How To Increase CTR (Click-through Rate): SEO, Email Marketing, Social Media + Google Ads

Alistair Roberts
Posted by Alistair Roberts on Oct 16, 2018 1:55:38 AM

Whether you’re looking to boost your email open rates, increase your engagement on social media, or find that holy grail combination of factors for SEO success, harnessing consumer psychology is a powerful way to achieve your click-through rate (CTR) marketing goals.

We’ll show you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to increase CTR across a variety of digital marketing channels, including SEO, email marketing, social media and Google Ads.

But we’ll be frank: there are no shortcuts. Increasing CTR is NOT about investing in cheap clickbait tricks. Instead, effective CTR optimisation requires an in-depth, nuanced understanding of consumer psychology. Not only will you need to craft compelling messages, but you’ll also need to invest in stellar content to make good on your promises, and of course, consistently tweak and hone your strategy over time. This is the most reliable way to improve CTR. In fact, it’s the only way.

So let’s get started.

Increasing CTR: Why Consumer Psychology Is Crucial

All Internet users have explicit or implicit needs, whether that’s an explicitly expressed through a search inquiry on Google, or implicit in the way they interact with social media. A user will only click through to your marketing content or online ad if it succeeds in fulfilling an important psychological need.

This makes consumer psychology crucial to effective digital marketing, including CTR optimisation. 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 — will help you make your offer more compelling and effective.

CTR Average Benchmarks: What Is A Good CTR?

Ask any digital marketer: improving CTR is a tough gig. Increasing CTR is both a precise science and a psychological art, so it’s important to set clear goals.

So what counts as a good CTR? Ultimately, it depends on your industry and the channel you are using. The average click-through rate varies across different contexts.

1. SEO & Google Click-Through Rate By Position

Ranking position is the most influential factor when it comes to SEO click-through rate. For unbranded content, pages who rank in position one on Google in 2018 enjoy a 30% CTR, while the third position entices an average CTR of 10%. This metric varies depending on whether you are ranking for generic keywords vs long-tail keywords, branded vs non-branded search terms, or commercial vs informational vs location intent.

2. Average Open Rates For Email Marketing

Many email software businesses publish an annual email marketing benchmark report that details an average click-through rate for email marketing, segmented by industry.

We suggest diving into these reports to find your specific industry. This will help you determine a more precise, realistic average email open rate to measure your email marketing campaigns.

3. Social Media Click-Through Rates

Together with engagement metrics such as shares, click-through rate is one of the more important social media metrics (generally more important than impressions). In 2018, the average click-through rate for Facebook paid ads across all industries is 0.90%. For Instagram click-through rates (paid advertising), the average click-through rate sits at about 0.52%.

4. Google Ads CTR

What is a good click-through rate for Google Ads? Well, it differs depending on what type of ad you’re running. According to a 2018 study by Wordstream, the average CTR for a Google search ad is 1.91%. The average click-through rate for display ads is 0.35%. Rather than using a generic CTR benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of your ad’s click-through rate, we recommend checking out the CTR benchmarks for your industry.

Click-Through Rate Vs Conversion Rate: Which Is More Important?

Click-through rate (CTR) is a diagnostic metric, not a result in and of itself. 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.

Most businesses use a results-based metric, such as sales and lead generation, to define success. While there’s certainly a strong correlation between high click-through rates and high conversions, CTR should never be regarded as a more important indicator of success than conversions.

How To Increase SEO Click-Through Rate

1. Meta Titles

The power of meta titles for SEO click-through rate should never be underestimated.

In case you’re not sure what a meta title looks like, here’s an example:

A well-crafted meta titles can increase CTR
A screenshot of a meta title about writing meta titles… How delightfully meta!

Out of all the elements that can influence search engine click-through rates, meta titles have the strongest impact. Why? They are the first impression many users will have of your page.

The Father of Advertising, David Ogilvy, famously 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.’

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? The curiosity gap is the gap between what we know and what we want (even need!) to know.

According to the Zeigarnik Effect, when we experience information gaps without closure, it naturally creates a feeling of unrest. Curiosity, the drive to pursue information to eliminate those feelings of suspense when knowledge is unknown or ambiguous, is 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 one or both types of curiosity to strengthen your meta titles. To achieve this, first ask yourself the 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 to highlights an information gap that will tap into the user’s curiosity?

Next, try one or a combination of these tactics:

  • Use power adjectives designed to stir interest or provoke curiosity, such as ‘secret’ or ‘insider guide’
  • Allude to a mystery or highlight a gap in the user’s knowledge about the subject

Anticipating your user’s needs, and using the natural allure of a curiosity gap, will make your meta titles stand out in a sea of other content.


The human brain is attracted to novelty. In fact, novelty is linked to increased levels of dopamine, the reward chemical in our brain. We also remember novel or unusual information more readily.

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 startling words
  • Experiment with using parentheses or brackets
  • Use a number (preferably an odd number)
  • Take advantage of figurative language such as an interesting (but apt) simile or metaphor

2. Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are a powerful opportunity to make your SEO listing more compelling and click-worthy. While Google has confirmed 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. Here’s how you can make the most of that 170 character space.

Your meta description boost your SEO click through rate
Your meta description is important for boosting your SEO click through rate. Don’t let it go to waste!

The Urgency/Scarcity Principle

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:

1. 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’.
2. Use power words that tap into urgency, such as ‘now’, ‘fast’, ‘quick’ or ‘hurry’.
3. Use power words that tap into scarcity like ‘missing out’, ‘left behind’, ‘discount’ or ‘instant savings’.
4. Apply strategic capitalisation, even all caps (warning: don’t overuse this one!) to draw attention to key pieces of information.
5. 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

Social Proof & Transparency

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, creates rich results, which add more detailed information related to a user’s search query to your listing. Not only do these visual cues help you stand out from competitors who don’t leverage schema markup, but it can also be a powerful way to take advantage of social proof for more click-throughs.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people follow the actions of others in an attempt to reflect socially approved behaviour. Social proof is a powerful incentive for CTRs because it enhances trust signals.

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. If you’re lucky enough, proper use of schema (plus fantastic content) can even win you into Google’s good graces, with an entry in Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Schema markup can increase CTR
Here’s an example of schema markup, including Sitelinks and a Google My Business listing

4. Double Listings

The Mere Exposure Effect

Double listings can have a powerful subconscious impact on users’ CTRs.

Say an Internet explores the search term ‘Legal Services Brisbane’. If you rank for that search term both organically and with a paid search ad, plus you have a Google My Business listing, that user will be exposed to your brand name 2 or 3 times, making them much more likely to recognise and trust you. Why? A well-documented psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect.

The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to develop a preference for a novel stimulus as a result of repeated encounters with that stimulus. For decades now, researchers have established a positive link between multiple ad exposures and a consumer’s brand recognition and trust.

We recommend using organic and paid search in sync to boost your brand’s visibility and increase users’ trust and CTR. Bonus points if you also implement a Google My Business listing or appear on Google Maps.

5. Page URLs

Transparency & Trust

Page URL is another important element that appears on the search engine link preview which can be tweaked to increase your click-through rate. How? Not only is your page URL an excellent opportunity to use a long-tail keyword that matches or is relevant to a user’s search query, a page URL that is formatted in a clear, easy-to-understand way instantly boosts a user’s trust. Why? In psychology, the concept of fluency refers to the ease of processing information. Humans like and trust simplicity. This clarity makes them much more likely to click on this result than a URL that consists of gobbledygook. Coincidentally, Google rewards websites with a clear, simple URL structure for this very reason.

6. Featured Snippets

Prominence & CTR

Featured snippets are search results that appear just below the ads on Google and right on top of the organic results. Featured snippets (aka “Answer Boxes”) aim to answer the user’s question straight away. Google highlights these results, almost like a Google recommendation, boosting user trust.

Not only do these listings have the most prominent position, but these results are given a featured paragraph, table or list, plus a standout border, and often a featured image. 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.

To illustrate the dramatic effect that featured snippets can have on CTR: 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 14.3% When they moved up into the featured snippet, the CTR for this search query jumped to 42.9%. While not every search query will include a featured snippet, it’s definitely a strategy to keep in your back pocket, since featured snippets have a huge potential to increase SEO click-through rates.

Example of a Featured Snippet

Let’s Talk About CTR As A User Signal For SEO

Google has openly confirmed that it uses user signals such as SEO click-through rate to qualify and refine the pages it shows in top SERP results. Although the precise mechanics behind Google’s algorithms are hidden from us mere mortals, influential SEO expert Neil Patel has theorised that click-through rate can actually boost your SEO rank, especially if the user engages with the page.

The reasoning behind this is simple. If click-through rate (CTR) indicates that a user has found a website that superficially appears to match their query, and more importantly, they engage with that page because it DOES, in fact, meet their needs, it is likely that Google has served up a good result. Thus, that page gains algorithmic kudos from Google.

The moral of this story? As well as honing your metadata, schema and listings, invest in quality, engaging website content that delivers on the promises it makes.

How To Increase Email Marketing Click-Through Rate

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 that something is scarce or in demand. 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 increase your email open rate:

  • Ask thoughtful or unusual questions
  • Highlight peculiar statistics to pique curiosity
  • Stress scarcity, such as how in-demand or scarce your product or service is
  • Use action-oriented verbs (‘get’, ‘find out’) or time-sensitive phrases (such as ‘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 Rate

The human brain is psychologically hardwired to pick the most obvious or simple option when presented with an interactive object. This concept, called affordance, has startling implications for email click-through rates.

For example, people are much more likely to click on an email call to action (CTA) designed as a button than a simple text link. Why? When a choice is low effort and clearly signposted as the ‘correct’, easy action to take, people will naturally assume it’s the right action.

The lesson here? To boost email CTRs, always design your primary CTA as a button in an attention-grabbing, contrasting colour. To support this goal, all secondary CTAs should complement this primary call to action, but not overshadow it. Either make the secondary CTA buttons less prominent or use text links, ideally with a phrase between 7-10 words.

3. Email Copy

Ego, Personalisation and Email Click-Through Rate

According to psychoanalytic theory, the ego is a person’s self-concept, the lens through which their conscious mind perceives the world and their identity within 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

In fact, 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%.

Key takeaway: 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 Social Media Click-Through Rate

1. Social Media Images & Video

Clarity, Emotion & Social Media CTRs

Humans are innately 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.

Did you know that Facebook posts with images achieve 2.3 times more engagement than posts without images? According to the latest research from the 2018 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 utilitarian Facebook counterparts, making use of white space, lots of texture, and bright hues with low saturation on the blue end of the spectrum.




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.

2. Emojis

Brand Personality & Social Media Click-Throughs

Another simple way to stand out and evoke emotion on social media? Bring your brand’s personality alive with emojis to convey playfulness and invite CTR and interaction. Scatter them strategically through your posts, use them occasionally to engage with people who interact with your brand, and you’ll instantly boost trust and likeability.

3. Social Media Ads

Social Proof & Trust

Social proof can have a powerful effect on CTR on social media. Reviews, testimonials and engagement signals on social media are proven to boost your credibility with your audience, boosting both CTRs and conversions.

There are many ways you can 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 CTRs.




How To Increase Click Through Rate On Google Ads

1. Ad Copy

Serial Position Effect

Psychologists have a name for the human tendency to remember the first (primacy effect) and last (recency effect) pieces of information in a list: the serial position effect. How can you apply this psychological principle to improve your Google Ads CTR?

Put extra effort into making your headline and CTA (or end of your ad) unique. Use unusual or startling words, sign off with a witty postscript or carefully enrich your ad with strategic symbols to make your ad copy stand out from your competitors’ ads. By capturing the user’s attention at these vital moments (at the start and end, when they are naturally most focused), your ad copy will make maximum impact, boosting your CTR.


Repetition is one of the most underestimated elements of persuasion. In fact, by drawing on the human brain’s cognitive appreciation for familiarity. There are many ways you can apply repetition to boost the effectiveness your Google ads’ CTR:

  • Experiment with rhetorical devices to make your copy sing more sweetly (everything from anaphora to antistasis and negative-positive restatements are rich with possibilities to make your copy resonate more deeply with your user’s psyche)
  • 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

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

Loss Aversion

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 A Holistic Approach To Click-Through Rate Is Best

Many marketers make the mistake of thinking about click-through rates in pure SEO, email marketing, social media or Google Ads terms. The truth: It’s much more effective to think of your CTR in a holistic way, as a series of touchpoints that span the user journey. Why is it worth it to take this approach?

#1 You’ll Gain More Qualified Leads

If users click through on your website, email, social media campaign or paid ad’s alluring title or image because it resonates with their needs, and find engaging information that matches precisely what they’re looking for, you’ll naturally find yourself with happier, qualified leads who are more willing to convert.

#2 You’ll Have Stronger Brand Recognition

If audiences receive a similar brand experience across all digital channels, you’ll enjoy increased brand recognition with a natural positive flow-on effect for your CTR as they develop trust toward your brand.

The Clickbait Argument: Let’s Talk About CTR Best Practice

Ever clicked on a link, only to discover you’ve been the victim of a bait and switch? Rife on social media, a clickbait article is an article whose headline (or meta title) uses hyperbole and histrionics 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.

Why? Clickbait in digital marketing erodes trust. In fact, it’s the 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.

Final Thoughts

Harnessing consumer psychology is the most powerful way to accomplish your click-through rate (CTR) marketing goals. Increasing CTR means thinking strategically about how you can apply psychology to craft compelling content that exceeds your users’ expectations, reinforces their self-concept, piques their curiosity and sense of urgency, and demonstrate your trustworthiness through social proof. Applying these basic principles of consumer psychology can help you improve your CTR across many digital marketing channels, including SEO, email marketing, social media and Google Ads.


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