Much like commercials on TV, users are bombarded with content at every turn as they surf. It’s overwhelming and as such, marketers are struggling to find ways to capture their attention and stand out.
As marketers, not only do we need to conduct extensive research so we can make great content, we also need our content and web pages to be promoted, discovered and engaged with.
To help with all facets of content development, user engagement, or “user signals,” should be actively tracked in Google Analytics as part of your content marketing campaign. This is important since it’s long been speculated that user experience is a ranking factor. Understanding who engages with your content will help with future content campaigns and business decisions.
When users engage with your content and you actively track their actions, you can benefit by:
- An increase in leads and conversions.
- Increasing the chances of a return visit.
- Indirectly influencing search engine rankings for relevant keyword terms.
- Cultivating brand loyalty.
- Establishing your presence and visibility on the web.
- Increased conversations and “chatter” about your brand.
Providing engaging content is especially important from a branding aspect. You need to be different to stand out. With so many choices available, one of the best ways for your business to shine is through creating and promoting unique and insightful content.
Let’s take a look at how user engagement impacts your search engine rankings and eight steps you can take to make your content more engaging.
User engagement metrics
The most common set of user engagement metrics that correlate to content relevance and quality is:
- Click-through rate.
- Pages per session.
- Average website visit duration.
- Customer acquisitions.
- Conversion rate (subscribing, click-to-call and so on).
- Bounce rate.
- The number of sessions per user.
- Social signals.
There are also more obvious signals, such as a user leaving a comment in the comments section or rating your content.
Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools provide in-depth analytics of page-level metrics that can be used to audit and evaluate the relevance and quality of content from a user perspective.
For example, the chart below from Google Analytics provides important user data on page views (monthly traffic), the average time a user spends on each page, bounce rate and many other important signals that are segmented page by page.
Page-level metrics, or how a user interacts with a page, will provide insight into how well your content is meeting user intent.
While Google remains reluctant to share anything regarding its ranking signals, it has publicly said that “searching users are often the best judges of relevance.” Even if user and social signals are not direct signals, they do seem to heavily influence search results. From a theoretical perspective, Google wants to deliver users the best experience possible. By tracking click data, Google can make broad determinations about which content is best serving customers for specific keyword queries.
With that said, the influence of some behavioral data is harder to determine than others. For example, click-through rates (CTRs) can be influenced by a multitude of factors, including:
- Brand bias.
- Keyword position.
- The inclusion of answer boxes, advertisements and local results in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
It stands to reason that pages ranking higher in the SERPs are more likely to get clicks. While we are not entirely sure how Google factors CTR into its search results as an isolated signal, it definitely provides a small, implicit influence. That amount of influence can only be determined by Google’s active learning system and how well it’s able to process relevance, intent and more.
Remember, search engines also include a multitude of factors including keyword intent, the day of the week, links, repeat visits and much more when determining where a page ranks. But it seems fairly obvious to me that if a page in position eight is receiving more clicks than position one and enjoys longer session durations, then Google would probably move it to a higher-ranking position eventually.
It makes sense to think that pages with higher CTR and greater engagement would signal to Google that searchers find certain results more relevant and useful to their browsing experience than other URLs. Why not use that data to help determine where a webpage should rank?
I’d argue that user signals will perhaps be its number one ranking signal in the future, once the capabilities to track behavioral data more efficiently are available.
Increasing user engagement should be a major priority for content marketers and SEOs alike. Here are eight steps to help make this happen.
1. Research and audit
The first step to increasing user engagement is the most important, in my opinion, and that is to understand your users. Evaluate your current SEO methods by setting up Google Search Console and Analytics to examine the behavioral data of users when they land on specific pages.
Here you can uncover strategies to increase user engagement, such as:
- Updating metadata to increase click-through rates.
- Scaling out content length and depth to increase visit duration.
- Adding related links to the side of content to entice clicks and increase pages per session.
When filtering by URL, you can get side-by-side key performance indicators (KPIs) on the performance of each piece of content and discover opportunities for easy wins. Here, you’ll need to optimize existing pages by their importance in your information hierarchy, the amount of traffic they currently pull in and their overall importance to your sales funnel. Then you can expand to ancillary pages.
Leverage competitive analysis to discover what pages are driving the most traffic, and keep an eye on your competitors. Conduct keyword gap analysis to discover opportunities where you feel you can outrank competitors, and gather ideas for content that can separate you from the competition.
The key here is to uncover specific pain points that competitors or other results are under-serving or where content can be improved upon.
2. Pique interest
If you’ve been successful in moving your web page rankings forward, the next step is to focus on harvesting clicks. This is where optimizing your metadata will become crucial. Use Google Search Console to look at the CTR of your pages and which pages are driving the most clicks from organic results.
The idea here is to optimize your title tag and meta description for more clickability. Put yourself in the searcher’s shoes for a second. When you conduct a search, do you notice the phrase you searched on has been bolded in the meta description of a web page listing?
The bold search phrase lets you know the search result is a page you’re looking for.
As a refresher, here are some best practice tips for title tag and meta description optimization:
- Insert target keywords into the title tag and meta description.
- Meet user intent (offer benefits for commercial, useful information for research).
- Speak directly to users.
- Provide enough information to pique interest.
- Be short and concise.
Unfortunately, Google recently cut its meta description character count, although most non-branded searches now include dynamic meta descriptions pulled directly from content. Even so, by optimizing this title and metadata, you can lead users down the initial stages of your funnel and at the very least, pique interest.
Once you get that click, you need to nurture user interest with a striking page title. Again, page titles should contain the focus keyword, satisfy user intent and meet character count requirements.
Headlines offer an opportunity for creativity. The use of numbers, “how-to” phrases and strong adjectives in a headline will have a stronger call to action than a simple explanatory headline.
For example, “The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing” sounds more powerful than “Learning Content Marketing.” The use of these terms will also dictate the structure of your article (listicle or long form), how it’s written (tips, tutorial, advertorial) and its focus (keyword focus term). Even one tiny tweak like adding the word “top” to a page title or an ampersand can significantly increase clicks.
3. Optimize for speed and responsiveness
Not even the most eloquent headline and page copy can save your bounce rate if your site is slow and unresponsive. The statistics back it up: 53 percent of users will abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load.
Considering the arrival of Google’s Mobile First index, your website will struggle if it’s not responsive or optimized for speed.
4. Design for ease of use
Give your content a helping hand by giving users an easy pathway to find it. Create a natural information architecture that focuses on top-level service pages with broad keyword concepts and slowly expands outward (or downward) with informational posts about sub-topics related to your business that include long-tail variants.
Streamline your user experience (UX) by offering simple navigation that leads users down a desired pathway to conversions and meets their initial intent. The more pathways you provide to relevant content, the more likely you can offer users value, familiarize them with your site and increase their engagement.
5. Focus on aesthetics
Perhaps the most overlooked element in online media is the presentation of page copy. Page copy should be optimized for SEO value, as well as scannability.
Content overload isn’t just the amount of content present over the web, it’s the number of words and white space on your own page copy. From UX designers to newspaper editors, each one will stress the importance of visuals in content, as well as white space, to make content appear more appealing and easier to consume.
When designing a web page layout, consider these tips to increase user engagement:
- Optimize page focal points according to the rule of thirds.
- Make use of images every two or three paragraphs so your eyes don’t bleed.
- Use visually striking images or graphs that add context (ditch the stock photos).
- Ensure images are compressed and optimized for size, speed, and also SEO value (optimize the alt attribute).
- Ensure content is optimized and responsive for different devices.
6. Find your medium
No matter what methodology you use to craft content, the key is creating something better than the competition.
Delivery influences your content’s impact. Some content deserves to be visual, while some deserves to be written. For example, interior design blogs are more likely to feature images of their work, rather than use long paragraphs of text to describe furnishings or the services they provide. Use alternative mediums such as infographics, video and data charts to present content in a new and unique format. They can even be used to repurpose or accent existing content to encourage greater engagement.
Data chart example
7. Be the authority
This step is pretty self-explanatory, but it must be reiterated: Present value to your visitors. Focus on quality over quantity, offering unique perspectives and going more in-depth than the competition. Content length has long been suspected to be a ranking factor, although it certainly influences visit durations and your ability to rank for rich snippets.
Above all, the key is to present your own unique voice. From a branding perspective, developing thought leadership encourages repeat visits and also positions your company as an authority over all others in your respective industry. It’s also instrumental in cultivating brand loyalty.
8. Engage users
Finally, to increase user engagement, you also need to engage users. One of the best ways to do this is through personalized content, whether it’s served over an ad platform or in an email. Consult your analytics, and conduct A/B testing to optimize content for greater interaction and engagement.
Here are some other ideas and opportunities to engage customers:
Collecting email and contact information to retarget users with paid promotions and newsletters is a great way to keep your brand top of mind and extend your customer lifetime value to cultivate greater brand loyalty.
User engagement is crucial from a user experience perspective and will greatly impact your conversion rates.
I also suspect user signals play a crucial part in Google’s ranking algorithms, especially for hypercompetitive first- and second-page search terms. Follow these steps to make your content more appealing and engaging, and watch your user signals and traffic flows skyrocket.
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