When it comes to SEO, there are quite a few ranking factors that Google’s algorithms take into consideration — as of a few months ago, at least 200. We all know that quality backlinks, contextually relevant content, and fast website speed are important. But what about user engagement? Does your visitors’ behavior on your site affect how you’ll rank?
Traditionally, it’s usually assumed that it really doesn’t. If you do a “ctrl+F” search for “engagement” in the Backlinko list of ranking factors we linked above, you won’t find anything. But many SEO consultants believe that this belief is flawed, and that engagement factors do have an impact on your ranking.
Defining SEO and User Experience
First, we need to define “user engagement” clearly. There are several metrics we can use to quantify it:
- Bounce rate
- Time on page
- Site load time
- Pages per session
These are just a few potential metrics that illustrate engagement. Now, it’s worth mentioning that technically speaking, these things do not appear to be “ranking factors,” per se. However, they may still influence your rankings indirectly.
The Big 2: User Engagement Metrics that Definitely Influence Your Ranking
Some things, like bounce rate or pages per session, probably aren’t measured by Google directly. However, there are two engagement metrics that are directly relevant here: SERP CTR and dwell time.
SERP CTR stands for “search engine results page click-through rate,” and it’s certainly important. If people are Googling a query, and they’re not clicking on the link to your website that comes up on page 1, it implies that you’re not offering the information they’re looking for. If no one’s clicking it, it might not be a good answer to that particular query. You can view data about SERP CTR in Google Webmaster Tools.
Naturally, there’s a long history of black hat attempts to manipulate the SERP CTR. Bot farms, warehouses full of overseas workers, and other means can be used to artificially inflate your click rate. Fortunately, Google caught on to this a long time ago, and it’s not particularly effective in 2016.
There is a good way to improve your SERP CTR, though: by changing up your meta titles and meta descriptions. Today, keywords in meta descriptions aren’t much of a ranking factor for the search engine, but they are important for persuading human readers to visit your site. Compelling meta titles and meta descriptions make people more likely to click your page.
Dwell time is how long someone stays on your site after clicking the link. Theoretically, a longer dwell time meant they found what they were looking for. It’s a combination of bounce rate metrics and time on site metrics, and it measures how long it takes before the person returns to the Google results. A couple of years ago, Google tested a feature that lets you block a site if you kept clicking back from it quickly. This suggests that dwell time is something they look for and that it may even be a minor ranking factor.
What About Other Engagement Metrics?
Other metrics may or may not matter. Google’s algorithms are proprietary, and what SEOs know is gleaned from publicly available patents and from rigorous experimentation. But at any rate, you definitely want to build a site that people want to visit. Otherwise, you won’t see conversions. Great content and a pleasant user experience are essential for convincing people to stick around, whether or not it directly impacts your search rankings.