We’ve noticed something quite interesting going on with our search impressions lately. At first glance, it looks a little suspicious…

Suspicious Impressions

For smaller websites that don’t tend to get a lot of impressions, seeing huge increases like this may be normal every now and again depending on seasonal trends and efforts suddenly being thrown into search engine optimisation. But either we’ve become extremely lucky with something or something’s not quite right.

Google CTR Bot Impressions

Aha. Well, there’s the culprit. Something’s definitely wrong here.

Every single one of those impressions is for my blog post “Does CTR Affect Ranking?” (currently standing with an average position of 42 for that query), in which I discuss whether CTR has any effect on search ranking in Google, and exploring CTR as a ranking factor. Worth a read, if I do say so myself… In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s essential reading in order to understand the remainder of this blog post. So if you’re unfamiliar with the CTR ranking factor hypothesis, I’d suggest you go do that now before continuing on…

Let’s take a closer look at that “google ctr bot” query going back three months.

Google CTR Bot Query Details

We started receiving impressions for “google ctr bot” on the 7th February 2015 (having had no previous history with that query) and have gone up and down over the past couple of months, peaking at nearly 6000 impressions a day before plummeting back down to a mere 2 impressions and so on.

And yet, according to Google’s Keyword Planner based on the last 12 months, neither “google ctr bot” nor simply “ctr bot” have any global search volume whatsoever:

CTR Bot Keywords

I Give Up

What is going on here?!

There could be a number of things happening. Perhaps someone is testing a Google CTR bot which they are currently developing (I’ll explain a little more about what Google CTR bots actually are in a moment). Like some referral spam in Analytics, perhaps this is just a method of someone promoting their Google CTR bot service by appearing in people’s Webmaster Tools. It certainly triggered my curiosity!

Although it’s pretty common knowledge that Google’s Keyword Planner lies from time to time (yeah, I said it), it’s still rather peculiar that a query producing thousands of impressions each day doesn’t leave a dent in Keyword Planner’s average monthly searches figure.

What is a Google CTR Bot?

Google Search Bot

A Google CTR bot is basically a search bot that can pose as real people and use a proxy to appear as if they are searching Google from USA, UK, Australia, or wherever you want depending on your audience. They are used as a way to manipulate CTR data and make it seem as if one or more people are searching for a particular query and then clicking on the chosen result. Of course, the organic traffic itself gained from CTR bots is pretty much worthless since it’s illegitimate; though websites that exist with the sole purpose of generating ad impressions may see the financial benefit – at least for the short period before they are caught and burned by the ad network.

People will usually pay for this as a service or for the Google CTR bot software itself, depending on the scale of their project and the number of queries and webpages that they intend to manipulate the CTR of. The gist of it is this:

  1. User enters their keyword/s, webpage/s and any other options into the CTR bot tool.
  2. Bot enters the user’s chosen keyword as a Google search query.
  3. Bot clicks on the user’s chosen webpage in the search results.
  4. Bot browses the website for a couple minutes before closing and clearing cache, etc.
  5. Bot restarts the process with a new IP and user agent (randomly alternating through keywords if the user is going for a more natural variety).

What is a Human CTR Bot?

And then you have Human CTR Bots who work within an anonymous network, searching for keywords (and variations of keywords) that other members of the community are attempting to rank for. In a sort of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” fashion. From the search results of the given keyword, they then click through to the member’s webpage which they are trying to rank higher and browse through, emulating genuine user behaviour. People plug hours into this, and it’s still uncertain as to whether there is any major benefit to it as success can often be attributed to other methods. (Again, I’m going to recommend reading this if you haven’t done so already: “Does CTR Affect Ranking?“)

Using real humans to manipulate CTR is seen to be a far more effective strategy than using bots which Google are able to identify more easily. However, the manual process of it can be time-consuming and it involves putting trust into others within the community to scratch your back just as hard as you’re scratching theirs…

Using CTR for Negative SEO

There have been past case studies where people have used CTR for negative SEO, having Google CTR bots search for queries and clicking various results that come up apart from the competitor’s website. Or even emulating poor user experience on the competitor’s website by visiting it from search and immediately returning to the search results “unsatisfied” and clicking on another result.

Search bots can also negatively impact search ads in PPC campaigns, as they inadvertently generate ad impressions, devouring companies’ Adwords CPM budgets.

Does it work and is it worth it?

“Do CTR bots work?” and “Are CTR bots worth it?” are two very different questions. If executed properly (and if CTR does play a part in search ranking – which I personally suspect that it does, but that’s just me), I’m sure CTR bots could work as a way to rank higher for your keywords. But you will be manipulating Google, and we all know that Google doesn’t take too kindly to that… It’s a fraudulent process of ranking; technically black hat SEO. And it’s difficult to get right: you would have to maintain consistency in the bot’s actions, and be very good at staying under Google’s radar when it comes to proxies, VPNs and general bot behaviour. As an experiment, it’s very interesting to spectate but I would suggest leaving it as that – a spectator sport. Your time and budget can be used far more efficiently in legitimate SEO tactics.