How To Improve CTR | Get More Clicks With Smart Psychology 🧠
As modern internet users, we see hundreds (if not thousands) of links every day. They’re in our Google searches, the emails we receive, and the websites we browse, and for every one that we come across, we make a decision on whether to click it, which can be the difference between a sale for your business or another lost customer. So how to improve CTR (click-through rates) across your various marketing channels? How do you make the links on your website, email campaigns, and social channels compelling enough to encourage an all-important click?
To improve CTR for your business, we must delve into the world of psychology. The decision to click on something is a complicated psychological process, based mostly on your wants and needs. But marketers and business owners need to understand this process a little better, so that they can get into their customers’ heads and entice them into an all-important click, boosting their click-through rates (CTR) in the process.
So how to improve CTR for your business? In this article, we’ll explore the key marketing principles of consumer psychology, so that you can lift CTR across your digital marketing channels, including Google’s search results and adverts, social media, and emails.
Why consumer psychology is crucial
A user will only click through to your marketing content if it fulfills a psychological need. This is the basis for all human behaviour, which is why consumer psychology is so crucial to CTR optimisation and effective marketing. No matter which channels you use to engage your customer, you will find the principles of consumer psychology—trust and social proof, ego and self-concept, curiosity, urgency and scarcity—to be imperative for making your offerings more compelling.
When your content is more enticing to the user, Google will nudge it up its rankings. And the higher it goes up the rankings, the better its CTR will be, creating a snowball effect that can drive your listing to the very top of the page. The reasoning behind this is simple—if click-through rate (CTR) indicates that a user has found a website that matches their query, and then they spend time browsing and scrolling through your page, Google knows that your page is what the person was looking for, so they reward it by giving it a higher ranking. This is why understanding the user’s intent behind search queries are so important, because you can accurately fulfill their intentions by writing relevant, high-quality content. When you answer the user’s query in a satisfactory way, you’re delivering on your promises, and you’ll be rewarded for it.
CTR average benchmarks: what is a good CTR?
What is a good CTR? It depends on your industry and the channel you are using. Here’s a breakdown of the most common digital marketing channels.
1. SEO CTR benchmark
Google ranking position is the most influential factor when it comes to your click-through rate. Pages who rank in position one on Google have a CTR or around 32%, which drops off significantly the further down you go. This metric varies depending on whether you are ranking for generic keywords vs long-tail keywords, branded vs non-branded search terms, or commercial, informational, or location-based queries.
2. Email marketing benchmark
Many email software businesses publish an annual email marketing benchmark report that shows the average click-through rate for email marketing, segmented by industry. For example, here are the industry averages from Campaign Monitor:
Image from Campaign Monitor
We suggest diving into similar reports to compare CTR for your specific industry. This will help you determine a more precise, realistic average CTR to measure your email marketing campaigns.
3. CTR for social media
Together with engagement metrics such as shares, click-through rate is one of the most important social media metrics, because it’s a direct measurement of success. Again, click-through rate on Facebook varies by industry, but averages at around 0.89%. Here’s the average CTR for separate industries, courtesy of WordStream:
Beauty & Fitness
Business & Industrial
Food & Drink
Hobbies & Leisure
Home & Garden
Internet & Telecom
Jobs & Education
People & Society
Pets & Animals
4. CTR for Google Ads
The CTR for Google Ads varies depending on the type of advert you’re running.
According to a 2019 study by Wordstream, the average CTR for a Google search ad is 3.17% on its search network (Google results), and 0.35% on its display network (adverts on non-Google websites).
Here’s to find a breakdown of CTR for Google Ads by industry, check out this article by WordStream.
If you'd like to learn about benchmarking your own business, check out our guide on What Is Benchmarking?
Click-through rate vs conversion rate
Click-through rate (CTR) is a diagnostic metric, which means it helps you to identify problems in a business, rather than being an end in itself. The reason you want to achieve a good CTR is because clicks lead to profit for your business. Some marketers make the rookie mistake of viewing click-through rate as the end goal, when in fact, it’s simply a tool to help you reach the end goal.
Conversion rate, on the other hand, is a performance metric, because it tells you how your business is performing. Comparing your click-through rate with your conversion rate doesn’t make sense because the two are completely different. Your click-through rate can certainly correlate with your conversion rate (higher clicks can mean more conversions), but the two metrics have very different purposes.
How to improve CTR for your marketing channels
Here's how to improve CTR for the most common marketing channels.
How to improve CTR for SEO
SEO can be bamboozing, but thankfully, there's a few simple ways to improve your CTR for SEO.
1. Meta Titles
The power of meta titles for SEO click-through rate should not be underestimated. They’re the title that appears in Google’s search results:
A screenshot of a meta title about writing meta titles…how meta!
Out of the elements that influence search engine click-through rates, meta titles have the strongest impact, because they’re the first impression many users will have of your page.
David Ogilvy—the father of advertising—said: “On average, 5x as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you’ve written your headline, you’ve spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” So making your headline/meta title enticing is your number one priority.
Here are some consumer psychology principles you can apply to supercharge your meta titles and trigger those valuable click-throughs.
The Curiosity Gap
Have you ever felt an unshakable compulsion to know? This is the curiosity gap—the gap between what we know, and what we want to know.
When we experience information gaps without closure, it creates a feeling of unrest (this is known as the Zeigarnik Effect). Our craving to fill the gap is what we call curiosity, and it’s one of the most powerful motivators in human psychology.
Psychologists talk about two types of curiosity: diversive curiosity and epistemic curiosity. Both can act as a powerful lure for click-throughs.
Diversive curiosity is a spontaneous impulse; a superficial attraction to something new or unusual. Epistemic curiosity is a little different. This type of curiosity, instead of making us impatient for a “quick fix” of information, nourishes us with satisfying insights.
As a marketer, you can benefit from invoking both types of curiosity to strengthen your meta titles. To achieve this, first ask yourself these questions:
- What is unique about your content?
- What is the user trying to achieve through the search query, and how does your content fulfil that need?
- How can you craft your meta title in a way that highlights an information gap, to tap into the user’s curiosity?
Next, try these tactics:
- Use power words to provoke your customers’ curiosity, such as “secret” or “insider guide.” You can find an excellent source of power words here.
- Highlight a gap in the user’s knowledge about the subject.
- Allude to something mysterious that they may want to know.
Anticipating your users’ needs and using the allure of a curiosity gap will make your meta titles stand out in a sea of content.
The human brain is attracted to novelty. It’s linked to increased levels of dopamine (the reward chemical) in our brain, which drives us towards it, and helps us to remember novel or unusual information more easily.
By tapping into the brain’s drive to experience a reward (dopamine) through novelty, you can boost your click-through rate. Novel meta titles also have the advantage of standing out from your competition with a valuable or unique offering.
Key takeaway: make sure your meta titles show a touch of personality. You can achieve this in a variety of ways:
- Use one or more power words
- Experiment with using parentheses or brackets
- Use a number (preferably an odd number)
- Take advantage of figurative language such as an interesting metaphor or simile
2. Meta descriptions
While Google has confirmed that meta descriptions don’t have a direct impact on ranking, they can indirectly lift your SERP position by enticing users to click-through to your website: an important user signal that Google is placing more and more emphasis on. So be sure to make the most of the space, aiming for around 155 characters.
Here are some psychological principles that can help to write effective meta descriptions.
The urgency and scarcity principles
Urgency and scarcity are powerful psychological triggers with a proven impact on click-through rates. While the urgency principle prompts us to act quickly due to human loss aversion or fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), the scarcity principle means that we tend to place a higher value on objects we perceive to be scarce or rare.
Interested in using urgency or scarcity in your meta descriptions? Try these ideas to tap into the urgency and scarcity principles:
- Create a snappy call to action by frontloading your CTA with a powerful verb, i.e. “sign up,” “click,” “learn,” “choose,” “shop,” “find out” or “get.”
- Use power words that tap into urgency, such as “now,” “fast,” “quick” or “hurry.”
- Use power words that tap into scarcity like “missing out,” “left behind,” “discount” or “instant savings.”
- Apply strategic capitalisation, even all caps (warning: don’t overuse this one!) to draw attention to key pieces of information.
- Try using an occasional exclamation mark for emphasis (again, it’s best to be sparing with these).
For example, if your company would like to emphasise that it offers free shipping, play with “FREE SHIPPING” or “Free Shipping!”
3. Schema markup
According to Search Engine Land, adding structured markup to your SEO listing can lead to a 30% increase in CTR. Structured markup, also known as schema markup, allows Google to append rich result snippets (more on these below) to the top of their search results, which allows the user to find the answer to their query without clicking into the website. Not only do these visual cues help you stand out from your competitors, but it can also be a powerful way to take advantage of social proof for more click-throughs.
Here’s an example of schema markup, including sitelinks and a Google My Business listing:
There’s an outrageous variety of schema markup available — everything from Google Reviews and Local Business listings to sitelinks and a whole lot more, with a schema type suitable for every business. When built by reputable developers, modern websites should include schema tags by standard. So if your website is three years or older, you should seriously consider updating it (a new website is recommended every three years), or asking a developer to add schema tags to your existing site.
If you’re lucky enough, proper use of schema (plus fantastic content) can win Google’s good graces, and you’ll find your content displayed in its rich snippets.
4. Double listings
Double listings are when the same search result shows up twice: once as an advert, and once in the search results. This can have a positive effect on your CTRs because it produces something called the mere exposure effect.
The mere-exposure effect
The mere-exposure effect is a phenomenon where people develop a preference for something when they encounter it repeatedly. This is the basis for much of advertising—bombard someone with the same product again and again, and when they finally need that type of product, they’re more likely to buy yours.
Researchers have also established a positive link between multiple ad exposures and a consumer’s brand recognition and trust. The more they see your adverts, the more trustworthy you seem.
To take advantage of the mere-exposure effect, we recommend using both organic web pages and paid search adverts together to boost your brand’s visibility. Bonus points if you implement a Google My Business listing, or appear on Google Maps.
5. Page URLs
When you’re scanning Google’s search results, the page URLs may not seem that important, but if your URL structure is short and concise, and contains the main keywords for the content, they can help to give your listing an edge.
This is partly due to the psychological concept of fluency—the fact that we place more value on information that is quick and easy to understand. So if your page URLs are short, easy to digest, and contain the main keywords for the page, you’ll instantly be in the user’s good books, and they’ll appreciate your content more. Google understands this phenomenon, so rewards websites with clear and simple URLs.
6. Featured Snippets
Prominence & CTR
Featured snippets are search results that appear at the top of Google. They aim to answer the user’s question right away, without them having to click into the page. Google highlights and recommends these results, which boosts the user’s trust.
Not only do featured snippets have the most prominent position, but they’re also given a standout border, and sometimes a featured image from the website’s page. The benefits of achieving results within a featured snippet are extensive, but the most measurable outcome is a significant boost to your organic CTR, leading to an increase in clicks.
We recently achieved a featured snippet for a client in the dental industry for the search query “how much do braces cost?” At first, the client ranked one position below the featured snippet with a CTR of 14%. When they moved up into the featured snippet, the CTR for this search query jumped to a whopping 43%. While not every search query will include a featured snippet, it’s definitely a strategy to keep in mind when writing your content, because there’s huge potential to increase SEO click-through rates.
The featured snippet that boosted our clients CTR by 29%
To achieve featured snippets, try to answer the main question for the search query in a single sentence. For example, if you’re running a doctor’s practice and want to write a piece of content on why someone would have body aches in the morning, you might write the following in your article:
“Morning body aches can be caused by a lack of good quality sleep, which deprives your body’s tissues and cells of repair time. The best way to improve this is with regular exercise.”
This is a single sentence that clearly answers the main question in the article, so Google can grab this and use it as a featured snippet.
How to increase your CTR for email
Email subscribers are valuable, which is why companies put so much effort into getting new subscribers. So when you’ve finally built a solid list of invested subscribers, you’ll want to do everything you can to optimise your CTR for email.
1. Email subject lines
Curiosity, FOMO & email open rates
We’ve already discussed how humans have an innate, even urgent need to close information gaps or acquire something valuable — even more so if it’s something scarce. Appealing to a user’s curiosity and fear of missing out (FOMO) can be a powerful way to boost your email open rates.
Here’s how to make your email subject line stand out and encourage a click:
- Ask thoughtful or unusual questions
- Highlight peculiar statistics to pique curiosity
- Describe how in-demand or scarce your product/service is
- Use action-oriented verbs (“get,” “find out”) or time-sensitive phrases (“urgent,” “breaking,” “important” or “alert”)
- Make your email distinctive with emojis or symbols
2. CTA buttons
Affordance: the power of buttons for email click-through rates
When presented with an interactive object, the human brain is psychologically hardwired to pick the most obvious option. In the world of UX (user experience), this is called affordance—the idea that someone can only know whether something can be interacted with if it’s designed in a certain way. Digital buttons work because they’re a metaphor for buttons in the real world, which humans have been pushing for years. Underlined text is recognisable as a link because it’s been used since the invention of the Web. These “design patterns” thrive because users understand them, so it makes sense to use them to your advantage in email campaigns.
Buttons tend to work extremely well in emails, for the same reason they work well in websites: they’re big, bold, and clickable. This makes it a clear, low-effort choice for the user, who may see it as the obvious thing to click, and assume that it’s the right action to take. For this reason, every one of your marketing emails should contain a single, brightly-coloured call-to-action button with wording that speaks directly to their needs. This can do wonders for your CTR.
3. Email copy
Ego, personalisation and email click-through rate
In psychology, the ego is a person’s self-concept—the lens through which their conscious mind perceives the world and identifies with it. As humans, we want to feel valued as individuals, not be a marketing number.
There are two major ways to harness the concept of ego to increase your click-through rate for email campaigns:
- Personalise your campaigns with subscriber data
- Use language in your email copy that focuses on a self-centred benefit
ContentVerve performed an experiment around the idea that humans are more likely to act when called to act on something they perceive as already theirs. By changing “your” to “my” on a CTA button, they increased its click-through rate by 90%.
Make sure your email copy, especially your CTAs and subject line, appeal to a user’s self-centred need and desire to be perceived as an individual.
How to increase CTR on social media
1. Social media images & video
Clarity, emotion & social media CTRs
Humans are emotional creatures. Whether we realise it or not, most of us respond to stimuli in our environment with emotion, followed by rationality. To increase your Facebook or Instagram click-through rate, it’s important to understand the dynamics of how images and videos elicit emotion, and how to design them effectively for these platforms.
For example, did you know that Facebook posts with images achieve 2.3 times more engagement than posts without images? According to research from the International Conference on Information Management, Facebook images that perform well with engagement are well-lit, easy to interpret, lively, and demonstrate ingenuity or playfulness. For Instagram, the rules are slightly different. Successful Instagram posts are often more artistic than their Facebook counterparts, making use of white space, lots of texture, and bright hues that use less blue.
But what about video content? Video dominates social media engagement in digital marketing. Since 85% of Facebook video is now watched without sound, it’s best to design your social media videos to be understood as a visual narrative, even without sound.
Brand personality & social media click-throughs
Many businesses shy away from emojis because they think them unprofessional. But emoji marketing can bring your brand’s personality alive, and transform it from an emotionless logo to a business with clear a mission, vision, and values—a company with its very own soul. This can help people to connect emotionally with your brand, which makes you more likable and trustworthy. The result is a CTR boost.
3. Social media ads
Social proof & trust
As discussed earlier, social proof can have a big effect on CTR, especially when it comes to social media. Reviews, testimonials and engagement signals are proven to boost your credibility with your audience, which increases both your CTR and conversions.
There are many ways to use social proof to influence your CTR on social media. For example, you might build a PR campaign around your business’ new product and repurpose the media coverage to create a compelling video ad for social media. In this scenario, your social media ad will benefit from the natural credibility boost of the third party endorsement. This increase in trust and brand recognition can help to lift your CTR.
How to increase CTR on Google Ads
1. Ad copy
Serial position effect
When we read something, we tend to remember the first and last pieces of information. This is known as the serial position effect, and it can be put to good use to improve your advert CTR.
In a standard text ad on Google’s search listings, the first piece of information in your advert is your headline. It should speak directly to the user’s needs, and contain compelling and emotional power words to capture their attention. The last piece of information in your advert is the final sentence, which should also be carefully crafted to capture the user’s attention, and make the best possible impression. When you nail the first and last parts of your advert, you’ll be putting the serial position effect to good use, and may see a boost in your CTR.
As mentioned earlier, the mere-exposure effect is our tendency to develop a stronger preference for things that we encounter repeatedly. This makes it a powerful persuasive tool, and can be used in the following ways to enhance your adverts’ CTRs:
- Experiment with rhetorical devices that use repetition to make your more captivating:
- Anaphora—repetition of words)
- Antistasis—repetition of words in a contrary sense
- Negative-positive restatements—stating the same idea in a positive way, and then a negative way
- Use remarketing lists for search ads and strike the perfect balance with how many times you remarket to an abandoned cart or website visitor
- Create a catchy slogan that will become your brand’s trademark
- Repeat your call-to-actions across different ads or channels
2. Ad extensions
Cognitive fluency describes the feeling of ease or difficulty a person experiences when performing a mental task. It’s not surprising that people prefer simplicity to complexity when it comes to processing information. To increase your Google ad CTR, we recommend making it as easy as possible for users to find the information they’re looking for. Sitelink Extensions for Google Ads naturally boosts CTR by allowing searchers to see all of your website’s offerings in one handy listing, so they can click the option most relevant to their needs.
Making your Google ad easy to navigate with ad extensions can drastically improve its CTR. We recommend experimenting with relevant Ad Extensions, including:
- Location Extensions
- Structured Snippet Extensions
- Call Extensions
- Message Extensions
- Callout Extensions
- Price Extensions
- Promotion Extensions
3. Ad customisers
In psychology and decision theory, loss aversion describes a tendency for humans to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. Here’s how you can tap into the psychology of loss aversion in your Google Ads:
- Use a countdown timer to create a quantitative deadline to trigger urgency about a sale ending
- Choose wording that takes advantage of a human tendency to value possessions they already regard as their own, i.e. “Seize your favourite now before the sale ends”
Why clickbait doesn’t work
Ever clicked on a link, only to discover you’ve been the victim of a bait and switch? A clickbait article is an article whose headline (or meta title) uses hyperbole, histrionics, and fake news to attract clicks. With clickbait, the author places more value on accumulating clicks than investing in quality writing or creating meaningful content with intrinsic value to an audience.
Ultimately, clickbait means clicks without substance. And from a marketing perspective, it’s a waste of time because it erodes people’s trust. In fact, it’s the very antithesis of what we’re trying to achieve with CTR. It artificially raises the diagnostic metric (CTR) at the expense of the result-based metric, sales and leads.
Increasing your CTR means distilling key learnings from the clickbait phenomenon (invoking curiosity, urgency and making your meta titles and descriptions compelling) and leaving out all the exploitative and deceptive elements. It means, most of all, investing in amazing content and delivering on your promises.
Harnessing consumer psychology is the most powerful way to accomplish your CTR marketing goals. It will allow you to craft compelling content that exceeds your users’ expectations, reinforces their self-concept, piques their curiosity and sense of urgency, and demonstrates your trustworthiness. In the quest on how to improve CTR, psychology is the map that will help you fulfill it.
Applying these basic principles of consumer psychology can help you figure out how to improve CTR across every digital marketing channels, and see excellent returns for your business.
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