An SEO's job is to make sure that a site is accessible to search engine crawlers, optimize priority pages for targeted keywords, and think up clever ways to increase the number of inbound links to the site. But as search engines become more sophisticated, so does the SEO's job description. Successful SEOs will need to start paying attention to user experience and user behavior as these factors become more important in the eyes of search engines.
User data and rankings
Most SEOs don't put much thought toward improving usability or user engagement metrics. Factors like the amount of time someone spends on a page and number of pages a user sees per visit are traditionally the concerns of data analysis and usability experts. But recent algorithm changes and expert opinions have convinced the industry that this kind of user data has an effect on rankings. Here are three reasons why you should consider looking at user data in your SEO strategy:
1. Google's search team has made it clear that it's now focusing more on site quality with the recent Panda update. The factors that make a site "quality" are difficult to define, but user experience almost certainly plays a large part.
2. User data is available to the search engines and it's not hard to see how that data could be used to provide better search results. Data regarding click-through rates (CTRs) is already available to SEOs in the Google Webmaster Central account, which suggests that Google is taking it into consideration.
3. The smart guys are doing it. A recent survey shows that a majority of industry experts believe user data is becoming increasingly important.
Metrics to pay attention to
There's a lot of noise around this topic, which makes it difficult to keep up. As a starting point, take note of the following metrics:
- CTR: measured as total clicks divided by total impressions
- Bounce rate from search results page: the percentage of users that immediately returns to the search results page after clicking through to your site
- Time spent away from the search results page: the amount of time the user was on your site before returning to the results page
Turning data into action
Knowing the above information alone won't help your rankings. The research should provide insight into how you can improve the metrics. Here are a few ways to make the data actionable:
1. Identify keyword opportunities by looking at terms that have positive usage metrics but aren't ranking well in the search results. Optimize page titles, header tags, and copy for the relevant keywords.
2. Look for pages that are ranking well for important keywords, but have a low CTR. Rewrite meta descriptions to include a strong call-to-action along with the targeted keywords and revise page titles as necessary.
3. Consider redesigning pages where there is a significant amount of traffic that tends to spend a short amount of time on the page before returning to the search results. This behavior is indicative of poor user experience.
For now, it's unclear how much search engines are relying on user data, but keep in mind that the goal of a search engine is to provide the most useful pages for a given search query. If user data can provide information about a page's relevance for a query, it's almost certain that it will be part of the equation for determining rankings.
Trung Ngo is an SEO specialist at Red Door Interactive.
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