User Engagement Metrics & SEO
Website analytics, or user metrics, tell us how our site is doing when it comes to interacting with potential customers. Analytics are basically statistics that tell us where viewers were just before they got to the website (referral URLs), which page they landed on, which other pages they visited, whether they’ve visited the site previously, how long they stayed on page, and which page was the last they visited before leaving the site. All visitor metrics are aggregated, providing the statistics that give us the big picture.
Lots of sites incorporate Google Analytics (soon to be GA4) and this gives Google access to the same data available to a site administrator. While we can only see one site’s stats at a time, Google can see all of the stats from all of the websites that use its analytics software.
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The term user engagement means interacting with a business, and can refer to communication, purchasing, or in this case, visits and interaction on a business’s website.
Google is updating its algorithm all the time, and being in the SEO industry, we need to keep up with it. Google has become quite interested in website engagement as a consideration in search results ranking. In the hierarchy of factors, engagement is at the top of the pyramid, so it’s only important after all other search engine optimization factors have been put in place.
Considering engagement makes sense. Google wants to provide search users with the most useful information it can. If others have found your site useful, then the next person doing a similar search is likely to find it useful too.
So what stats are we talking about relating to engagement? Time spent on the site is a big one. If a visitor spends five or six minutes on your site, that’s considered fairly high engagement. If they land on the home page and go back to the search page within seconds, that’s considered really poor engagement. If though, they are searching for an explanation of something, and are directed to a particular page on your site, and then only spend, let’s say, two minutes there, but don’t go back to the search page, that’s considered a quality engagement, since the interpretation is that you found the answer you were looking for. Let’s look at some of the stats you’ll find in Google Analytics.
Time on Page
Another important factor is the amount of time visitors spend on your pages. You can track the average length of time a visitor spends on a particular webpage and you can also see the average time visitors spend on your whole site.
Number of Pages Visited
This is the number of pages within your site that visitors look at during a visit. If people are spending time on multiple pages of your site, that’s a strong signal to Google that your website is a wealth of information for your visitors to explore. What fosters this is creating detailed articles/pages that link to other inner pages. The reason for separating out these pages is because you’re trying to create silos of information, where one article provides an overview, and is linked to several other articles that go into depth about the individual aspects.
When you do a search on Google, you get a list of results. You click on one, go to the site, either find what you’re looking for, or go back to the list of results. Dwell time is the length of time a person spends on a webpage coming from the results list, before either going back to the list or closing the search page.
Google looks at how long the visitor spent on the specific page they’ve been sent to, what other pages on the same site they’ve visited, if they went back to the SERPs (search engine results pages) or if they closed the search. This is information that Google takes into account because it’s a good indication of whether or not the visitor’s goal was met. The actual dwell time Google expects from a page depends on the search intent. If it’s for information like the weather, for example, it’s much shorter than if the visitor is looking to make a purchase.
Engagement metrics alone are not enough to have a direct effect on your rankings. Still, these numbers are good to keep in mind because they’re an indication of how well your viewers are engaging with your pages and website.
With trillions of pages on the web, Google needs to keep finding new ways to sort it all out, and engagement is going to become one of those finer points. But, it may also have the ability to trump other factors because a site that is ranking lower for other reasons could also be pushed back up if engagement is high.
High Quality SEO
High quality SEO has become a basic necessity. Engagement optimization can be considered as part of on-page SEO but the tactics used to focus on engagement will differ depending on the type and purpose of the site.
Off-page SEO is important as well, since these links direct users to your site, and Google tracks the volume of these referrals.
Website Speed Optimization and Mobile Responsiveness
If your website is too slow, your visitors will leave. If your site is not optimized for mobile, you’ll lose at least half of your potential customers. purchase. Check out this Unbounce study.
The key here is the improved user experience. If the site takes longer than three seconds to load about 40% of visitors abandon the site. So this combined with the fact that speed affects conversion is all the more reason to make sure your website loads quickly.
It’s really annoying for viewers to click a button and land on a 404 page. Having broken links on your site is a big no-no in Google’s eyes. What’s more, is that if the page was ranking, then people clicking from Google will find a 404 page and go back to the SERPs immediately, making your website look far less useful in the eyes of Google.
Create Engaging Content That’s Actually Useful
Thorough keyword research will tell you what kind of information people are looking for. Then you need to create detailed and useful content that provides that information, based on your target audience.
There’s a threshold for Google to recognize your website as trusted and authoritative enough to serve its users. High-quality SEO does that. Engagement SEO is one of the additional factors that will need to be taken care of eventually.
At no point will Google shrug their shoulders and say “actually, we don’t really think it matters if our visitors spend time on a website and if they’re engaged or not.” Ultimately, their goal is to provide the best results, and engagement metrics are part of that.