How User Behavior Affects Rankings

How User Behavior Affects Rankings
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Cover Photo - Magic of the Long Click- How User Behavior Affects Rankings

Long Click determines search success because it is when a user stays on the page for a long time without going back to the search results for another source of information or to modify their keywords. Achieving a long click means that you have satisfied the user query with sufficient and relevant information that they are looking for.

It has been a part of SEO for a long time now but you have to admit it, there are times when it can be overlooked. More than the numbers, we have to evaluate site performance based on the quality it provides to users. User behavior is too complex even for a revolutionary search algorithm and it is our job to study how it all plays out in determining rankings.

Take a look at how the long click is still relevant today and how you can optimize your site for it.

Revisiting the old patent

It has been four years since Google has filed a patent describing how click-through rates and other user behavior information can influence rankings in search results and I’m writing this today to help remind SEOs that this is a factor that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Here is the patent’s abstract:

In general, the subject matter described in this specification can be embodied in a computer-implemented method that includes determining a measure of relevance for a document result within a context of a search query for which the document result is returned, the determining being based on the first number in relation to a second number, the first number corresponding to longer views of the document result and outputting the measure of relevance to a ranking engine for ranking of search results, including the document result, for a new search corresponding to the search query.

According to the patent about modifying search result ranking based on implicit user feedback, “the measure of relevance to a ranking engine in determining the ranking in search results corresponds to longer views of the document”, which also applies to shorter views of the resulting document in the search engine pages.

Given that it talks about views, it is also important to note that viewing time is not the only factor affecting how search queries are addressed. This means that the specific category and intent also plays a role in the viewing length differentiator as governed by user behavior. I have written about how Google keeps search fresh and relevant and if you have read that particular blog post, then you know that they manifest these evaluations through their SERP features. This also goes to show that viewing time can be affected by its presentation and rankings in the pages; and vice versa.

The true meaning of the long click

Because of this patent, the term “Long Click” made its way around the search industry. This usually happens when the user searches for a term organically and remains on the site that provides information about a particular query for a long time. Basically, it has pitted long clicks vs. short clicks together, with the latter representing dissatisfaction and a decrease in relevance for the site.

For Google, long clicks are important because they can use this to measure the results of user behavior. It just goes to show that the number of clicks is not as important as the dwell time that a user exhibits for a particular site The long clicks determine the feedback mechanism which makes up for the lack of character and humanity that a search engine can exhibit.

As an SEO Specialist, I acknowledge that the search algorithm still does not match up against the human quality that will keep users engaged which is why the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is a great playbook for SEOs.

How does this affect your rankings?

It all boils down to the question, “Why am I optimizing for organic results?” The simplest answer is to comply with user satisfaction. However well-designed, technically adept, or how well your business is doing in its niche, Google will not care about those things if you have the lowest return rate for user experience and satisfaction. Think of it this way, if you are ranking as a top result and the user does not maximize most of his dwell time then the search algorithm will categorize this as a failure which can be a cause to question your position in the SERP.

One way to measure this is to consult your Analytics tool and review your content according to your site visitors’ average time on page as compared to the entire site’s average. You can start by looking at your page views.

analytics page views
After that, you can review the user’s average time on your high-traffic/high-ranking pages. Do take note of the pages with negative dwell time results because this can help you find where your content is lacking. Maybe it is not enough to keep users engaged or you have presented the information in an unnatural way.

analytics average time on page
Make sure that your content is interesting enough to achieve that long click. If users land on your website, and they are not satisfied with the information you provided, then you have failed to provide significant value to them. Your job is to keep your site relevant through up to date information that people can apply to their lifestyle and if your pages do not have satisfactory dwell time, then you should rethink your content strategy.

Tips to achieve long clicks for your site

Some tips to keep in mind in order to win in rankings and make your site relevant to users:

  1. Keep your site updated
    Obviously, users are more likely to leave if your website is outdated so you have to keep your content relevant to help people find what they want. If not, the back button can be easily clicked, and they will be back to the search results to find info elsewhere.
  2. Target specific keywords
    More than your initial keyword research, you should also make your SEO strategy viable by making sure that you target keywords that provide value to users. This means that you have to address your business’ pain points and how you can satisfy user query through your products and services.
  3. Provide a positive experience for users
    You have to optimize your site in terms of speed, readability, and relevance. It pays to be critical of your own site and evaluate it in terms of user behavior. Monitor the way that your content is promoted and compare it to its organic performance. This will help keep your site valuable for the target market you are serving.
  4. Optimize for Featured Snippets
    Effectively presenting your content starts with a magnetic headline or an attractive snippet which will ensure that the click results are utilized. Avoid being a content farm, be strategic as a writer and this will reflect in your rankings as well as user engagement.

Key Takeaway

The competition in SEO is as stiff as ever before, but revisiting these old strategies can still work today. It’s not just about ranking as a top result, it is also about staying there and the best way to do that is to maximize long clicks on your site.

I have been in the business for over a decade now but even so, I always make sure that I learn every day. Optimizing for dwell time is a call for new strategies and some of the previous ones as well so stay on the winning side by taking note of this reminder: “Always optimize for value.” The long click is one of the ways that you can get there.