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I just read Bing have finally confirmed what some of us have suspected for some time. Bing definitely do use CTR as a ranking factor.
Although Bing is currently very much the also-ran, in terms of search engine market share; their partnership with Yahoo! (which will be in effect in the UK before year end) plus their increasing innovations in search technology, plus rather enormous marketing budget means that they will be a serious contender in 2011.
I firmly believe that Bing will start to erode some of Google market share and by the start of 2011 will have at least 10% share if not more. Now is the time to start planning and acting on improving rank on Bing.
What's the News?
Bing have confirmed that CTR is a factor in their ranking algorithm. This information comes from Barry Schwartz, news editor of Search Engine Land and Schwartz has carefully detailed and personally checked the information with his source, Steve Tullis - Senior Program Manager Lead, Bing. You can read the full story here.
What is CTR?
CTR is the abbreviation for 'click-thru rate'. It is a derivative metric determined by dividing the number of times your listing is clicked (clicks), by the total number of times your listing is shown (search impressions), to determine your listing CTR, which is expressed as a percentage.
Example: My site is in position 10 for the term 'car insurance', on Bing, which is searched for 10,000 times a day. I receive 300 clicks a day from Bing, on that listing.
300 /10,000 = 0.03 (expressed as percentage) 3% CTR
What Factors Determine CTR?
Setting aside comparative CTR to competing listings, and the variation afforded by position on-page; in my first-hand experience of working at a search engine, CTR increases or decreases according to assumed relevancy to query term. I.e. the more relevant the page (may be assumed to be by the user,) to the query term, as signified by the title, description and URL of the listing; then the more likely the user will click that listing. Bing generally display the page's meta title and meta description, as the search result snippet.
What Does this Mean for Rank?
In the Search Engine Land piece, Steve Tullis of Bing is asked if they use CTR as a ranking factor, "yes, we do - but it is one of many factors." So assuming all other factors determining the ranking order for the sites on a search results page are fairly equal, we might imagine that a listing with compelling, relevant title, description and URL gets a slightly better than average CTR (than might be considered network average,) for the position then this may contribute to that listing moving up the ranking somewhat.
Do I Need to Do Anything?
I'm not a great believer in deliberately optimising for any single known componant of a single search engine' ranking- algorithm, however in this case we're talking about click-thru rate; which ranking factors aside, should always be on the agenda for your search engine optimisation team.
I've written a rather more detailed piece on four ways to increase organic search CTR for Econsultancy in the past, which is a good place to start. Ultimately, you do need to consider the user journey - in that the query-term, search snippet (normally meta data) and subsequent landing page, all need to provide a relevant and consistent experience. After all; you can optimise the shizzle out of your search result snippet, but if your web page content doesn't match, you've missed an opportunity to convert a potential customer.
I intend to follow up this post with a look at the type of behavioural data CTR as ranking factor provides, plus examine the merits and demerits of CTR as ranking factor.