Not so long ago, search engine optimization was all about gaming the numbers. An obsession with keyword density came and went, then a backlink frenzy took over the SEO world.
However, search engine algorithms didn’t stand still in the face of all this manipulation. SEO today is a very different beast. While backlinks and on-page factors are still important, if you want to rank, you need to pay attention to one overriding principle: visitor engagement.
But why is engagement so important? The modern Google prefers to recommend websites that people already like. It makes their results look better to their users, and it’s also much harder for SEOs to game low-quality sites into high ranks.
But that doesn’t mean today’s SEOs are helpless. Working to increase your engagement metrics will boost your business, as well as improve your ranks. Here’s what to concentrate on.
Bounce Rate – The proportion of searchers who take one look at your site and then return to the search results. The lower this figure, the better, so make sure your content grabs visitors’ attention at the first glance.
Dwell Time – The total length of time a visitor spends on a site. Increase this by providing plenty of high-quality content to keep readers interested, as well as clear navigation to lead visitors deeper into your site.
Search Result Clicks – The more click-throughs a site receives from searchers, the higher it will appear in the results. Make sure your title and description are compelling. Of course, Google might choose to write its own title for your site, but that’s not under your control.
Direct Visits – If people like your site enough to visit without going through a search, that’s a clear sign of quality. Boost this effect with strong branding, both online and offline, along with tactics to encourage repeat visits.
Customer Reviews – If your site has entries on Google Maps, Yelp, and other sites, a large number of customer reviews reflects high engagement levels. Facilitate reviews by linking directly to your listings on these sites.
Social Signals – Popular pages are shared and liked more on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Make social an integral part of your marketing strategy, and the results will feed through into SEO as well.
Visitor Comments – If your site allows comments below your content, make sure it’s properly moderated. High activity sends strong engagement signals, but a free-for-all of spammy comments and links signals neglect and low quality.
Google has repeatedly hinted that these metrics are too ‘noisy’ to use as direct ranking factors. However, they have a wealth of user data to draw on thanks to Chrome, Android, Analytics, and their huge advertising platform.
Whether or not they actually exploit this data, the correlation between engagement metrics and high ranking can’t be ignored. Focus on boosting these factors, and your ranks will almost certainly improve.
And perhaps more importantly, you’ll greatly enhance your users’ experience along the way, with all the commercial benefits that brings.