User Engagement As The New SEO: How to Increase Search Rank by Engaging Users

Measuring user behavior on a website can provide strong signals about that site’s quality. For example, if a visitor arrives at a site, visits 10 pages over the course of an hour, selects a product, adds it to her shopping cart, and then buys it, chances are pretty good that she found what she wanted there. Contrast that with the visitor who arrives at a web page and hits the back button of his browser in less than a second.

These are examples of user engagement signals, and search engines are beginning to use this kind of data in their algorithms. The specific signals they are using and how they’re using them are not easily discerned, however. 

Search engines are secretive about the details of their algorithms because they are important trade secrets, and because it makes a spammer’s job harder. However, we know that user engagement signals are useful in measuring search quality and may also be used as ranking signals. 

If a page is a poor result for a user’s search queries, then the user’s (probably very limited) interactions with that page will show it. 

This article will examine the types of search engine engagement metrics and how to optimize the user experience to improve SEO.

Search Engine Engagement Metrics

Prior to delving into the metrics that may correlate with an increase in rankings in the age of user experience, it is important to note that no search engine is completely transparent. When Google updates its core algorithm, it notifies the public, but this proprietary information is notoriously classified.

Below are a few metrics that Google and other engines seem to value as priorities in terms of user engagement.

Mobile Optimization

Earlier this year, Google announced that mobile optimization would play a role in SEO rankings. Mobile searches, after all, account for half of all searches.

Search engine results favor mobile-optimized sites that adjust to desktops, phones, and tablets, and Google recommends responsive web design.

A second benefit arises from this: inclusion in Google’s coveted “local pack.” The local pack consists of three businesses that appear in Google’s search results. Google used to feature seven businesses on this page, but has since reduced that number to keep it mobile-friendly.

Semantic Search

Since the old days of keyword stuffing, Google’s algorithm has drastically changed. The first change allowed Google to judge not just how keywords are used, but also the context in which they are used. In this phase, keywords and phrases needed to appear naturally. The search engine would penalize a page if they detracted from its readability.

The search engine’s algorithm considers a page’s overall meaning following the 2013 Hummingbird update, which realizes a page is more than its keywords. In the past, if you searched for “What’s the fastest animal?” you would need to use the keyword “fastest animal” in several places to convey the topic to Google’s spiders. Google can now use semantic search to match search intent with a page’s content to provide a better search experience.

Google has recently launched BERT to help searchers. It was designed to help users who increasingly conduct their searches by asking questions. By analyzing the relationship between the words that precede and follow a word, it considers search intent. Voice recognition is often used to answer questions, so this advancement could prove beneficial to Google in the future.

Dwell Time

Search engines can measure the amount of time spent on a given page using their browsers or toolbars. This is also referred to as dwell time, and more time on the page might be considered a signal of higher quality. When a user stays on a page for a long time before returning to the SERP, that page is probably more valuable than others.

Browsers such as Google Chrome, which is used by 81% of W3School’s 50 million monthly visitors as of August 2020, track how long visitors stay on a page. Web designers should strive to keep visitors on a website for as long as possible to measure relevancy and quality.

Only search engines have access to dwell time, which is one of many metrics available to them. You can still use other data to determine your own site’s user engagement. You can gain valuable insights into your website’s value by tracking metrics like time on page, bounce rate, and conversions.

Bounce rate is a measurement of the percentage of users who visit only one page on a website. Search engines extend that definition to take into account the user’s interaction with the search results. For example, if a user clicks on a search result, then returns to the SERPs and clicks on another result, that could indicate that the first result was not a good response for that search query.

How To Optimize User Engagement to Improve SEO

Realistically, it’s easy to understand how a great user interface has the potential to boost search rankings, but making it happen is another story. Let’s take a look at several UX SEO best practices.

1. Augmented Reality

Sephora released an app update called Visual Artist in 2017. Cosmetic products, such as lipsticks, eye shadows, and eyeliners, can be tried on virtually at home. LVMH reported organic sales growth of 14% as a result of this user experience-focused change.

Smaller businesses are increasingly able to leverage augmented reality. For example, the features of AR, which allow users to virtually try on glasses on eyeglass store websites, are widely used.

This technology can also be used to engage customers in the launch of a product. Earlier this year, Jordan Brand launched its Air Jordan III Tinker sneakers. Using Snapcodes, sneaker fans were able to store via Shopify, and local delivery centers delivered the shoes the next day.

2. Video Content

Video content is commonly feared for slowing down web page loading and driving up bounce rates. This is a legitimate concern, but the risk may be worth it. Videos encourage visitors to stay on a web page 2.6 times longer because they are easier to process. Video placement increases dwell time and improve rankings.

Video was used in Toyota’s “Choose Your Wild” interactive campaign for the 4Runner. By allowing visitors to virtually drive the vehicle off-road, the video engages potential customers while gathering customer preferences in a fun, unobtrusive way.

3. Interactive Tools

Finding ways to capture the attention of website visitors is key to increasing user activity. To create an exceptional search experience, interactive tools and activities are essential.

Your landing page could include something as simple as a mortgage cost calculator on a home loan website, a responsive chatbot, or a live user survey. For example, Warby Parker, an online retailer of prescription eyeglasses, added an online quiz to its Web offering to help customers choose the right glasses. The quiz offers visitors personalized fashion advice and accompanies them on their path to purchase.

Often, the most popular pages on a popular website are interactive if you use a tool like SEMrush to identify them. These tools keep users interested. Google Analytics can report exactly how engaging the tools are if they install event tracking in them.

4. Lead Magnets

Unexpectedly, some of the most effective ways to ensure a great user experience do not involve much innovation. Using gated content lead magnets is not a new concept in digital marketing, but understanding your audience’s needs and creating relevant content will put you ahead of them.

As a result of its efforts to make its pages more user-friendly, Google is actually just trying to ensure that high-ranking pages are valuable content resources. At the same time, optimize the conversion process and improve the user experience.

This is exactly how Bidsketch works: it offers a free sample bid in exchange for a customer’s email address. Many content-rich sites like The Oatmeal and BuzzFeed capture email addresses by offering quizzes (which also increase user engagement). Consider offering spreadsheets, how-to guides, generators, or calculators as free giveaways.

By retaining users with valuable, meaningful content, you’ll not only ensure happy visitors (and maybe even brand advocates), but you’ll also rank well on Google.

It can make a big difference to a company’s user experience and SEO efforts whether engagement is through augmented reality, interactivity, videos, or lead magnets.

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