The following is a guest post by Justin Osborne. Justin is a blogger from Leicester, England, UK. When not teaching his little students and rooting for Leicester FC, he loves to share his thoughts and opinions about marketing, writing and blogging with other people on different blogs and forums. Currently, he is working as an editor at UK Best Essays. Follow Justin on Facebook and Twitter.
Google keeps on changing its algorithms every so often, all with the idea of making search results more relevant. The idea is to have the most useful source show up as #1 in your search results. However, it is a bit more complex than that. There is the fact that readers and Google don’t speak the same language, which inevitably creates a gap. However, that gap has been growing smaller thanks to Google, even though we are still unclear on how it manages to come up with the most relevant search results.
But, they have disclosed that they rely on around 200 major signals, as well as over 10,000 minor ones when deciding on a ranking for a certain page in SERPs. One of the signals we should definitely pay attention to is UX. Since UX has a pretty wide definition, we should focus mainly on aspects which are measurable, such as such as Click Through Rate (CTR), Time on Page, Bounce Rate, and Site Speed.
In this post, we will analyze each of these metrics, explain how they work, discuss their importance, as well as all the different optimization practices you can apply in order to improve your rankings. Keep on reading to find out more.
Click Through Rate
Although it’s not immediately apparent, user behavior can also affect search engine results. This was revealed in a Federal Trade Commission court case, where Google’s former Search Quality chief, Udi Manber, testified the following:
“The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.”
But, before we take a closer look into how you can optimize your CTR, we need to understand that this testimony, while accurate, still doesn’t reveal much, because this particular metric is relative. How so? First, it depends on the search phrase entered by the user. Let’s check out the numbers.
For instance, if you are trying to rank for a keyword or a phrase where competition is extremely high, a 25% CTR would be considered amazing, especially if the people searching for that phrase intend to buy your service or a product. However, if you were to have the same CTR while trying to rank for a phrase which is closely related to your company’s brand name, the results would be disastrous.
Second, the position of search results inside the search also contributes to the way users act, since they are a lot more likely to click on links which are positioned higher in SERPs, which created a huge difference in CTR between top and bottom results. Let’s take a look at the graph from a study conducted by Google, which demonstrates the correlation between position and CTR:
So, what can you do to improve your CTR?
Dan Petrovic, who is the director of a digital marketing agency Dejan, is also someone who has a lot of experience in the field and who has spent studying CTR for several years now. According to him, aside from the position inside the search engine results, the following factors also have a significant influence on the CTR:
- Snippet quality
- Perceived relevance
- Brand recognition
The search snippet is by far the most prominent one of the three, so let’s focus on how you can make it more effective, and improve the CTR in the process. We will be very concise since each of these elements deserve an article of their own.
Each snipped consists of three basic elements:
As much as 80% percent of the people decide to click on an article based on just its title. It should be around 55 characters in length because that’s what the reader will be able to see on their screen. Also, it should appeal to readers, while being optimized for search engines. Keyword selection is crucial here, not just because you are ranking for them, but because Google will display them in bold letters.
You should also place them as close to the beginning of the title as possible. This signals Google that your link is more relevant. Why? Because most users scan the titles, usually the first 20 characters or so, which means you only have so much room to get their attention. Other things you can do to make your titles stand out would be to include a call to action, or at least some strong verbs, as well as capitalize the most important words in the title.
While URL may not be as important as the title of the snippet, there are some tricks and tweaks you can apply to make it more appealing for the reader. Make your URL short and descriptive, so that it summarizes the content of your posts in a few words. Also, if possible, it should contain keywords that are relevant to your content.
Meta descriptions allow you to say a bit more about your content, but remember to keep them under 155 characters. Instead of simply describing your service or a product, address the user directly and engage them that way. Don’t be afraid to use verbs or calls to action. This goes double if you are offering discounts, free delivery, free membership, or other conveniences potential buyers might be interested in.
Now, while these changes may not create a huge spike in your CTR, all these little things add up and make a tangible difference. The issue with classic snippets, no matter how good they are, is that they are all quite similar, which is where rich snippets come in. Let’s check out an example where we have searched for “chocolate lava cakes recipe”:
The first result is a featured snippet for Food Network’s article on chocolate lava cakes recipe. Let’s check out other results on the first page, as well:
As you can see, all of these snippets include not just the most relevant keywords we have entered, but also attractive images. And rich snippets are not just great for recipes, but also for products, reviews, as well as events, because they may include information such as cooking time, user ratings, or the exact hours during which the event will take place. A lot more appealing than your average snippet, right?
Time on Page and Bounce Rate
I am putting these two in the same category because they are closely related to one another. To illustrate how important time on page and bounce rate are when it comes to ranking, Rand Fishkin conducted an experiment where he asked his followers to click on the search result #1, then go back, and then click on search result #4, and spend a bit of time there, which can be seen in the screenshot below:
As he expected, search result #4 climbed up the rank quickly and soon became #1.
Even though its snippet wasn’t the most appealing of the bunch, it was the bounce rate and time on page which have determined the page’s ranking in this particular case. Low bounce rate and high time on page equals higher ranking.
Also, let’s check out an example of a blog post Antonio Tooley wrote for a writing service EduGeeksClub, which just happens to have a 134.25% higher time on page than the average time on page for that website:
Apart from that, it ranks great for several different keywords. As you can see in the screenshot below, it has also received a feature snippet, which ties in with our earlier talk about snippets, titles, and URLs.
Your website’s time on page and bounce rate are a clear indication of how much the readers like it. There are several things you can to do increase the former and decrease the latter:
- Restructure your website – the reason why they might be turning away is because they find it difficult to navigate or because they find its readability insufficient. This can be solved easily by choosing a larger, more readable font, and breaking up huge blocks of text into smaller paragraphs. Adding a subheading before each one will help users find what they need more quickly.
- Add images and videos – Our brains are wired to process images faster than text, which is why adding high-quality images is an absolute must. There are plenty of stock photography websites, but since everyone is using them, you can put in the extra effort and add filters and effects to them and make them more original. Also, videos will engage your readers like nothing else out there. YouTube’s popularity is proof enough.
- Link to other pages on your website – You may have plenty of great content on your website, but an impatient audience will never find it unless you link to it. This will give them a chance to check out what else you have to offer. Also, internal linking will boost your SEO.
Offer content upgrades – Convincing your readers to take action and offering bonus content is an effective method to boost your time on page and decrease your bounce rate. In exchange, ask for their email, have them sign up, or fill out a survey.
Although Google has toyed with the idea of considering website speed as one of 200 major ranking factors for years, they have finally come out with it several months ago. Of course, relevancy is the main signal they rely on, and you will only get penalized if you have a really slow website, but in the future, they will expect you to speed up your website, since speed contributes to better user experience. Here are several things you can do to improve it:
- Optimize code – You can improve things a lot by taking a look under the hood. New solutions are being rolled out constantly, and these days, a few lines of code can help you achieve the same effect as those few pages of code you have on your website. This does create extra work for you, but you need to keep up, because this trend isn’t going to stop.
- Move to a faster server – if your website is receiving lots of traffic, sharing server space is probably not the best thing for you. However, a dedicated server would improve things drastically. This does cost some money, so you’ll need to do research and find the best deal out there.
- Enable caching – Every time a reader visits your page, their browser sends out a HTPP request to the server, so that it can download the stylesheets, images, HTML document, and so on. This can slow things down, so you may want to enable website caching, so that only a few components are loaded for each subsequent visit, instead of all of them.
- Compress images on your website – High-quality images are essential, but they will take a lot of your website’s bandwidth. However, by compressing them, without degrading their quality, and uploading them in one of the most common formats (JPEG, PNG, BMP), you will get to have your cake and eat it too.
Google is constantly working on new ways to provide the readers with the most relevant search results, and UX is definitely a part of the equation, or some of its measurable aspects at least. As you can see, there are plenty of things you can implement today and help your website rank better for certain keywords. Google will love it, your audience will love it, and once you see they are sticking around for much longer and purchasing your products and services, you will love it, as well.