Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a process your brand can use to position itself highly on search engine ranking pages (also called SERPS).
In a lot of ways, SEO is one of the most important tools you can use to get future customers to find your business’s information online. It’s also an effective way to keep users coming back for more, and increase the likelihood that your newfound website visitors will be primed and ready to become eager conversions, either right away or at some point down the line.
In short, SEO really does matter. It’s an essential strategy for businesses of all sizes to have in place.
But, then, this beggars another question: What goes into a successful SEO effort today?
From the jump, it’s important to realize that SEO is a multi-faceted process, and a lot of different elements go into generating search engine success. It’s part art, part science, and part game – and you need to master all three of those buckets if you want to claim your rightful place at the top of the SERP.
Today, we’re going to focus on one part of the SEO formula that often goes overlooked: The user.
Because here’s the thing…
The Way That Vistors Use Your Site Impacts Your SEO Success
Oftentimes, businesses (and, we’ll admit it, SEO practitioners) have a tendency to forget that building a website, creating content, and putting your brand online isn’t just about algorithms, or code, or charts… It’s about flesh and blood people.
The core function of search engines is to connect searchers with the information that they need. That’s the bottom line.
You can create all the content in the world. You can have a solid backlink strategy. You can optimize your backend elements for on-page SEO success. But if you don’t take into account why – and, most importantly, how – real people are using your site, then you won’t be creating value for, just noise. And, ultimately, we believe that your SEO results will reflect this tough reality.
So, with this in mind, how are users engaging with your content – and how do their actions impact your future SEO success? How can you monitor the way that users are interacting with your site, and what steps can you take if you’re noticing any worrisome results in your analytics reports?
Let’s break it down. Here are five user engagement metrics to keep an eye on as you launch or fine-tune your SEO strategy:
1.) Clickthrough Rate
Clickthrough rate (we prefer it as one word, but you’ll sometimes see it as “click-through rate” – just an FYI) refers to how often users click through to your landing page from a search results page.
Obviously, this is a significant metric. As Moz points out, clickthrough rate (CTR) is “an indirect signal that definitely impacts rank,” and as you improve your CTR, “you should see your rankings and conversions improve.”
SEO guru Neil Patel agrees, noting on his blog that CTR acts like a sort of cycle:
“To a large extent, higher search rankings will generate a higher click-through rate & more traffic to your site… When you start driving visitors to your site, you’ll get more people clicking on your links in the search results. This can reinforce a ranking boost and improve your site quality.”
Now, in a lot of ways, a higher CTR – and more organic traffic – is one of the core end goals of an SEO strategy. Thus, it’s not going to happen overnight. But there are a few ways to actively influence your CTR, helping you to kick-start that positive growth cycle, rather than waiting for it to take effect over time.
For one thing, you can drive clicks to your site from other methods. We’ve said before that a comprehensive approach to digital marketing works best, and evidence suggests that referral traffic from email, social media, and other reputable sources can signal boost your site with major search engines, elevating your search rankings.
At the same time, you can consider finessing your SEO strategy to target lower-volume, higher-value keywords. Targeting these more specific searches, which we call long-tail keywords, may allow you to garner steady rates of organic traffic, and reach users more likely to convert on your site.
2.) Time on Site
As the Moz blog points out, CTR is a powerful metric – but Google and other search engines don’t like to rely on it all alone, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, there’s the fact that roughly a third of all search traffic goes to the first several links on a given SERP, meaning that SEO would be a completely impossible field to break into if Google only measured CTR. For another thing, it’s entirely possible to game CTR, by, say, offering an incredibly good deal on the SERP, and then making the substance of the landing page something far less appealing, or even completely different.
For that reason, SEO practitioners recognize that on-page engagement truly does matter for SEO success. And one of the biggest on-page factors is dwell time, or the amount of time that visitors spend on your site.
As Brian Sutter put it in a piece for Forbes:
“…if your pages consistently keep people on them for longer than average, the algorithm will adjust the search results to favor your site. This happens on a page-by-page basis, but the performance of individual pages also contributes to how Google ranks your website as a whole.”
In other words? The longer that users spend on your site, the higher your content is likely to rank on SERPs. There are all sorts of ways that you can help increase dwell time right now:
- Make sure that your pages are quick to load
- Ensure that your site is visually appealing, easy to read, and simple to navigate
- Include multimedia elements, such as videos, podcasts, or infographics, to encourage users to scroll and spend time on a page
- Craft content that is readable, relevant, and compelling
3.) Bounce Rate
Bounce rate refers to the percentage of your website visitors who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page (and typically for a short amount of time, at that).
In many ways, a high bounce rate is unavoidable; even many media companies and resources like Wikipedia can likely report bounce rates that seem steep to the untrained eye. And remember, in today’s super-saturated media ecosystem, most web users only spare a few seconds on any one piece of content.
So, while your bounce rate may not directly correlate to Google rankings, plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that there is some relationship between them.
The biggest problem may be, as Hubspot points out, that a high bounce rate is a sign of some other, fundamental problem with your site. A high bounce rate might suggest that your content isn’t informative or useful, or it could “indicate problems with your site itself, such as confusing architecture… or no clear calls-to-action.”
These are significant issues because they’ll ultimately affect your CTR, throwing you into a cycle of diminishing SEO returns in no time. What’s more, a site with a high bounce rate is a site that is unlikely to generate conversions – and no brand in history has wanted fewer customers, right?
4.) Pages Visited
Pageviews – or pages visited, or pages per session, depending on what analytics report you’re reading – go hand-in-hand with bounce rate.
The conventional wisdom is that the more pages a user visits on your site per session, the better. This reflects well on the quality of your content and on the internal link structure and navigation features of your site. At the same time, it suggests that users are more likely to end up as conversions, and will ultimately serve to help send positive signals to search engines, for the sake of your SEO.
From improving your navigation, to adding strong calls-to-action, to adding search functionality and internal links within your content copy, there are all sorts of ways that you can help guide your visitors from page to page, improving their experience – and your SEO standings.
5.) Repeat Visits
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that SEO is all about new visitors, that more traffic necessarily equates to more people stumbling upon your brand for the very first time.
And while new, unique visitors are vital, there’s a lot of value, from an SEO standpoint, to having return visitors. As Sutter – and Backlinko’s Brian Dean – suggest, “Google does consider returning visitors in its algorithm.”
Setting aside SEO for a moment, having a steady rate of returning traffic suggests that “prospects are finding valuable content that keeps them coming back for more,” increasing the likelihood of generating conversions over time, as Hubspot points out. Think of your website like a restaurant… You don’t want people to only come in and eat one time, right? No! You want a steady amount of regulars coming back (and bringing their friends and family along), just as you also want new people streaming through the doors.
So, what’s a decent rate for return visitors? Hubspot puts a “healthy” rate at about 15%: Too much lower, and it may be a sign that your website content isn’t offering anything of value to users. Too much higher than, say, 30%, and “you’re probably not growing your audience enough to generate new business.”
Looking to Elevate Your SEO Success?
That’s where Geek Chicago would love to help!
Over years of experience and collaboration with businesses of all sizes, we have refined a multi-faceted, holistic approach to content marketing, one that considers all of the ways that content, web design and development, and publishing channels such as social media and email can all work together to ensure maximum reach, retention, and results for brands.
Curious about our unique approach to SEO? Have any questions about search engines, websites, analytics monitoring, or more? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line today to keep the conversation going!