SERP features' impact on CTR quantified

A large-scale study supported by Grips reveals encouraging as well as troubling evidence of the impact of SERP features on click-through-rate
5 min read
07 July 2023


Search engine result pages, or SERPs, have evolved significantly over the past few decades, with various SERP features such as knowledge panels, media galleries and FAQs emerging as prominent elements. Google touts significant improvements in click-through rate, visits and time spent on websites when a site is chosen by Google to be shown in a SERP feature, and a new large-scale study confirmed that SERP features can, indeed, significantly impact click-through rates (CTR) for organic results. 

But that study, co-authored by Grips’ Director of Data Science & Research Partnerships Max Kaiser in partnership with Nova School of Business and Economics, also revealed that SERP features reduce overall CTR, leading to an increase in zero-click searches. And, more concerning, it found that SERP features can be disproportionately detrimental to top ranking results.

Overall findings

The study, Beyond Rankings: Exploring the Impact of SERP Features on Organic Click-through Rates, concluded that, on average, SERP features exert an overall negative influence on CTR, but the specific circumstances surrounding a result–such as its position and the specific SERP features shown–can significantly alter this influence.

Specifically, results in the first position are particularly susceptible to decreased CTR due to increased SERP features. For results in lower positions, being included within SERP features tends to be beneficial, while not being included in SERP features can adversely affect a result’s CTR.

Impact of specific SERP features

In addition, while SERP features had a negative impact on CTR overall, the impact of individual features varies. For instance, video consoles have a negative impact on CTR while knowledge panels, which provide quick answers to user queries, had (perhaps counterintuitively) a positive impact on CTR. These impacts were true even when the authors examined whether a site was included as a source in the video carousel or knowledge panel or not.

SERP feature correlation with Click Through Rate

Other SERP features’ impact largely depended upon whether a result was included in the feature or not. For instance, sites included in an image pack saw generally higher CTRs. However, sites that were not featured saw lower CTRs when an image pack was part of the SERP. Similarly, the people-also-ask feature resulted in a higher CTR for sites that were sources of the information provided, but lower for other sites shown on the SERP but not included in this particular feature.

Importantly, the positive effect of being included in the SERP feature only becomes evident from the second position onward. 

The CTR of sites in the first position, regardless of whether the result is included within the SERP feature or not, were negatively influenced by SERP features.

It is worth noting that the impact of SERP features on CTR can vary depending on the specific circumstances. Additionally, certain types of SERP features may be more relevant or effective for certain types of searches or target audiences. Therefore, the authors state, it’s important to analyze your target audience’s search behavior and preferences when developing SEO strategies that take into account SERP features.

While SERP features can have a negative impact on overall organic CTR, they can also provide opportunities for increased visibility and engagement under the right circumstances. Understanding the impact of SERP features on organic CTR is crucial for developing effective SEO strategies that drive traffic to your website and ultimately conversions. By analyzing your target audience’s search behavior and preferences, you can identify which SERP features are most relevant to your business and optimize your website accordingly.

Google still calls the shots

“Despite this analysis,” Kaiser says, “it is still unclear which SERP features Google is using on any given page.” 

“While marketers can ‘influence’ Google’s ability to feature your site (e.g. images and videos by keeping your metadata tidy), they can’t really influence if Google is actually going to use a SERP feature in the first place.”

At the end of the day, Kaiser says, “You are more or less at the mercy of Google and ‘on call’ to be pulled into the spotlight at any given time.”

Grips' commitment to research

Grips partners with multiple universities, organizations and other institutions to develop insightful, groundbreaking research to share with the broader community. You can read more about some of the research here.