What Is CTR Manipulation In SEO? Is It Bad?
SEO can be a slog. Even a small, hard-won improvement to your search engine ranking can be a big win, with more clicks, more leads, and more sales for your business. Given that good SEO can boost a company’s revenue, some marketers will happily turn to questionable techniques like CTR manipulation as a way to drive extra traffic to their company’s website.
But just because you can manipulate your website’s CTR (click-through rate), doesn’t mean you should. In this article, we’ll talk about what CTR manipulation is, how it works for SEO, and offer some effective alternatives for boosting your CTR naturally.
What is CTR manipulation?
CTR manipulation is a black hat SEO technique that uses bots or people to generate fake clicks, in the hope that it will improve your search engine ranking. Usually, the bot or the person will go to a search engine, search for a keyword phrase that brings up your listing, and then click on the listing to improve your CTR (without the intention of viewing the page).
CTR manipulation is a form of click fraud that goes against the guidelines of many search engines. If you’re caught doing it, you may be punished, perhaps severely. The practice can take place on SERP (search engine results page) listings, Google My Business listings, Google Maps, and social media listings—anywhere that click-through rate is believed to affect your search engine rankings.
It isn’t clear whether CTR manipulation works—some people claim it does, and others disagree. But even if it does work, it’s unethical and we strongly recommend against it. Nobody likes a cheat, so please don’t be that person. There’s plenty of other ways to boost your CTR without sinking into dodginess, which we explore later on.
Some people refer to CTR manipulation as any way to improve your CTR, like honing your meta titles. We believe that this is technically incorrect, because to manipulate something is usually to change it unfairly, and so the term should be resigned to shifty tactics only.
How CTR manipulation works in SEO
CTR manipulation is usually carried out in two ways: using bots or real people to do the clicking.
A bot is just a simple software program that goes to a search engine, enters a search query that will bring up your listing, and then clicks on it. Or it might be programmed to click on your Google My Business profile, which tells Google that your business is more popular than it actually is. Voila—your CTR is improved.
While it isn’t clear whether search engines punish websites who use search bots to manipulate CTR, it seems likely. Bots leave behind a number of clues: they complete a specific, robot-like sequence of behaviours; they might always visit from one source, and they may bounce from a page with suspect speed. So search engines can probably tell which visitors are bots and which are real people looking for information, and if they catch you out, you may find your pages plummeting down their rankings, or being removed entirely. Also, keep in mind that the ranking algorithms of companies like Google are much more complicated than just click-through rates. They measure a huge variety of user signals that even the most complex of bots will struggle to emulate, so the best thing to do is focus on improving your website as a whole with up-to-date code, an intuitive structure, superb UX, and great content that meet the needs of your target audience. This will improve your CTR naturally and send tons of positive user signals to search engines, which may decide to lift your rankings.
Bots can be purchased through CTR manipulation tools like SearchSEO, or created yourself with an automation tool like Automatio. If you have programming skills, you can also create your own bot. This is purely theoretical—again, we want to stress that CTR manipulation is wrong and you may find your website strongly penalised by search engines, at tremendous cost to your business.
Web pages can rank in different places for particular keywords, so when you complete CTR manipulation, you want to manipulate the keywords that are most valuable to your business. So the bots would need to target each of those keywords individually on their automated journeys, so that your ranking might increase for all of them.
The other way to manipulate your CTR is by hiring real people to click on your listings. These are usually people from poor countries who struggle to make a living, and are willing to complete monotonous work (which raises more ethical questions). They can be found easily through services like UpWork or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Because the clicks are being generated by real people, this method probably has a greater chance of success, especially if you ask them to complete “normal” human actions like scrolling through the page or clicking through to other pages on the website. The trick is to mimic positive user signals that search engines include in their ranking algorithms.
This method also means that you can find a variety of people with different IP addresses, which makes it harder for search engines to detect the CTR manipulation. However, because these kinds of workers are often in developing countries, or in countries with a reputation for this kind of work, search engines can certainly detect them if they’re not using a VPN to mask their country of origin. And even VPNs aren’t foolproof—search engines might still be able to tell if a person is using one,1 and whether their behaviour seems fake.
We aren’t sure of the prices, but it’s likely that people will be more expensive than bots, especially if you’re hiring them for long periods of time. In any case, both of these methods cost money, which could be used for more effective campaigns like digital ads or content marketing. There’s plenty of ethical ways to market your business rather than completing CTR manipulation, which will probably yield better results while keeping your conscience clear.
How to naturally increase CTR
We wrote a comprehensive article on how to improve CTR a few months back, so we highly recommend reading that for a full list of suggestions. But here’s some of the highlights:
- Improve your meta information—your meta title is the headline that shows for your search engine listing, so is crucial information for both the search engine and the user. It tells them what your page is all about. If it’s relevant to the user’s search query and written in an enticing way, you may see an increase in its CTR.
- Use schema tags—this is code that also tells search engines what the page is about. It includes information like the content’s type (e.g. “blog”), its author, and a whole lot more. This allows search engines to better predict when to show your page for certain search queries, known as “relevancy” in the world of SEO.
- Try paid ads—if you have a listing that is on the first page of Google, you may be able to boost its CTR by creating an advert with an identical page title. People tend to develop a preference for things that they are familiar with (called the mere-exposure effect), so by having both an advert and an organic listing on the first page, they may be more likely to click on either one.
By carrying out these methods, you can boost your CTR, reduce SERP volatility, and increase the SEO rankings for your webpages.
- Sybil Andrea, 2021, Can you be tracked with a VPN?, NordVPN