Why Unbranded Queries have a Higher Click-Through Rate than Branded Queries

Following release of our “Click-Through Rate Whitepaper,” I wanted to dig into the topic of branded query click through rates vs. unbranded query click through rates. As noted in the study, unbranded CTRs are actually higher than branded CTRs for the brands that we analyzed.

Branded vs Unbranded CTR graph

Initially, I assumed that a branded query would result in a higher CTR, because the user is searching for something specific to the brand, and when they found the brand, they would click on it. I still believe that and I have a few theories for why unbranded searches show a higher CTR.

  1. This data is taken from Google Webmaster Tools and as such, only provides data for keywords that actually rank.  Meaning, if the brand does not rank for a term, there is no data to push down the CTR.  The brands used in this study are extremely well known brands, so it makes sense that they have high CTRs for the queries that they rank on, due to their notoriety and trust.
  2. It is possible that the branded searches share the page with one or more paid search results more frequently than the unbranded searches.  This would lower the CTR for the branded queries as a #1 organic rank could actually be the second, third or fourth result on the page, depending on how many paid ads were served.
  3. Many of the brands in this study produce consumer packaged goods, so there is a lot of competition on the branded terms.  In many cases, the searcher might be looking to purchase the product from a known e-Commerce site (Amazon, Walmart, target.com, etc.).  Furthermore, Google often places Product Listing Ads (PLAs) at the top of the results page, both pushing search results below the fold and providing an alternative to the Brand website.

For example, a Google search for “Barbasol Shaving Cream” Shows the following:

 Shaving Cream SERP

I suspect that a large percentage of people that might make this search are not looking for the history of the company, or the corporate headquarters, rather they are looking to purchase a few cans of shaving cream. The above example offers 12 opportunities to purchase the product compared to one link to the Barbasol webpage.

  1. The unbranded terms may not have been e-Commerce/purchase driven, which would likely mean fewer paid ads (per #2), but also potentially increasing CTR for trusted brands such as those in the study. Several of the sample data points we reviewed seemed to be for content areas on the website that were not directly tied to the product or product purchase, however, they received good click through rates due to their overall brand trust and authority on the broader topic with which the brand was associated.

A non-brand search like “shaving tips” has significantly less paid advertisements which will help increase CTRs for all ranking pages. The implied intent of “shaving tip” is not to purchase, so the e-Commerce websites are less likely to throw money towards paid advertising.  In the example below, the more authoritative brands like Gillete and Esquire might have better than average CTR based on their brand strength.

 shaving tips SERP

Unbranded queries tend to be higher in the funnel and further from the purchase, and searcher intentshaving tips SERP is informational, rather than specific to a purchase, making it less desirable to engage in paid search campaigns.  Furthermore, as the searcher’s intent moves closer to a purchase, the landscape gets more competitive, and the larger e-Commerce sites and big brands get involved.

“For more insights into organic Click-Through-Rates, download the entire Catalyst study: Google CTR Study: How User Intent Impacts Google Click-Through Rates”.

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  • Will Overstreet

    Great write up. Thanks for putting this together.

  • Peter Harrington

    Good insights and an important topic, as brand SERPs will become further dominated by “must buy” high CTR rich paid ads like PLAs and banners. Ranking for unbranded queries will become even more the work horse for SEOs.