For most internet marketers, SEO is a fairly cut-and-dry process: keyword research, SEO content creation and building backlinks.
This is how it’s been ever since we “figured out” Google’s algorithm. By using these basic steps, websites have achieved first page rankings for any keyword you could imagine.
But times are changing. Google’s been doing a lot of tinkering with their algorithm. In the past few years, they’ve released a handful of drastic updates to their search engine. Each of these updates has had a dramatic affect on which websites rank #1 for their targeted keywords in Google.
The bottom line is this: if you’re still doing the basic SEO strategy outlined above, it’s time to take a serious look at your approach. Each of Google’s major algorithm updates have changed how SEO works in a big way. If you’re oblivious to this, you’ll find that the SEO strategies you’ve been implementing are actually hurting your site’s ranking ability, instead of helping it
In today’s article, we’ll be talking about SEO from a different perspective. We’ll be examining how Google ranks websites based on the user experience – not just backlinks and keywords.
We’ll also reveal exactly how you can see what type of user experience your website is providing to its visitors.
Google is a Business
Before we talk about the mechanics of the user experience, we need to get one thing straight: Google is a business. Google is #1 in the world of search engines because they consistently provide their users with the highest quality and most relevant search results.
This means when you search “how to tune a guitar,” you get the best possible result on page #1.
Here’s the thing most SEO’s don’t realize: the “standard SEO strategy” doesn’t help Google’s business grow.
Allow me to explain…
When you focus on building a website through keyword research, SEO content creation and building backlinks, you’re gaming Google’s algorithm. You’re unnaturally ranking your website on page #1.
Google’s algorithm is designed to work without internet marketers giving it a helpful push. In other words, if you have a website that provides value to its visitors, you’ll naturally rank well in Google.
Because Google wants these types of websites to be on page #1. When someone searches a specific keyword, Google wants to provide them with the most valuable website possible.
The whole idea behind backlinks is that when someone likes a website, they’ll link back to it. So by counting the number of backlinks a website has, Google can loosely determine the quality level of a website.
So keep this idea in mind. Google’s looking for high-quality websites to rank on page #1. Their recent algorithm updates prove this – especially the Panda Update.
The User Experience
When the Panda Update rolled out, everything we thought we knew about SEO was thrown in the trash can – overnight.
Instead of focusing on how many backlinks a website has, Google’s shifted to looking at the overall user experience. No, this doesn’t mean backlinks no longer have meaning. Backlinks will likely always be valuable in SEO.
However, it does mean you need to make sure your website provides real value to its users.
How do you figure out if your website’s doing this? Google Analytics, of course!
Google provides us with a peephole into their algorithm. With Google Analytics, we can easily see how people are interacting with our website. And we can use this information to see whether or not our website is providing valuable information to the people who visit.
In general, there are three important metrics Google uses to gauge the user experience.
Bounce Rates – When you type a search term into Google, you likely click a link to one of the websites displayed on the first page of results. If the page you visit doesn’t give you the information you’re looking for, though, you’ll instantly “bounce” off the website back to the results page. This is what “bounce rate” means. If you have a high bounce rate (50%+), you know people are looking at your website briefly then returning to the search results page because they didn’t find what they were looking for.
Average Time on Site – Conversely, if your website provides value, visitors from the search engine results will stay awhile and take the time to read the content on your various pages of your site. In Google Analytics, the “average time on site” metric tells us how long visitors stayed once they landed on our site.
Number of Pages Visited – Lastly, when you find a particularly valuable website, you probably don’t just read the first page. You click on different links and visit several of the site’s pages. This is what the “number of pages visited” metric tracks, which is a great indicator of the depth of valuable content on a website.
With the most recent Google updates, it’s become clear big G is straying away from the “numbers game” approach to ranking. In other words, they care less about the number of backlinks a website has and more about how much value people are getting from the website.
Fortunately, by using Google Analytics, we can see exactly what the Google bots see when they visit your website.
So if you find your bounce rate is too high, it’s time to change what people see when they arrive at your site. Try changing the way your landing page looks, beef up the quality of your content, or add some links that direct visitors to other pages of your site.
If your average time on site is low, add some new content pages and be sure to link to them from your home page and other popular pages. If your number of pages visited is low, perhaps some changes need to be made to multiple pages of your site or maybe you just need more overall content pages.
There are virtually limitless ways you can improve the user experience. And by using Google Analytics, you can easily see what works and what doesn’t.
So stop focusing solely on building backlinks. Yes, they’re still important. But as Google gets more and more advanced, look for the user experience to play an even bigger role in ranking.