Search Engine Optimization has long reigned as the key metric for evaluating a website’s ranking, but a significant change may already be underway. SEO has always been inextricably tied to the Google algorithm, a constantly shifting target that undergoes hundreds or even thousands of alterations and updates per year. For many websites, trying to achieve a high ranking by aligning themselves perfectly with Google’s mysterious criteria is an increasingly high-effort, low-yield endeavor.
Many of Google’s recent changes are designed with the needs of Google’s users at the forefront — but web marketers, not so much. For example, there was the addition of “featured snippets” that pull content to address search queries right on the results page. These helpful snippets caused a nearly 10% increase in desktop searches that end without the user ever clicking on one of the linked sites.
Changes like this, and the growing sophistication of Google Search, have had a considerable impact on how website SEO works. Overall, the shift can be described as going from trying to satisfy the search engine algorithm to meeting the user’s needs and expectations.
This shift means user engagement has become the linchpin to success in traffic and search ranking. Like the Google algorithm, the ineffable qualities that keep a user visiting a website and coming back for more can be hard to pin down. Let’s take a closer look at what user engagement really is, why it’s supplanting SEO, and how you can measure and increase it.
What is User Engagement?
User engagement is a term for all of the ways we can measure how a visitor is interacting with a website’s content. These metrics include the total amount of time they spend on the site, how many comments they leave, and whether they choose to share it on social media.
Getting somebody to click on your site is a hollow victory at best if they aren’t engaging with the content. Engagement reflects a willingness to absorb your message, and it serves as an indicator of genuine interest. Click-throughs can happen by mistake. Engagement is always intentional.
While Google is not known for being transparent about how its algorithm determines search rankings, there are a few different types of user engagement that are particularly relevant:
Mobile now accounts for about half of all global web traffic, and Google has acknowledged mobile optimization as a factor in determining site rankings. Mobile responsive web design ensures that you won’t lose out on engagement from visitors on smartphones and similar devices. Now it can directly impact your placement in Google’s search results.
The amount of time a user spends on a website before navigating back to the search results page is their dwell time. It serves to measure how well that site addressed the user’s search query. The more users can engage with a site’s content, the longer their dwell time will be.
Google’s algorithm has changed over the years to rely less on specific keywords and more on developing a better understanding of how people phrase their search queries. Ranking high on these semantic searches means creating valuable content that really answers your audience’s questions, and not stuffing it full of SEO-friendly keywords.
CTR still matters — there’s no engagement without that initial click on your results link. To maximize engagement opportunities, you’ll want to carefully review the page titles and meta-descriptions that appear in search results. They serve an important purpose – persuading visitors to give you their time and attention. Make them clickable and value-packed.
Actions from Outside Sources
No matter how great a job candidate presents themselves, it’s still a good idea to check their references. Links and references serve an essential role in confirming your site’s authority and relevance, especially when they come from similarly recognized sites. Ads, shares, and posts on social media may not directly impact search rankings. However, they can generate the kind of organic traffic that results in discussions, backlinks, and other actions that can elevate your standing in Google’s algorithm.
How to Measure User Engagement
User engagement can be hard to quantify. You’ll need reliable data analytics if you want to know whether or not you’re doing it right. When tracked and monitored over time, the following metrics can be very useful in measuring user engagement:
- Pageviews: The total number of page visits within a specific timeframe.
- Top Content: Identifying which of your pages elicits the most engagement.
- New Visitors: How many users are new to your site, rather than return visitors.
- Bounce Rate: The frequency with which users visit your site and then leave immediately.
- Time on Site: How long users actually spend on your site.
- Conversions: How many users take a conversion action, such as registering an account, subscribing to an email list, or making a purchase.
How to Increase User Engagement
Here are four ways sure to keep your visitors engaged on your website.
1. Get Interactive
If you want to keep users hooked on your site, you’ve got to give them something to do. Of course, there’s always a place for text, video, and other passively-consumed types of content. But did you know that tools, games, quizzes, calculators, and other forms of interactive content generate twice as much engagement?
Imagine an online real estate listing that only provides still photographs of the property, versus one that includes a 3-D virtual tour. When there’s fun stuff to play with, users will stick around.
2. Produce Valuable Content
There’s a second part to this tip: once you’ve created valuable, helpful content that your audience wants, you’ve got to give it away for free. Providing genuinely useful resources for your audience positions you as a thought leader and gives people a good reason to spend lots of time at your site.
Besides, content is a good investment: content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, while generating almost three times as many leads. Also, giving it away for free doesn’t mean you can’t leverage it for a conversion activity once in a while. Your most in-demand content can serve as a lead magnet – content you provide in exchange for an email address or sign-up.
3. Incorporate Augmented Reality
Outside of gaming, augmented reality hasn’t quite taken over mainstream marketing yet, but that could change soon. At least 61% of consumers have stated a preference for retailers that offer AR experiences. They’re already popular with furniture and design retailers, where AR allows buyers to easily see how the pieces they’re considering will fit in with their existing décor.
Consider the possibility that AR could offer an enhanced shopping experience for your buyers, or help them operate or maintain your products after purchase. If it could, then there’s no better time to boost your user engagement with AR content.
4. Turn Up Your Video
Video has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most dependable forms of content for marketing. Website users watch an average of 18 hours of online video every week. 84% of them have admitted being persuaded to buy a company’s product or service because of a video they watched.
One of the great things about video is that it can support your other efforts to increase user engagement. Video can be combined with augmented reality technology. It can be made interactive, and it can fit into the knowledge base of content that you use as lead magnets.
Just make sure you’re putting enough care and effort into your video content offerings. When done right, it’s incredibly effective at keeping eyeballs trained on your site and delivering your messages.
A lot of the tips and metrics you can use to optimize user engagement aren’t ground-breakingly new. They’re the same things you’d be doing to maintain an interesting, informative, and helpful website back in the days when keywords were king. Today, the main difference is that focusing on user engagement should help align your site with Google’s desire to provide more relevant search results for their users.
There are many creative options for making a website more engaging, but never forget that people stay engaged where there’s buzz, conversation, and good old human interest. Engaging websites can still slip under the radar. So make sure your marketing strategy includes a strong social media component to get people talking and drive traffic to your website.