Google: CTR is a Ranking Factor for Local 3-Pack Results

Yesterday, Joy Hawkins announced that a Google employee (Rahul J.) confirmed that click-through rate (CTR) is a 4th ranking factor for the local 3-pack listings.

Up until now, Google has only confirmed 3 core local SEO ranking factors, which include:

Relevance: Relevance is how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help us better understand your business and match you to relevant search results.

Distance: Just like it sounds — how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If you don’t specify a location in your search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we know about your location.

Prominence: This describes how well-known or prominent a business can be. This is based on information we have about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and we try to reflect this online as well. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be more prominent in search results.

Personally, I find it a bit odd that Google would not only include CTR as a ranking signal, but also disclose that information publicly. It just seems like a fairly easy signal to manipulate, with scripted click bots and whatnot. Although I’m skeptical, I still plan on running some experiments of my own to determine how much CTR impacts local rankings. This might explain why I’ve seen some businesses consistently rank #1 in the local 3-pack results, despite having very few (if any) reviews, and being further away from the user’s location than lower ranked competitors.

If you have any additional information on CTR being used a local ranking signal, please add your thoughts in the comments section below, or message me directly. I’m interested in learning more about this and what it means for local businesses, if brands start manipulating CTR to artificially inflate their local rankings.

**UPDATE** On 12/3, Barry from Search Engine Roundtable pointed out that Google updated their statement from this:

Search history: In the past how many times has the listing been clicked on by users searching with the keyword.

To this:

Search history: The number of times it has been useful historically on the basis of relevance, prominence and distance.

I’m assuming that this means the signal isn’t as simple as CTR alone – it probably includes several other undisclosed click-related factors, such time on page post click, and other things like user search history. I also think it’s interesting that Google is talking about CTR for local listings when they recently dropped links to business G+ pages and G+ reviews.

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