Ultimately your rank within Google’s SERPs determine the bulk of your click-through rate and numerous studies have been done to determine just how much traffic you would be getting from a #1 spot versus a #4 spot, but lately with the advent of rel=author tags, schema.org micro-data, and the ever changing Google Local layouts there’s a whole new class of search engine results pages that can drastically change what used to be a fairly straightforward metric.

The “old” SERP CTR landscape was summed up quite nicely in this graphic from Slingshot SEO from a study they did in Spring of 2011:

ctr-study-google-vs-bing

Even with these seemingly “set in stone” CTRs, there’s still a slew of features that webmasters and business owners can implement to bring more attention to their SERP listing, and ultimately impact their CTR.

  1. “rel=author” tagging of posts
  2. Title tags
  3. Sitelinks
  4. Meta descriptions
  5. Micro-data Reviews (Schema.org)
While implementing all of these isn’t going to deliver the holy grail of click-through rates (we believe in extensive testing with a SERP click through test like SERP Turkey to make sure you’re making improvements and not shooting yourself in the foot) they do make your SERP results stand out more, which can improve how many folks actually make it to your website.

1. Rel=author Tagging

A fairly new feature Google implemented, tagging certain pages with the “rel=author” tag allows Google to pull in a photo and author information for any article you write.

Example of rel=author SERP result

Example of rel=author SERP result

In the above example you can see how Christopher’s photo, as well as his Google+ profile reach appears next to the search engine result.  This information is all pulled in from a Google+ profile the author needs to set up.  For more information on setting up this kind of tag Google provides a walk through here.

2. Title Tags

For a while a lot of SEO’s looked at title tags as simply another place to stuff keywords.  With Panda and Penguin now shifting Google’s algorithm even further away from keyword stuffing, it’s been important to not go overboard with the keywords you’re focusing your title tags on.  For example, if you’re optimizing a page for “Personal Injury Pennsylvania” don’t start making title tags like this:

  • Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers – PA Personal Injury Lawyers – Attorneys for Personal Injury in Pennsylvania – PA Injury Law Firm –
While Google might have given you an approving nod in the past for cleverly stuffing so many keyword phrases in your title tags, it’s important to remember that it’s up to the user to actually click on your SERP result so keep your focus to two keywords, and include your brand name at the end.  The most important keyword should start near the front of the title tag.   Use the 70 character’s that Google displays wisely and once you have your keywords figured out, make it engaging enough that a normal visitor might feel obliged to click through.  For instance – a page on “New Jersey Amusement Park Accident Lawyers” could look like this if you were really stretching:
  • New Jersey, NJ – Amusement Park, Waterpark – Lawyers, Attorneys, Lawyer, Attorneys – Law Firm ABC
Or you could take a more readable approach with a call to action:
  • Injured at a New Jersey Amusement Park?  Call 1-555-5555 to Speak with an Injury Lawyer

Much like most methods here, the key is testing.  There is a fine line between appealing to the human visitor, and appealing to the search engine algorithm.  If you’re ranking #55 for your choice set of keywords, chances are having a readable and actionable title tag isn’t going to give you much traffic.

Focus on getting your rankings first, and then making subtle adjustments and tracking the resulting drop/gain in rankings, as well as the changes in incoming traffic for said keywords.

3. Sitelinks

This feature won’t be showing up for every keyword phrase you rank for.  More commonly they show up when searching for brand names, or specific products where one company is the obvious market leader for said product or service.  As an example below is the result of a google search for “apple computers”.  You can see the sitelinks below Apple’s “main” SERP result listed below (Store, Mac, iPad, etc).

Sitelinks for Apple

Sitelinks for Apple

Now sitelinks are not just something you can “turn on” and start seeing immediately.  Whether or not they appear depends entirely on Google.  Most likely you’ll see this solely when performing branded searches for you product.  You can set up which pages you’d prefer as your sitelinks in Google Webmaster Tools, but another big part of this feature is getting enough branded traffic, and brand name recognition in order for them to start appearing.  A great guide to sitelinks can be found here.

4. Meta Descriptions

This is another section of the SERP page that you have some semblance of control over, and can act as a great location for a call-to-action, or to further engage readers.  This is one section of your SERP result that can get a lot out of split testing (again, SERP Turkey is a great tool for this) but you should also keep an idea of what keywords you want to use in the back of your mind.

The meta description for Fender has been sloppily highlighted in yellow here

The meta description for Fender has been sloppily highlighted in yellow here

As with most SEO strategies there is a gentle balance to the amount of keywords you want to focus on with regards to meta descriptions, as well as how much you want to appeal to readers interest.  Depending on the subject matter you focus on these can be used as a lead in to an exciting story, or as a location to drop your phone number.  Stick to using the one to two main keyword phrases you want the page to target on somewhere in your meta description.  Typically want this under 160 characters in length or it’ll get cut off (as you see in the example above).

5. Microdata Reviews

This another feature (similar to rel=author) that can bring some nice elements to your site to help it stand out from the competition.  Schema.org contains an over of a relatively new type of microdata tagging style that web designers and developers can use to give Google more information than usual about their product or service.  A good example can be seen below with a search for “Philadelphia pizza places”:

Screen-shot-2012-07-09-at-9.05.18-PM

Here you can see the third result (yelp.com) has implemented microdata reviews on their site, and because of that they now have the starred rating system appearing below their results.  While this could be a bad thing (2.5 out of 5 stars doesn’t impress me for a pizza place) it does provide a level of honest and trust to a website that will share this information, as well as 5 fairly loud stars that will now appear below their search engine ranking results.  Here (as always) you’ll want to test to make sure your making improvements to your site, but most of the negative response to implementing a feature like this would come from having negative reviews present in the first place.

Now the examples I provided above weren’t necessarily within the legal industry, these are all features we’ve had success implementing with various legal clients we’ve worked with in the past.  SEO for lawyers and law firms can carry the stigma of being a “dry” industry, but if you understand your practice’s focus and stay updated on the latest trends within your legal field there are many opportunities to use these kinds of features to help improve your click through rate from Google, and ultimately land more clients through your internet marketing efforts.

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