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To earn search engine rankings (Google Love) you need to provide users with a good ‘post click’ experience.
A good user experience can be communicated to Google through quality bounce rate and the amount of time a user spends on your site.
This post will look at user experience and how improving your bounce rate will have a positive impact on your search results.
Let’s get started.
2014 saw a string of new algorithm updates and the majority have been focused around user experience.
Top Heavy: the top heavy algorithm update gave less weight to sites with too many distracting ads, especially if the content is below the fold.
Panda 4.0 & 4.1: as always the Panda updates helped combat sites with thin, weak or duplicated content.
Authorship Culled: John Mueller claimed the disappearance of authorship snippets was because “this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped”.
HTTPS as a ranking signal: this “lightweight” ranking boost is because Google want to “make the internet safer more broadly”.
Penguin 3.0: in typical Penguin style the refresh targeted link spam. The update was smaller than expected. As always the aim was to deliver better search results for the user.
Hidden Content: recent reports have suggested that Google are not crawling ‘read more’ or “click to expand” content.
It’s clear all recent algorithm updates have helped improve user experience but they still need YOUR help.
So why is it important that you constantly improve your site’s user experience? Because this is what Google wants you to do! For years the Google Webmaster Guidelines have been telling us that we need to focus on good user experience. Google can control ‘pre click’ user experience but they need you to help improve the ‘post click’ user experience.
On the Google mission statement page they make it incredibly clear.
So with this in mind, what are the key performance indicators to show a user is having a pleasant ‘post click’ experience?
So what is bounce rate and how does it differ from ‘time on site’?
Bounce Rate: is the percentage of visitors who come to your website and leave without navigating to any of your other pages.
Time on Site: is the number of seconds or minutes a user spends looking around any of the webpages on your site. Bouncing from one page to another will still count towards the total time on site.
In my experience an improved bounce rate will often have a positive impact on rankings (directly or indirectly is still up for debate). My theory is that if you already rank on page one of Google then you already have enough link signals to move to position one. Focus your efforts on improving the bounce rate and time-on-site and this will help you move further up the SERPs.
Improving the time-on-site and bounce rate will inevitably improve your Conversion Rate. Users will have longer to view your products or service which will obviously lead to more sales or sign-ups.
So how do we make sure a user has a pleasant ‘post click’ experience and stays on our site for a substantial period of time?
Last month Google officially launched ‘Mobile Friendly’ labels in mobile search results. This is their way of controlling user experience and making sure browsers only visit mobile friendly websites. If you want get a good chunk of mobile searches your site needs to be mobile optimised.
A responsive design is essential to increase your user experience. A good responsive design will increase the time-on-site and lower the mobile bounce rate which in turn will help your conversion rate and mobile rankings. To check your site’s usability on mobile use this handy tool.
Google are placing a real emphasis on mobile usability which now even has its own section in Google Webmaster Tools (see below).
Site speed is fundamental to a good user experience and especially on a mobile device. Google have confirmed speed is a ranking factor and stats confirm that conversions drop whenever a page takes longer to load.
For more information on your site’s page speed use Google’s Page Speed Insights Tool which will give you hints on how to optimise images, reduce server response time and enable compression.
An obvious one, but worth mentioning. Broken links are a huge indicator to Google that they shouldn’t send users to your domain. Landing on a page not found is incredibly frustrating for a user and Google don’t want to take that risk. Regular broken link checks are imperative. Fixing the source or implementing 301 redirects will give Google more trust in your domain. You can carry out a range of checks with tools such as Screaming Frog, Siteliner, Google Webmaster Tools and Xenu.
It still amazes me how many sites don’t have a dedicated 404 page. This is a quick win to keep users on your site longer. A well designed page with efficient navigation can save any users close to bouncing away from your site.
If your site has lots of inventory changes then a dedicated 404 page is essential. Keep users on your site longer by providing an internal search function on the 404 page which helps users find the right product. You can also analyse internal search data in Google Analytics providing insights into user expectations.
If you have an ecommerce website there are a number of quick wins to try and keep users from rejecting your product pages.
Some sites try to increase their user’s time-on-site by adding infinite scroll options to their blog. As you scroll down to the bottom of the page a new relevant post will load automatically. If you have a WordPress blog you can add the infinite-scroll plugin (see below).
Another simple way to increase the stickiness of your website (time-on-site) is to implement internal linking. Whenever you create a piece of content, make sure you are linking to another relevant live page. This allows users to easily find more information without going back to Google.
This tactic is extremely underrated. If you provide links to external sources make sure the page opens up in a new window. This will increase the amount of time a user spends on your site and it won’t distract them from the conversion process.
A blog has many uses and one of the most important benefits is it can keep users on your site longer. Make sure the blog is easily accessible from all pages (including the Home page). Target ultra-specific topics and make the text easy to scan. Where possible add graphics, screenshots and photos.
Don’t underestimate the importance of pictures and videos. Both can keep a user on your site longer and can help the user lean more about a given topic.
This tactic is often overlooked but can be a very quick win. If you are creating Content Marketing or blog content then provide links to “related articles”. Information segmentation can improve the overall user experience but it needs to be accurate. For example, a blog post on press ups could have a link to similar content on protein shakes.
The devil is in the data. Google Analytics will help you see which pages have the lowest time-on-site and the worst bounce rate. Take time to analyse this data and work out how it can be increased on a page by page basis.
When it comes to bounce rate, analyse specific data. A site-wide bounce rate can vary too much due to the different traffic streams entering the site. I would always suggest drilling down into the specifics. Use dimensions like medium, campaign and landing page to gain a true understanding of your bounce rate.
Bounce rate and improving the percentage is as individual as your business. Below are some very general guidelines on what is deemed acceptable.
So there you have it. Bounce rate and time-on-site are key signals to show Google if users have had a good ‘post click’ experience.
In 2015 SEO will be focused around technical elements while Content Marketing will give you the strength to compete for premium rankings.
Websites that offer a poor user experience don’t deserve to rank. Domains that aren’t optimised for mobile browsers will fail. Google are optimising for user experience and you should too.
Do you think bounce rate or time-on-site can influence rankings? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Images from BigStock