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Special Characters in Title & Meta Description

Google allows websites to use certain special characters/symbols/icons in their organic and paid search result. Using Special Characters in paid search results is not uncommon and it is becoming more widespread to see advertisers being creative with the use of Special Characters.

On the other hand, the use of Special Characters in organic results is not very common and increasingly, websites are implementing symbols, as they look for an edge to attract a customer from clicking onto their website rather than that of a competitor.

The Experiment

Why should you use Special Characters? Does a special character attract people to click or does it make the Ad look like spam? We have conducted dozens of experiments and heard from over 53,000 respondents on the use of Special Characters in search results.

There are many Special Characters you can use in your search results, as per the following examples: & @ % * ™ ® © ✓

We are only discussing two types of Special Characters in this article: The Check Mark (✓) Symbol and Trademark (®) Symbol. The Check Mark Symbol has been used solely in the descriptions, while the Trademark Symbol has been implemented in the Headline (title) and descriptions line.

The experiments have shown that categorical statements or clear generalizations in relation to the aforesaid icons and their benefits are false, so we are not prepared to make any rules, or emphatic statements, other than to offer some general guidance on the usage of the Check Mark (✓) and Trademark (®).

✓ CHECK MARK SYMBOL

The first surveys we conducted were focused on using the Check Mark (✓) Symbol in the Description Line of a search result. Jabong, the world’s second ranked online retailer is already using check marks in their organic search result. With more than 75 million hits on the Jabong website in November 2014, we deemed it is worth investigating. We thought we may have found a silver bullet.

Results from our surveys confirmed that the check marks (✓) in the Jabong search result are a positive on clickability, as it was in the top three results. This was further confirmed with several other clients’ experiments. With the exception of two (2) experiments, the search result with the check marks was a positive enhancement on clickability. That said in nearly every case a carefully crafted search result without the check mark was superior.

The experiments also showed a contradictory pattern: if the Check Mark (✓) Symbol occurred in more than one search result in the SERP, then the clickability of the both search results reduced. The second aspect of negative behaviour we saw in check marks occurred due to placement. If the check marks were poorly placed in the search results, for example: In the beginning of the Description, then this reduced the clickability of the Ad. People also marginally preferred 3 Check Marks (✓) to 2 Check Marks (✓).

Conclusion

The inclusion of check marks in search results isn’t as powerful, as we originally anticipated. We started off looking for a silver bullet and in fact found that the series of experiments delivered fluctuated results with significant variables in play: Including the placement of the check marks, competition in the SERP and even the number of the check marks in the search results. All important factors impacting on clickability.

That said, overall, there was a positive increase in Click-Through-Rate after positioning of the check marks (✓) in carefully framed Ads, in an average search result.

Our conclusion is that it is not possible in light of the results to make a generalization on check marks, expect in so far if you use the check mark (✓) well, in good copy the check mark (✓) is generally a positive on clickability.

We note that Description doesn’t have a big influence on Click-Through Rate, as Page Rank, Brand and Headline all have a higher impact.

® TRADEMARK SYMBOL

The Trademark (®) Symbol can be used in the Headline and Description Line and it appears it is coming more prevalent. Several well-established brands use the trademark in their search result.

The Trademark (®) Symbol is especially useful in search results for reiterating the branding of a company or product. The Trademark (®) Symbol highlights branding i.e. Heineken and Subway presently use the Trademark (®) Symbol.

After conducting several experiments with Trademark (®) Symbols included in the Headline we found some interesting results:

Results

The Trademark (®) Symbol generally has a positive effect on clickability, but not if it appears at the end of the Headline. If the Trademark Symbol appeared at the end of the Headline it had a negative impact on the Click-Through-Rate. The trademark has the most impact when the brand name is the first word and is a one worded brand name in the Headline and includes the trademark, ie see below:

Thus the first Headline above where the Trademark (®) Symbol is directly after the first word in the Headline, (Jabong) had a significantly higher Click-Through-Rate than when the Trademark (®) Symbol is used at the end of the Headline. Headlines with ie “Brand®” at the beginning of the Headline demonstrated a higher Click-Through-Rate, compared to the same Headline where the “Brand®” was at the end of the Headline. To confirm the branding nature of the Trademark (®) Symbol, we ran experiments using the identical Headlines without the Trademark (®) Symbol. These Headlines had the Brand Name in the beginning, but scored a lower Click-Through Rate than the Brand® variation. Often the Trademark (®) Symbol did not provide the optimum clickable Ad but it was positive when included after the first word in the Headline.

Below is the SERP on www.google.com for the keywords “digital marketing agency”. Please note the position and Headline in Koozai.com. Koozai have optimized the use of the trademark and the impact on Click-Through-Rate.

The four websites detailed below are all targeting the keywords Digital Marketing Agency. Koozai® has the most clickable Ad however the Koozai® landing page experience leads to an 83.02% Bounce Rate according to similarweb.com. This is clearly less than desirable for customers and Google is ranking Koozai® accordingly however the Trademark (®) Symbol is increasing the Click-Through rate of Koozai® out of proportion of page position. See Chart below on position 1 v position 3 on Click-Through rate.

Click-Through-Rate for the Keyword Phrase “Digital marketing Agency”.

Website 6 months traffic % for DMA Organic Paid Traffic from DMA
360i 900000 1.39% 100% 0 48510
singlegrain 450000 12.92% 100% 0 58140
koozai 3000000 1.39% 100% 0 41700
coastdigital 140000 10.77% 100% 0 15078

We have calculated the Click-Through-Rate from statistical data from Similarweb.com. The 6 months traffic is for period 1 June 2014 to 30 November 2014.

Conclusion

If used, the Trademark (®) Symbol if used is generally a positive on Click-Through-Rate. We recommend that the Trademark (®) Symbol be used after the first word (brand) in the Headline.

The Trademark (®) Symbol should not be used on the last word (brand) in a Headline.

We make the following observations: If Brand is an important factor for your potential customers to click, or you need to set yourself apart like Koozai ® on a generic SERP, test the Trademark (®) Symbol directly after the Brand Name in the beginning of the Headline. This appears intuitively as a confirmatory signal of Brand significance and may lead to a higher Click-Through Rate.

If you want to test the impact of Trademark (®) Symbol on your Click-Through-Rate without risk we suggest you conduct a Predikkta Survey. As usual we will keep you updated when we have more experiment data to share.