Most SEO professionals know how important user engagement is to their success.
Without searchers coming to our sites and taking action in some way, chances are our place in the SERPs would drop.
Search engines’ main goals include giving the user the best answers to what users are looking for.
When Google determines that your site doesn’t cut the mustard – they’ll replace it in SERPs with one that does give users what they want and need.
What Is User Engagement?
At the most basic level, user engagement is any way in which a visitor to any of your digital properties takes action on that platform as opposed to browsing passively or exiting immediately to find a better source of information.
Types of Engagement
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
CTR offers the entry-level engagement that’s required for further engagement to take place.
CTR requires optimal SEO best practices to show up on the first page of SERPs and gives searchers the content and answers they’re looking for.
You can check this by looking in your Google Search Console account for pages and keywords that have high impressions but low clicks.
Actions From Outside Sources
Not all engagement happens on-site. In fact, come of the most valuable engagement comes from outside sources:
- Linking to your content.
- Driving more traffic to your site.
- Sharing your pieces on platforms that increase your reach.
- Encouraging users to engage in different ways.
Inbound links remain a top SEO ranking factor year after year. It means that someone read your content and felt it was authoritative enough to use it as a source for the piece they’re writing about a similar or related topic.
While sharing on social media isn’t a ranking factor that directly affects SEO, it does help drive more traffic to your site and encourage more visitors, more links, and more conversions.
Sharing, liking, commenting, and subscribing are versions of user engagement that occur on third-party sites not necessarily affiliated with yours – but can benefit your overall digital presence.
In a recent SEJ article, Duane Forrester dives into what’s called dwell time.
According to Forrester:
“Dwell time is the length of time a person spends looking at a webpage after they’ve clicked a link on a SERP page, but before clicking back to the SERP results.”
Dwell time is an inherent measurement that helps search engines determine if a searcher’s needs were met with the results the search engine provided.
Searchers will input their query, click through to a top result, and stay on a site that satisfies their need.
For search engines, it’s a measure of their effectiveness.
Forrester points out that there’s not a single way to track dwell time – that search engines alone can do that. However, it’s important for webmasters and SEO pros to be aware that it could affect your site.
Engagement Metrics to Track
While these measures don’t have a direct effect on rankings, they’re important on-site engagement metrics that are crucial for website administrators to track and keep an eye on.
These numbers give you an idea of how well your users are engaging with your site and content. There’s no set “good’ or “bad’ number for each of these metrics. It’s more important to track trends and take anomalies for your site into account.
In Google Analytics, when you go to Audience > Overview, you can get an idea of how many total pageviews your site has received in the given time period.
This metric includes multiple views of a single page. Watch for any large fluctuations in pageviews – whether up or down – to determine if users are drastically increasing or decreasing their engagement with your site.
Under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, you can find which pages/pieces of content on your site are engaging users the most for the selected period of time. Check each week for changes in these pages.
Watch how new pages climb in the ranks to perform well. And ensure that main pages that have always drawn the majority of your visitors and kept users on the site for a long time aren’t dropping in this top content section for any reason.
New vs. Returning Visitors
In Analytics under Audience > Overview, you can see a pie graph of new versus returning visitors. New visitors are always great.
We love new eyes on our sites, discovering our products or services, and potentially converting and becoming returning visitors.
It’s crucial to watch your balance of new vs. returning visitors. Once you’ve established a sort of baseline after a few weeks of observing, you’ll be able to see when and how the balance changes.
Returning users are engaged users, especially depending on your product or service model.
Every time I talk to someone who is just learning SEO or digital marketing, I get the question: “What is a good bounce rate?”
The answer (as with everything in SEO) is that it depends – on your business model, your website goals, your content types, and more.
If your goals are to truly serve the searchers’ needs, then someone clicking to your site, reading an article that gives them exactly what they need, and clicking away.
As with all these metrics, tracking bounce rate trends is often what’s most effective.
Any huge drops or jumps can not only tell you something’s off with your Analytics implementation but also if users are engaging with what you’re putting online.
You can find this one under Audience > Overview, as well.
Time on Site
Time on site, or average session duration, gives you a metric for how long users are spending on your site. As with bounce rate, there’s no set good or bad number, but more of a trend to track over time.
Observe how your session duration changes as you engage some of the user engagement tactics below. If you start producing longer-form content for your site:
- Does it increase because users have a reason to stay longer?
- Or does it decrease as they are intimidated by long content that would take them too long to read?
Adjust your strategy accordingly.
This is one of the most important measurements to track. If you don’t watch the trends for any of the other engagement metrics in this post, at least watch conversions.
Conversions through Analytics are goals you set up to track and assign value to.
However, too many people get caught up in tracking only end-goals (like signups or phone calls).
It’s critical for user engagement metrics to also track micro-conversions that help move users down the funnel.
Whether it’s a newsletter signup, a download of a whitepaper, talking to a chatbot, or the completion of an online survey – these smaller conversions can give you an idea of the funnel toward larger, monetized conversions.
Learn more about how to set up goals in Google Analytics.
Why Does It Matter For SEO?
The above metrics are not ranking factors, so I understand if you’re asking yourself why user engagement matters for SEO. Dwell time is definitely a ranking factor, according to Forrester.
Interpretation of the March 2019 Google algorithm update also indicates that search engines are paying close attention to user engagement through metrics like dwell time to determine if they are serving searchers useful results – essentially, if they’re doing their job:
According to Marcus Tober:
“Looking at the March 2019 Core Algorithm Update, we see another example of Google rewarding user engagement and helpful content. This means that, as the amount of available online content grows, Google is paying more attention to signals that indicate whether users are happy or not.”
This means that instead of focusing on what search engines, SEO pros, and website admins should also be focusing on what users want.
A few ways to do that include doing the audience research, focusing your content to your specific target audiences, and think about the specific stages of the funnel for each group.
Tactical Ways to Increase Engagement
1. Speed up Your Site + Make It Responsive
“If your landing page is too slow, almost half your potential visitors admit they’re less likely to make a purchase,” according to an Unbounce study. And about 25% will go find a competitor with a faster site.
People will stay on your site longer and are more willing to search around for what they need when they don’t feel like they’re wasting time waiting for pages to load (on any device).
2. Eliminate Basic Technical SEO Errors
Nothing is more disruptive to a website’s user experience than weird technical issues.
I was doing some research for a client this week and found a search result that I thought would be the answer to my question. But when I clicked the blue link, it led to a 404.
“No worries,” I thought. “I’m an avid SEO, and will find it elsewhere.”
But the site had gotten rid of the piece altogether and hadn’t redirected it or bothered to publish an updated piece.
I had to go back to SERPs and find another, less satisfying result. That’s traffic lost, but also money down the drain.
3. Give People Different Ways to Engage in Your Content (Text, Video, Audio)
When I was a kid, I remember taking an assessment that determined my learning style.
Some people learn better through visual, auditory, or tactile styles. Think about this when you create content.
We always focus on written word online (because that’s what’s indexable), but we all absorb information in different ways.
Try using video with text transcription to reach new people or recording your written blogs for people to listen to instead of reading.
Go with a trusty infographic or another visual representation of data.
Mix up your content forms and observe how the key metrics on your site change.
4. Produce Helpful Content (a.k.a. Give Knowledge Away for Free)
Create thorough, useful content that serves users’ needs.
Zapier’s blog does a great job of this. They realize that users who come to their site are probably researching the best ways to automate things.
We automate things so we don’t have to do them manually, which saves time and lets us do other tasks that require more brain power (or are more fun!).
So Zapier has focused its blog on productivity. They dig deep on how-tos and tool tips, give examples of some of the best ways to automate things that normally require manual work, and also present good information on the science of productivity as a whole.
I use them as an example because it’s one of the few blogs I go to on my own and peruse what’s new.
When you create useful content that helps your target audience do their jobs better – your site will become a destination for them.
5. Clean up Your Navigation & Site Design
Many businesses start small and scale quickly. While that’s great for the bottom line, it often means your website ends up as a catch-all for new information.
Perform a check every quarter to make sure that your website design and navigation makes sense for users.
Give your aunt or nephew a basic task to perform on your site, and if they struggle to figure where to do it, it’s time to make it simpler.
Figure out what fits in the top-level categories, and organize down from there.
6. Improve Internal Linking & Suggested Posts
Help people find the content that’s most relevant to what they’re currently looking at on your site.
The best ways to do that are through internal linking within pieces of content on your site and suggested posts.
Every time you mention something that you’ve written about before, link to it!
Categorize and tag your posts so you can refer website visitors to something similar once they’re done reading.
7. Have a Site Search Option
If people can’t find what they need when they’re on your site, they’ll leave and find it somewhere else.
Having a good on-site search option allows users to search all the content available on your digital property to find the best fit to serve their own needs.
And then you can use your site search data to write more content.
8. Clear CTAs to the Next Stage of the Funnel
One of my biggest pet peeves is someone trying to shove me down the funnel before I’m ready.
I remember going to a site a few years ago where the only navigation option was “Buy.” I didn’t even know the product/service and why I should buy it.
The same principle should go for the content you create on your site.
If it’s a top of funnel, informational piece, use your CTA to direct people to the corresponding content that’s in the middle of the funnel.
From there, you can encourage people to the bottom to buy.
9. Introduce a Chatbot
If you have the capability for a live chat option, give users the opportunity to ask questions to a real person who’s an expert.
If not, you can create automated chatbot scripts that can help answer top questions on your site and make users feel like they’re getting more personalized treatment.
If they can’t find answers to their questions elsewhere on your site, the chatbot can keep them on your site and engage with suggested content.
10. Collect Email Addresses + Engage With Email
Keep returning visitors coming back by delivering your content directly to their inboxes.
You can have a subscribe box or pop up on your site, or you can collect email addresses by gating middle- to bottom-funnel content and then following up with useful content based on your target audience’s needs.
11. Create Surveys & Publish the Data
Everyone loves original data.
By running experiments, creating surveys, and collecting data in other ways, you become the go-to resource when someone needs information on that topic:
“People curate data. Whether it’s to prove a point they believe in strongly, to show their boss they should invest in a strategy or solution, to inform their own next move, etc., we’re a data-driven society.”
Keep engagement trending upward on your site by regularly publishing the data you’re producing. Not only will it drive more engaged traffic, but it will increase your inbound links, too.
SEO is a puzzle with many pieces. No single piece or small group of pieces alone will give a complete picture of SEO health.
Instead, all the pieces need to be in place and fixed the right way to best serve users’ needs and increase engagement on your sites.