The Search for Ranking Factors: User Behavior

November 13, 2015

In the never-ending quest to understand how Google’s ranking factors, we’ve noticed a recent study that clears up one long-standing debate within the SEO world. Evidence now shows that user behavior is an important piece in the ranking puzzle.

According to the article posted on SEO PowerSuite, the community has remained divided over the role of and methods for measuring this factor, thanks largely to Google’s inconsistent statements about it.

User Behavior Metrics as a Ranking Factor

All of the above may seem like stating the obvious, but given Google’s coy comments in the past that avoid committing to the importance of user metrics, there is evidence that cannot be denied. Google notices which pages are more frequently chosen by users, and improves their rankings accordingly. The article cites revealing interviews with top engineers, like one in the Wall Street Journal that notes the significance of new signals added to the ranking algorithm, specifically stating “How users interact with a site is one of those signals.”

What really matters is exactly how user behavior is measured by Google, how that in turn alters your rankings, and what you can do to affect the outcome. First, know the “abc’s” or rather the “123s” of user metrics. Understand and work on these three areas to give your rankings a bump:

  • 1—Click-through rate (CTR) – the ratio of the number of times a search listing is clicked to the times it is displayed.
  • 2—Dwell time – how much time is spent on a page after clicking through from a listing.
  • 3—Pogo-sticking or bounce rate – how quickly or how often searchers bounce back from your open page to look for a better, more appropriate listing among search results.

Of the three metrics, the broadest based, most fundamental is the first one, click-through rate. It is highly changeable and fluctuates frequently for any given listing. Let’s explore the factors that affect your CTR. First, Google is aware that if you have a top ranking on a given SERP, you will naturally get a higher number of clicks. The same holds true in reverse if you have a lower ranking. Therefore, Google weights those results differently, adjusting for the natural bias created by your position on the page. Second, Google expects certain levels of result for certain types of queries. If yours pulls a response that is unexpected for that type, it adjusts the ranking up or down accordingly.1

Tell Me Something I Don’t Already Know

Drum roll…did you know that Google constantly evaluates the quality of your overall site? Sure. Did you know that individual page rankings can reach back and affect your website’s other pages, along with your overall ranking for quality? Well yes, it can.1

Changing User Experience

So, what can you do to affect these metrics? Starting with CTR, there are key steps you should take to bolster results and keep your pages climbing through the all-important SERP rankings. Most of all, you want to optimize user experience as a means to influence user behavior. Here’s how:

  • Clean up your snippets – the snippet displayed in your results listing needs a technically correct, keyword-optimized title tag, url, and meta description tag.
  • Analyze your CTR rates per page – run an analytics report to see the CTR for each page. Determine which pages are below average rates for your listing’s search position and concentrate on making improvements to those.
  • Rewrite titles and descriptions with the searcher in mind. Is your ideal searcher looking for a brief informative capsule, or for deeper problem-solving suggestions? Keep valuable title keywords near the beginning, so the searcher sees them before tuning out. URLs should be clear and relatively simple. Descriptions should be where possible an invitation to the individual reading it, with a call to action.
  • Use rich snippets – powerful additions to your listing include images, review ratings, recipe cooking times, strong descriptive adjectives, and others that relate to your industry.

Beyond maximizing CTR power on each page, you should take steps to increase dwell time, which also helps with reduced bounce rate or pogo-sticking. In-depth site optimization can be a challenging task, but every SEO marketer knows how vital it is to overall success. The job is never done, because rankings and the methods used to determine them are constantly changing.
That’s why we maintain a staff of experts whose mission it is to stay one step ahead of Google search engineers. Our proprietary applications are finely tuned to analyze your site’s strengths and weaknesses, and implement the kinds of optimization that consistently improve user experience and raise your ranking profile.

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