query, so a CTR manipulation campaign should ideally be a bit more complex than just clicking one of the ten blue links time after time. For most queries, it doesn’t even have to be on a very massive scale to make a difference.

CTR works together with bounce rate – I have seen a fancier new term for this lately but I’m not too keen on it – anyway, just clicking and going back to the SERPs will do more harm than good.

CTR manipulation is nothing new and has been at play for ages – think of TV ads where a brand offers to search for them in Google.

If you’ve got a question go ahead and ask it and I’ll try to answer it. However, I reserve the right to not argue with idiots.

  • Andy Drinkwater – iNET SEO

    I tested this a while back and asked a bunch of people on a forum to search for a particular phrase where I appeared 2nd page, and I did start creeping up to about half way down page one after about 2 weeks. Keeping it natural was key to this I think.