SEO, Bounce, and the User Experience

by in SEO

We all know the growing sophistication of search engine filters and algorithms are constantly changing the face of SEO. This creates exciting challenges and keeps all good SEO’s on their toes. The traditional focus on content, links and keywords still prevails, but a new factor has been added to the optimization equation. User experience. The reason I say “new” factor is because UX has just recently forced all SEO’s to really look under the hood and understand their client’s business much more intimately.

With Panda and Penguin, Google has the capability of analyzing the way users interact with websites even more than ever. Search engine results have always been tabulated according to relevance and popularity, matching search terms to keywords and allotting page rankings according to general user traffic and best practice SEO.

Today, search engine filters also take into account the internet user’s actual interaction with the sites they visit. It is no longer enough to simply get the searcher’s attention. A website needs to hold the users interest by offering relevant and useful information or services.

What is a Bounce Back? Did you Mean Bounce Rate?

Anyone with a bit of online experience has first hand knowledge of the bounce back experience. You enter a word or phrase, and then scan through the search results for the best possible match. Unless one of the search results is for a site that you already know and trust, chances are you will randomly click on a few sites before finding the one that best suits your needs.

Bounce RateThe sites that you didn’t choose and “bounced back” to the SERPs will definitely play a role in the site’s ranking for hitting the site just long enough to realize it has little or nothing to offer. The search engines can recognize these bounce backs for what they are, internet users clicking on sites that have little or no value.

This is different than a “bounce rate” in the fact that a bounce rate does not necessarily equate to a poor user experience. You see, with any visitor engagment there is “dwell” time – a user might be fully engaged in an article for 20 minutes before returning to the SERPs.

Search engine filters most definitely use these bounce metrics in their assessment of a website’s value, even if some say they don’t. Maybe indirectly, in the form of site speed, but it’s there as a ranking signal.

If your website or blog is getting a high number of bounce backs, search engines are going to assume that the site offers little value to the online searcher in terms of UX, and your page ranking will suffer.

Getting the User’s Attention and Keeping It

While increased traffic to a website is every SEOs goal, it is no longer enough to just get a user to click on the SERP link. Search engine filters are now assessing the time users spend on a particular website, equating time spent with content value. So, it is vital to offer visitors content that they will find useful, and that will lead them deeper into your website. The more time spent on your site, the greater its perceived value. This leads us to some basic ways to optimize your site for user experience.

Content is still the key to any website’s online performance, and remains the most powerful tool in best practice SEO. But there are ways to tweak your site to make it more attractive to potential visitors. Consider the following when optimizing your site for better user interaction:

  1. Competitive Research

    Look at other high performing sites in your field and consider their tone and technical detail. What do they offer that you do not? Pictures? Outbound links?

  2. Analyze How Users Interact With Your Site

    What search terms are driving traffic, and on what pages do visitors spend the most time? What pages have the highest bounce rate, and what pages get the most conversions? Take a good look at your analytics in Google or otherwise.

  3. Customer Research

    Look at your customer demographics. Are the majority of your site’s visitors from a particular region or locality? What are the primary keywords? Using this data you can adjust your sites content and performance to better suit the type of visitor you want to attract.

  4. Social Media

    What social networking channels are your visitors using? How can you reach your potential audience through social media? Sharing is caring.

  5. Speed

    This should go without saying, but nothing is more frustrating than landing on a page that takes 20 seconds to load. Minify your code, optimize images, use a CDN, do something.

Ok, I left a lot of things off like forms, social buttons, typeface, and so much more. User experience has always been a large part of the SEO equation, and it really should be the primary focus when creating your content. Search engine algorithms will continue to become more sophisticated, and a new emphasis is being placed on providing the highest value search results to the online user.

Here’s a great video from Rand over at SEOMoz on UX and SEO Myths.

Now is the time to reassess the way visitors interact with your website, and to make the necessary adjustments that will reduce bounce rates and keep your audience coming back for more. Hope to see you in the comments below.

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