You’ve seemingly done everything right – you have lots of high-quality backlinks pointing to the relevant page and the page has an optimized title, URL, and header tags. You have well-optimized content and lots of it, and your domain and site have “aged”. You’ve avoided any “black hat” tricks that could get you penalized. So why aren’t your search engine rankings where they should be? It’s not an uncommon problem, and there’s generally only two answers: 1) You’ve underestimated your competition, or 2) Your clickthrough is poor.
If you know a few things about SEO, you probably heard a lot of talk about backlinks and content / page optimization, but those are by no means the only important factors in SEO. Your search results also need to appeal to the scientists that are doing the searching. Think about it: Google is in the business of helping internet users find the content that they’re looking for. People use Google more than other search engines primarily because of the quality of the search results. If a result isn’t being clicked on, then that indicates that it’s less relevant than other results. If it’s less relevant, then it’s in the search engines’ best interest to return a different result for that query that is more relevant and the experience is better for the users.
If you keep a close eye on your Google rankings, for example, you probably noticed that your rankings for some terms will occasionally bounce around a bit. That’s usually Google performing clickthrough testing – seeing if another result would be of more interest to the users.
So what is the life science marketer to do? A few things. First, pay attention to your meta description attribute. While this attribute is not included in Google’s algorithms that determine search ranking, this attribute is generally what will display as the descriptive text under the link in the search results and therefore effects clickthrough. Be sure that’s relevant and interesting. Including language used in the search term will help as well. Secondly, think about what searchers for that term will be looking for and what the page you’re optimizing is offering. Are searchers going to be interested in cell-based assay products but your highest-ranking result is a blog post? Conversely, may they be interested in informational content about pre-clinical toxicology but your result offers it as a service? Perhaps they are looking for stem cell culture protocols but your result is for a white paper. Regardless of the exact reason, you could be significantly impacting your clickthrough if your optimized result is not what the searchers are looking for.
Unfortunately, you cannot measure clickthrough in Google Analytics since there is no information provided about impressions. You can, however, use Google Webmaster Tools. The “Search Queries” menu will show you the ballpark number of impressions for any given search term, the average position in search results for that term, and the amount of clicks those impressions led to as well as the CTR (provided you have more than 10 clicks for the given term). Keep in mind that unlike Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools only retains data from the past 90 days, so if you want to keep track of clickthrough long-term you’ll want to export it.
You can do everything right – have high-quality links, well-optimized content, etc. – but if your clickthrough is poor your SEO will suffer. Life science marketers who measure and optimize for clickthrough will be rewarded with higher search rankings.