SEO isn’t just about the search engines

As soon as people hear the word “SEO” they immediately think about the search engines, spammy content and horrible landing pages; or they just look at you with a blank expression as they have no idea what you are talking about, which is often the case when I am asked what I do for a living. SEO is not just about the search engines, there are so many other important factors that you simply cannot ignore if you want your website to perform well and achieve the coveted first page positions.

Google have access to so much data which they could use easily incorporate into their ranking algorithms. They have the second most popular web browser (Google Chrome), a toolbar, an operating system, a mobile operating system (Android) and data collected from millions of websites that use Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is the most widely used website statistics service, used by many extremely popular websites such as Twitter.com, Linkedin.com, Tumblr.com, Pinterest.com, Imdb.com and many many more. According to w3techs.com “Google Analytics is used by 81.6% of all the websites whose traffic analysis tool we know. This is 56.7% of all websites.”

Graph showing usage of Google Analytics for websites

When you add your website to Google Analytics there are 2 tick boxes under “Data Sharing Settings”.

Google Analytics Data Sharing Settings

You can share your Google Analytics data “With other Google products only” which according to Google will “Enable enhanced ad features and an improved experience with AdWords, AdSense and other Google products by sharing your website’s Google Analytics data with other Google services.” the important part of that sentence is “and other Google products”, they do not specify exactly which Google products will receive the data from your Google Analytics.

The other option is to share your data “Anonymously with Google and others” which will “Enable benchmarking by sharing your website data in an anonymous form. Google will remove all identifiable information about your website, combine the data with hundreds of other anonymous sites in comparable industries and report aggregate trends in the benchmarking service”, an example use of this is to “Use Benchmarking to compare your site’s performance with those of other websites in your industry.” now that is very interesting. What if your website bounce rate was 90% and other websites in your industry had an average of 40%, would that alone affect the positions? Unfortunately it is impossible to test this theory without giving up my day job and devoting a LOT of time to test it properly.

You can actually opt out of these data sharing settings, which according to the Analytics Data Sharing Help page “excludes data from being included in any automated processes that aren’t specifically related to operating and improving Google Analytics or protecting the security and integrity of the data.”

What factors are important?

Google’s end goal is to give its users the best results possible for their search query. There are a few factors that Google could potentially use as an indication if your website was a good result for its users or not.

Bounce Rate
Bounce Rate Example

The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to your site where the visitor bounces off again, a “bounce” is when someone visits your website but leaves without visiting any other pages of your site. There are many different things that can cause a high bounce rate. The design of your website may put visitors off, it may not be obvious how to navigate to other pages of your site, there may be annoying pop-ups, the content may not be what the user was expecting and so on.

Time on site

Average Visit Duration Example

The time spent on your website is an important factor, and also a good indicator of the success of marketing or a promotion that brings visitors to your website. If the majority of visitors to your website are only viewing your site for less than a minute then your website clearly isn’t engaging for visitors. If the majority of people aren’t interested in your website, but your competitors website is much more engaging and people are viewing it for longer, I know which website I think deserves to rank higher.

The reasons for a low time on site will be very similar to the reasons for a high bounce rate, essentially visitors aren’t finding what they were looking for, or don’t know how to navigate around your website.

Clickthrough Rate (CTR)

Clickthrough Rate Example

The clickthrough rate is how often people click on your site compared to the number of times it is shown within the search results. If your CTR is low it means that your website is ranking well but the snippets (title and meta description) are not bringing in the clicks. Google have a blog post full of advice on improving your meta description but essentially the title and meta description should reflect the content of the page.

Website Speed

Website Speed Example

Basically the speed at which your website loads. People have short attention spans and are going to press the back button if your website doesn’t load fast enough (which would count as a bounce).  Google does take website speed into consideration, a websites that loads fast would be a better result for its users.

As a website owner, you also want people who visit your website to be shown the page as fast as possible, don’t give them a reason to leave before they’ve even seen your website. This is not tracked in Google Analytics but you can see information about this in Google Webmaster Tools.

Social Signals

Social Signals Example

This is more of a broader metric, and is only really become worth investigating fairly recently with the hugely popular social sharing websites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. If your website was interesting, useful and engaging to visitors, in theory it would get more shares, likes, tweets and +1’s so it makes sense for Google to take notice of these.

Google Analytics is not installed on every website so it would not be fair if it the data from it was used as a major part of the ranking algorithm. Data like this may still play a minor factor in the algorithms and help give Google an indication, but they likely have their own internal logs for this purpose and there is no concrete evidence whether user metrics, or Google Analytics do or do not affect organic search results.

When creating your website, you should be thinking about the human visitors, not just the search engines. Your website may have keywords in the content, a good title and high quality relevant links, but what if all the visitors are put off the site because you focused solely on the SEO? It may perform well at the moment but considering Google’s ranking algorithms are getting better and constantly being updated, they could easily start taking user metrics into consideration.

You should be future proofing your website, ready for any potential update as user friendly websites can also be very good for SEO; you shouldn’t have to compromise.

This blog post was written by Diana Esho – follow us on Twitter or Facebook for an inside look into the technical side of SEO.

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