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Ever since the term “search engine optimization” was first coined to represent all of the different actions that could be taken to enhance a site’s rankings in the SERPs, there have been a few defined actions that constitute traditional SEO.
From keyword-rich title tags to optimized headlines and content that includes target keywords in defined percentages and placements, the rules of the on-page SEO game have long been defined and accepted.
However, with the introduction of the Google Panda algorithm change (as well as the numerous other tweaks Google has made it its indexing system over the last few years), new variables are coming into play that also require attention.
Today, let’s look at a few of these new SEO metrics and uncover the actions you need to take to ensure your sites rank well.
Bounce rate refers to the number of people who arrive on your site and do not click through to other pages before leaving. For example, if a person finds one of your pages in the natural SERPs, clicks through to read the article and then clicks back to the search results, this leads to a bounce in your Google Analytics account.
Of course, this metric on its own isn’t sophisticated enough to be used as an SEO metric. To understand why, compare the person who clicks through to a site and pops back five seconds later when he didn’t find the information he was looking for with a visitor who clicks onto an article, enjoys it and spends a full 15 minutes reading the content. Although both of these actions constitute “bounces” according to Google Analytics, one action represents a true bounce while the other demonstrates actual engagement with the content.
Since both Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester have suggested that bounce rate is used to calculate search engine rankings, most SEO strategists hypothesize the use of a separate “actual” bounce rate that factors in things like dwell time (the time spent on a bounced site) and type of content to get a better picture of what a site’s bounce rate means.
According to Glenn Gabe, writing for Search Engine Journal:
“There are several other ways that the engines can determine if a piece of content has a high bounce rate (actual bounce rate). Using these methods, the engines can build a more rounded view of your content with regard to actual engagement.”
So how can you use this information to your advantage? First, log in to your Google Analytics account and look for pages that have a high bounce rate. Navigate to these poor-performers and look for ways to improve them in order to make them more engaging. Do your titles and headlines match up with your content or is there a disconnect occurring? Could your titles be more engaging in order to encourage people to stay longer?
Spend some time exploring different possible changes and measure your improvements over time using Google Analytics. Time spent improving this area of your site will definitely pay off big when it comes to your search engine rankings.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
CTR refers to the rate at which people click on a given link compared to the number of impressions that link receives. And although this metric is more frequently used as a quality signal in the Google Adwords program, there’s growing evidence that it’s being used as a ranking factor in the natural SERPs as well.
Of course, Google and Bing won’t come right out and say that, but consider the following quote from former Google search employee Edward Lau, responding to a related question on Quora:
“It's pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they're less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top.”
Basically, if a particular result in the SERPs receives more clicks than another, then it makes sense for it to be positioned higher up in the results, as users have clearly demonstrated that it’s the type of content they’re looking for.
Which is all well and good, but how do you optimize your SERPs listings in order to earn a higher CTR? The most obvious solution is to improve the quality of the meta description tags that pull through to form your site’s “blurb” in the search results. If your site is built on HTML, these are created using meta tags in your page’s header space, while most sites running on WordPress will use either the All in One SEO plugin or a related tool to help manage this data.
The two data fields to optimize include the title tag and the description tag. In general, you should give as much care and consideration to your title tag as you’d give to any other headline on your site. Remember, you only have 70 characters with which to engage prospects who are trying to choose between ten separate results in the SERPs, so your title tag needs to grab their attention right away.
Likewise, your description tag shouldn’t simply be the first sentence or two of your page’s content copied into this meta tag. Instead, use this opportunity to expand on your title tag and really hook your prospective reader into wanting to read more. Yes, drafting these optimized meta tags takes a little extra time, but the benefits of a higher CTR – including both more visitors and higher SERPs placement – make this investment worth it.
Alternatively, if you already know that your site ranks highly for a given keyword, another fun trick to ensure your CTR remains high would be to film a quick video about your page’s topic and encourage viewers to search for your keyword in the search engines and click on your page for more information.
For example, if your site on Teeth Whitening products ranked highly for the keyword phrase “whiten teeth now”, you could film an informative video on different ways to whiten teeth. Near the end, you could recommend that your visitors enter this phrase into Google or Bing and then click through to your site for even more tips. Not only will you pick up additional visitors to your site (as well possible sales), you’ll increase the CTR to your site in the SERPs.
If the Google Panda update has taught us anything, it’s that the search engines are constantly implementing upgrades meant to improve the quality of the results that visitors receive. To improve these results, the search engines need quantifiable metrics that demonstrate site quality, and although the search engines won’t confirm that they’re using these factors, there’s no doubt that both bounce rate and CTR fit this bill.
So even if you’re doing everything right according to the old rules of SEO, it’s worth implementing changes on your sites that target these new SEO metrics in order to ensure that your site remains consistent with the search engines’ priorities now and in the future.