Would you like more traffic to your website?
Of course you do. I have yet to meet a business owner who doesn’t.
And yet, most small business owners aren’t doing any search engine optimization for their websites. Only 28% of them – about one out of every four – do any search engine optimizationat all.
If you’re in this group of owners who aren’t doing any SEO, maybe it’s because you’re worried it will be too technical. Or you don’t trust the advice you’ve gotten before.
Or maybe you’re leery about changing your website just to please a search algorithm bot. Good SEO involves making some changes for the bots, but your site visitors should figure into this, too.
How people behave on your website – how they interact with it (or not) – effects how well your site does in the search results.
This makes a lot of sense in the broader view. After all, Google is obsessed with delivering the best results for each search. So is it any surprise that they’re watching how people behave on your site? That they’re ranking your site based on whether visitors seem to like what they see – or not?
These “user engagement metrics” may not be as influential as other search ranking signals (link inbound links and proper on-page SEO), but they do affect your site’s rankings.
How people interact with your website helps your real live visitors, too. If real human beings like your website, they’re more likely to place an order or go to your physical store.
So as you take a look at these different ways to measure user engagement, think about the search engine algorithms. But more importantly, think about how your website visitors will respond. On that point, you and Google are perfectly aligned:
You both want to deliver the best possible experience for everyone who comes to your site.
- Dwell time (aka “long clicks”).
This is a measurement of how long someone stays on your website’s pages. The more time someone spends on your website (the longer the dwell time), the better your pages will perform in the search engine rankings.
Here’s an example of how it works:
Say someone does a quick search for “Belize vacations.” They see your Belize vacations page among the results. They like what your listing says, so they click through. They like what they see enough to stay on your page for twelve whole minutes.
When they’re done reading that page, they go back to the search results and try a competitor’s page. They don’t like what they see there, and click back to the search results in just 30 seconds.
Google’s algorithm monitors and remembers that interaction. 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.
Here’s the key takeaway: The longer people stay on your website pages, the higher your pages will appear in the search engine rankings.
That’s why dwell time matters.
So now that you know about this, what can you do to improve your pages’ dwell times? Here are a few ideas:
- Don’t alienate visitors right out of the gate. Namely, have a website that
- Loads in 2 seconds or less
- Looks attractive
- Is easy to scan (few people read closely online)
- Is easy to understand
- Add an embedded video or two.
Many visitors will prefer the video, and will stay on a page longer if there is one. There’s also evidence that the Google algorithm is partial to pages that have at least one piece of multimedia content on them.
- Experiment with interactive content like quizzes, polls, and calculators.
- Make sure your page is laser-focused on what visitors expect to get from it. In other words, match the content of your page to the keywords people are using to find it.
- Click-through rate.
If you’ve done any email marketing, you’ll be familiar with this term. But for SEO, “click-through rate” refers to how often people click through to a page from search results pages.
- Return visits.
How often do your website visitors come back? According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, Google does consider returning visitors in its algorithm.
Not sure how many of your website visitors are coming back. You can find out if you’ve got Google Analytics installed. Log into your account and go to Audiences > Overview. Look for the blue and green pie chart.
What’s a good percentage of return visits? Really, all that matters is you out-perform your competitors on this metric. But according to HubSpot, “A healthy rate of repeat visitors is about 15%.”
- For local sites: Driving Directions and Clicks-To-Call Metrics.
I’m lumping these engagement metrics under one point because both of these measurements tie into how users interact with your Google local listing. And because local results are a different animal than regular search results.
That’s why there’s a different ranking factors study for Local SEO.
Here are the results from it:
For right now, we’re most interested in the “Behavioral Signals.” As you can see in the pie graphs, these are not the most important ranking signals for either the Local Pack or for Localized Organic Rankings. But behavioral signals do play a role.
The Moz ranking factors study specifically says “Google is paying attention to things like dwell rate, click-through rates, driving directions, and clicks-to-call metrics.”
We’ve talked about dwell rate, and click-through rates happen in the SERPs (not on your site) so we’re interested in driving directions and clicks-to-call metrics.
As you’ve probably guessed, both of these metrics are mobile-based. Driving directions are almost always used from a mobile device, and by definition, click-to-call actions happen on mobile phones.
- Leaving a comment.
This only applies to blog posts, of course. But you do want to encourage people to leave a comment on your blog posts. And you definitely don’t want to turn off comments entirely. If you’re worried about spam comments, use a plugin like Akismet, which protects tens of thousands of blogs from the spam comment bots.
- If they share your page on social media.
There’s been some dispute about this, but the matter is mostly settled: Social signals boost search results. So if your visitors happen to tweet or share your pages on Facebook, that will help your rankings.
These social signals aren’t as powerful as links, but they can help. So consider asking your site visitors to share your posts on social media. Or actively recruit your employees to share new content to their social media accounts.
It also helps to have active Twitter, Facebook accounts (and a company LinkedIn page) associated with your account according to Backlinko. Google figures that real companies will have a decent following on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s a reasonable guess, right?
- They subscribe to your RSS feed.
Google owns Feedburner, so it makes sense that they’d value this metric. Again, this is not anywhere near as powerful a ranking signal as inbound links or your on-page SEO, in fact, you might think of it as a third-tier ranking signal. But it can give your rankings a nudge.
As search engines get more sophisticated, they become more sensitive to user behaviors and preferences. We’re no longer dealing with algorithms that can be fooled by keyword stuffing and artificial link schemes.
But it continues to be obsessed with the primary goal of search: To deliver the best possible result for every query.
If your site can be that best result, and you can demonstrate it to the algorithm through these engagement signals, you won’t have to worry about getting enough organic search traffic. Or about getting penalized in the next algorithm update.