First Things First
Before we dig into how Google obtains website metrics to assess quality, it should be stated that small businesses must regularly track user engagement metrics on their websites. This should include evaluating the quality of the organic search traffic (SEO) the site is receiving. Increased website engagement will result in increased conversion rates and ROI.
User Interaction on Your Website
Assessing a user’s behavior on a website will offer strong insight as to their goals.
- A user lands on a site.
- They visit seven pages.
- They find a product they want.
- They add the product to the shopping cart.
- They purchase the item.
It is clear from this example that the user found what they were searching for on the website. Now, compare this with a visitor who lands on a web page and hits the browser’s “back button” in less than a few seconds. Who had the better user experience? Who engaged with the site more?
The above are examples of user engagement signals that search engines are using as data points in their algorithms to assess the quality of a site. These signals are not easily understood by the likes of Google. Search engines are private about their algorithm information because this is what separates them from the competition.
We have learned that user engagement signals are valuable in calculating search quality and may also be used as ranking signals. When a user lands on a page that does not match what they searched for, this will more than likely result in poor engagement.
If your company has a website, poor user experience is something you want to reduce and keep to an absolute minimum.
How Google Collects User Engagement Metrics
Google has a huge quantity of data sources available to them. Some of the most important ones are as follows.
SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages)
How a user interacts with the listed search results is a fundamental source of data. For example, if a user does a search in Google and decides not to click on the first or second result, but instead clicks on the third option, that can act as a signal to Google that the third result might actually be the best result for that query.
In the future, Google may adjust the ranking position of the result that was originally in third place.
Google Analytics Data
If you have Google Analytics tracking on your site, Google is able to learn how users interact with your site. This information is used by Google to learn trends and many more search abhors of users. Google Analytics can also be used to help your company improve its site so you target the right audience.
Mobile Operating Systems
With Google entering the mobile market, it’s changing how people interact with the web. Google’s Android mobile phone operating system is the most used operating system on mobile devices in the world, with more than 50% market share.
Android connects people to Google Maps, Search, and Images, impacting how a user finds and interacts with your site. Having a website that is mobile friendly and responsive is not a choice anymore.
Every business website should have these mobile features included.
Browsers are influential data sources since they can monitor every action taken by a user. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer used to have the major market share back in early 2011. That all changed as Firefox and Google Chrome became more predominant.
Google AdSense offers websites the ability to place ads on their sites and earn revenue when users click on them. This click data is something that helps Google understand how users interact with the site.
Users who install the Google Toolbar in their browsers help search engines better understand how a user navigates the web. These toolbars provide users with a lot of accessibility that can offer a better online search experience.
Goo.gl URL Shortner
There are many URL shorteners such as Bit.ly and Ow.ly. Google created a URL shortener of its own called Goo.gl. A URL shortener allows Google visibility into sharing content, even in social networks where it does not otherwise have access (for example, private Facebook pages.)
Different Forms of Online Voting
There is another set of signals that search engines measure, which we call voting mechanisms. These voting mechanisms are methods by which users directly indicate their approval or disapproval of content, services, or products. Here are some examples:
We are all familiar with Facebook’s like feature, which indicates content we like on the web. Ultimately, search engines can see what content is “liked” and gives that content more value.
Reviews allow users to express appreciation or frustration with a product or service. Google takes these very seriously, as they are personal and inform other users.
Google is able to measure the amount of positive or negative comments to ascertain whether a website is providing quality to the user. Reviews are especially impactful when it comes to optimizing your site for local search.
Brand Name Searches
Another signal of importance is a large number of brand name searches. For example, brands like Nike and Amazon have searched hundreds of thousands of times per month.
This causes them to show up more often in results to generic search queries like athletic shoes or fiction books over lesser-known brands.
User Engagement Signals That Could Affect Rankings
Google has an in-depth collection of data sources that allow it to quantify a wide range of online user behaviors. Mentioned below are some of the major signals that Google can extract (and that you can extract, too, by looking into Google Analytics):
Bounce rate measures the percentage of users who visit only one page on a website and then leave. Bounce rate can also define the interaction of the user 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 be an indicator that the first result was not a good response for that search query.
Generating New Searches
A user may observe a set of search results, then come back to the search engine and modify his search query to better refine the results.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
Google measures the click-through rate on links presented in the SERPs, on web pages in URL shorteners, on RSS feed readers, PDFs, and more. Many SEOs believe that CTR is actually a ranking factor when applying SEO best practices.
Time on Page
Google can measure the amount of time spent on a given page. Time on page could be considered a signal of higher quality pages(for example, the user spent time reading the whole article.)
Time on Site
Similarly, time spent on a website, as a total, is considered a positive signal. If the average user spends more time on your site than on the sites of your competitors, that might signify your site is of higher quality and relevance.
Pages per Visit
More pages viewed by a user on your site suggests greater user engagement. Viewing more pages usually signifies interest and that is something Google considers important.
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