User Engagement: The New SEO Ranking Signals

Google is constantly adjusting their ranking algorithm and the contents are more closely guarded than the ingredients in a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Despite the attempts at secrecy, people in the world of search engine optimization are constantly trying to figure out the different factors and relative weighting of the all-important ranking formula. Currently, one Oct_NewSEORankingsBlogof the most discussed topics on the subject, which I’ve heard at almost every industry event I attended this year, is that user engagement factors are a growing influencers of Google’s ranking results.

So what are the user engagement metrics that are being considered, and what can a brand do to influence these factors? Read on to learn what search engines interpret as a “successful visit” and suggestions on how to optimize your site to get more engaged visitors.

Co-Occurrence of Brand & Keyword in Queries

We all know about the difference between branded and generic search terms, but queries can be mixed as well. For instance, users might search for “Apple iPhone”, an entirely branded query, but they might also search for “Apple smartphone”, which is a mix of branded and generic keywords. If enough people searching for smartphones include the brand name Apple in their searches- Google may begin to associate Apple more closely with smartphones- even without the branded portion of the query. This holds true for any co-occurrence of brand and non-brand keyword, and is a strong signal that searchers associate the brand with a specific type of product.

Click Thru Rate

The “click-thru-curve” graph illustrates the overall percentage of clicks a website can expect to receive based on their position on a results page. It’s well known that these numbers are simply benchmarks to be taken loosely, and the actual click through rate depends on a whole host of factors beyond just ranking position.

While SEO’s can speculate about relative click through for each position- Google has the firsthand knowledge to identify exactly what the expected clicks should be for a particular listing and identify any outliers that don’t match up to their forecast. Google can then adjust ranking assignments based on a single listing under or over performing it’s current position. This can mean a boost to rankings if a larger-than-expected number of people click your listing, or a quick drop if people are ignoring it.

The Long Click

Not all clicks are created equally, and just because your webpage has a higher than ordinary click through rate does not mean you can expect to instantly climb in rankings. If searchers click on your listing, then return back to the search engine and choose another result, Google sees that as a dissatisfied searcher. Choice number one did not fulfill their intent and they returned to try and find a different solution.

It would be fairly easy to imagine that users might initially be drawn in but ultimately dissatisfied by misleading claims. For example, let’s say you put “Free Televisions” in your title tag, and in reality you actually charge money for televisions. In that case you could expect to find a very high initial click, only to be followed by an extremely high bounce rate. Enough of this type of traffic and Google will demote the ranking of your page.

The Takeaway

We know that Google is always trying to improve their products; the product in this particular case being online search. The way they improve the product is by offering more relevant results for each search term. If they are getting direct feedback from users on which results are the most helpful, why wouldn’t they use that data to help guide more users to the helpful content?

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