In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), we try to be as objective as possible. We quantify everything we can, looking at numbers like keyword rankings and traffic figures to understand exactly how our efforts translate into success and profitability.
But it turns out one of the most important factors for improving search ranking might be a subjective one: user satisfaction.
The high-level concept for user satisfaction is pretty straightforward. Google and other search engines make money based on recurring engagement from users, so they want their users to be as happy and satisfied as possible. Therefore, they want to provide the results that lead to the fastest and most appropriate form of satisfaction, and will rank sites higher if they’re capable of providing that.
It appears Google has a way to reward sites, whether directly or indirectly, based on how they satisfy search user needs. It’s best to understand this through an example. Let’s say that a user searches for something like “how to make pizza” and gets a list of several results. He clicks on the first result and finds a landing page for a pizza company that provides him with little information on how to make a pizza himself, so he backs out, returning to his original search results, and clicks on a different link.
This new page actually provides step-by-step instructions on how to make a pizza at home, including a list of ingredients to buy. The user spends several minutes here, and eventually has all the information he needs. He returns to the search results and starts searching for where to buy dough and other ingredients he needs to make a pizza.
There are a few factors giving Google information about this user’s satisfaction:
· Bounce rate. A high bounce rate won’t necessarily directly affect your rankings, but it can be an indicator of a page’s quality. Search optimizers have frequently debated how bounce rates actually affect your page’s rankings, but it stands to reason that here, it’s a reliable measure of user satisfaction.
· Time spent on page. Time spent on page is another secondary factor that can help Google understand user satisfaction. If a user spends more time on a page, it means they’re being fed meaningful, engaging information that they were originally looking for. If a user is only on the page a few seconds before leaving, it means there was nothing for them there.
· Searches for more information. The fact that the user returned to the SERP and performed a new search, rather than jumping into another link, means he was looking for more information based on his original findings. That loosely implies that the site he landed on provided him with enough initial information for him to continue his journey.
Accordingly, the second page he visited (the one with detailed instructions) is going to be considered more satisfying, and will therefore likely rank higher over time for this particular search.
Building User Satisfaction
From what we understand, user satisfaction isn’t a direct ranking factor, but could indirectly contribute to your search rankings, or be a secondary indicator of content quality, which we know is important for ranking success. Even without wading into the technical details, it stands to reason that user satisfaction is pivotal to your SEO success. So how can you increase user satisfaction on your most important pages?
· Understand user intent. Your first goal is to understand exactly what your users are looking for when they conduct searches related to your brand. Some of these will likely be obvious, like fact-finding searches such as “how long do eggs stay good for,” but some will be far more ambiguous, like searches for “smart TVs.” You can get a better feel for user intent by studying related searches, search behavior (including traffic patterns once users get to your site) and by conducting user surveys. The more you understand about your customers, the better you’ll be able to meet their needs.
· Provide ample, concise on-site content to address user needs. Every page of your site that you want to have any chance in organic search results should have at least several hundred words of detailed, informational content — regardless of its purpose. If a page is designed to address a specific user need, make sure you address it early on and as concisely as possible. This will prevent quick bounce rates, and may point your users to further information, which is a positive indicator of the value of your page.
· Provide links to further information a user could want. Make sure you interlink the pages on your site; internal links encourage visitors to view your other pages, lowering your bounce rate and increasing time spent on your site. Both of these factors are positive indicators of user satisfaction.
· Observe bounce and exit rates. Keep a close eye on the bounce and exit rates of your pages. These aren’t necessarily bad metrics (in fact, some pages benefit from being the last page a user sees), but can help you understand how a page functions in the eyes of a user.
Put these tactics to work to help your SEO campaign to grow. User satisfaction won’t replace the need to produce ongoing content or build links pointing to your site, but it is an important quality to optimize for. In addition to building your search rankings, it has the potential to increase conversion rates and bring more revenue to your site, so it’s far too valuable to neglect.
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