As a forward thinking SEO company, here at Digital State Marketing, we eagerly await the annual Ranking Factor studies from both Search Metrics and the Moz. In mid-September the Search Metrics Google US 2014 paper was released (while there will no doubt be a later UK edition, the US version allows us greater insight into what is to come). While we will no doubt produce a full evaluation of the document, this article would like to investigate the raise of user metrics as the key ranking factor.
Firstly, we would like to raise a note within the Abstract:
“For the first time this year user signals were also measured against search results. As expected, we found that correlation with, click-through rate“ is high, sites appearing in the Top 5 tend to have a lower, bounce rate,“ and a high, time-on-site“ is very likely to have a positive impact on rankings.”- SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014: Search Metrics.
So the apparently startling ascension of click through rate as the number one metric in relation to ranking, is perhaps less startling in the context of having simply never been included before.
That said, while not a real shock to an SEO company, the inclusion of time on site and bounce rates as a notable ranking influencer is an interesting one. From their data, the Search Metrics team have deduced that (out of their sample) sites with bounce rates of only 37% and sites with a minimum of 101 seconds time on site were more likely to be in the top ten. However, it would be erroneous to clamber to attain these signals for every site in every niche. While – for many years – SEO companies have long believed that these metrics play a role (why else would Google heavily invest in free to use analytics software?), like the concept of keyword density it is unlikely that there is a mythical set of numbers that will equate to rankings. The aim, therefore, would be to work at generating numbers that make sense in relation to your site. So if your website is information based with the intent of getting users to contact via phone, a high bounce rate is not necessarily a negative and attempting to force users though a funnel of pages to get the info they need would be counter-intuitive.
In regards to the addition of click through rate as a metric and the subsequent findings (that better placed sites have a better click through), it seems like a spurious addition to the study.
As every decent SEO company will attest to, there is a lot of information and opinion published on the topic of search marketing and its various components but not all of it will be useful in managing campaigns. With the ethos and phraseology of Google, it is no surprise that user engagement metrics would play a role in their ranking algorithm. However, rather than looking simply to fixed metrics such as bounce rate and time on site, maybe now is the time to dig deeper into analytics and optimise your site to the best it can be. As a note for the future, the new Universal Analytics allows for more user data to be collated than ever before.