Every time someone types in a search query on Google, they’re given a list of results.
The way in which those results are ordered is a highly complex algorithmic process that takes into account over 200 factors, and those factors are constantly changing.
One thing that Google hasn’t changed, however, since they first started in 1998, is their main objective — which is to provide the most relevant and useful search results to their users every time they perform a search.
In recent years, one element of the ranking algorithm has increased greatly in importance, and that is on-site engagement — which was recently ranked 5th in terms of importance on the bi-annual ranking factors study from Moz. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the more engaged the user is with your content, the more likely they are finding it useful.
It’s not easy to algorithmically determine how engaged someone is with a piece of content, but there are certain metrics that give a good indication, such as those below.
Time on page
Definition: the amount of time between the user landing on your webpage to leaving it.
Why it matters: the longer a user is spending on a page, the more likely they are finding the content useful and relevant to their search query.
Definition: the percentage of users that land on your webpage and then leave without visiting another page.
Why it matters: in short, it probably doesn’t in terms of the ranking algorithms. The problem with bounce rate is, someone could visit your web page, read the content for ten minutes, get exactly what they needed from it, and then leave the page. This would count as a bounce, but in reality they’ve found that page very useful. Bounce rate should be considered, as a high bounce rate could indicate a problem, but the other metrics are more important.
Definition: the time between a user landing on your webpage and clicking back to the search results,
Why it matters: If people are consistently landing on your content and then quickly clicking back to the search results and clicking on another result, it indicates that the page is not very relevant to that specific search query and will likely lead to the page being demoted. If this happens rarely, it indicates that the page is very relevant.
Click Through Rate (CTR)
Definition: the percentage of users that click on your result in the search results compared to the total number of people that are served it for a search query.
Why it matters: if a larger percentage of people are clicking on your result ranked 4th than the result above you in 3rd, it indicates a preference for your result. Of course, page titles and meta descriptions can be inaccurate, irrelevant or manipulative, so CTR is likely looked at in conjunction with the other metrics e.g. high CTR + high dwell time = a highly relevant result.
So, now we’ve established the metrics that are important, can we do anything to improve them?
Of course we can!
Whether writing new content or going back and optimizing current content, the following steps can help push those all-important engagement metrics.
1. Create Content Based on the Needs of Your Audience
The first step when creating content is to work out who your audience are and what sort of content they’re looking for. This can be done in a number of ways, such as by:
- asking them directly via user surveys
- using audience reports in Google Analytics
- analyzing your audience on social media
- reviewing past content on your site that has performed well
- looking at other people’s content that has performed well using Buzzsumo
- looking on related forums and seeing what types of questions people are asking.
Make sure that any content you create is both tailored to your audience and the types of questions they’re asking and you’ll can be sure to see some amazing engagement metrics for what you produce.
2. Magnet Words and Emotive Page Titles
It’s very important to have keywords in your page title for SEO, but just as important is potential to persuade people to click on your listing in the search results.
CTR is of huge importance in SEO, and that one line of blue text could be your opportunity to stand out, so great care should be taken when crafting your page titles.
To improve your CTR there are certain (magnet) words that are known to attract clicks, and you can also use emotive language to persuade people. Some examples of magnet word include:
See an extensive list here.
3. Making Content Visually Appealing
First impressions are very important. If a user lands on a web page and doesn’t like what they see, you can be sure they’ll be pressing that back button. This is known as “pogo sticking“, and it sends a negative signal to Google.
Relevant, high-quality images should be used to break up the text and make the page more attractive to encourage people to stay on the page.
The way the text is structured is also important. Large blocks of text and overly long paragraphs can seem daunting and can put people off reading your content. Shorter, more succinct paragraphs should be used with gaps in-between.
Different sections should be broken up using relevant subheadings. This not only provides a logical structure to your content, but also informs the user what each section is about and can persuade them to read it.
4. Bucket Brigades
Credit to Brian Dean for this awesome tip. Bucket Brigades are basically a device that’s designed to keep people reading a piece of text content.
They are short words or sentences that have a colon at the end and are added to copy at points where you feel the user may lose interest with the aim of keeping them on the page.
Again this relates to making sure your time on page is as high as it possibly can be.
Here are the example bucket brigades Brian gives in his article:
- Here’s the deal:
- What’s the bottom line?
- You might be wondering:
- This is crazy:
- It gets better/worse:
- But here’s the kicker:
- Want to know the best part?
5. Using Supporting Videos
Videos are a great way of enhancing your content and can be very effective at improving time on page. If someone stops to watch a five-minute video all the way through, you can add five minutes to the time they’re on that page reading through your content.
Videos can also be a great way to get your point across and break up the text for a more interesting overall piece of content.
When writing content for your website, it’s important to write well-researched, useful and interesting content, but it’s just as important to consider how people will engage with that content. This aim has the dual benefit of ensuring both that your users are getting what they need from your content, and giving the engagement signals to the search engines that indicates “this content is high quality and should be ranked above other content with less engagement”.