At Salted Stone, we’re often asked a version of this question: What’s the secret behind effective SEO right now? The truth is, it’s pretty simple.
Modern SEO practices have prompted us to move beyond arcane or shady hacks like keyword and meta-description stuffing. If you’re looking to secure top placements on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), your content must be engaging enough to keep users on the page. For every second that a visitor stays on your website, the probability of them engaging with you increases exponentially.
So how do you do that?
If your goal is to keep a visitor on your page, the content must 1) meet their needs and 2) give them a reason to stay.
If your content doesn’t interest them enough to stay, they’ll leave. Search engines factor this “entering and exiting” information into Machine Learning algorithms. Though we don’t know exactly how they use these metrics to rank pages in SERPs, we do know that Google and Bing take into consideration Dwell Time, bounce rate, and session times.
“...The time between when a user clicks on our search result and when they come back from your website tells a potential story. A minute or two is good as it can easily indicate the visitor consumed your content. Less than a couple of seconds can be viewed as a poor result.” -- Duane Forrester, Senior Project Manager for Bing
According to SEM Rush’s updated Ranking Factors report, Time on Site is the second most important factor in a webpage’s SERP ranking behind Direct Website Visits.
But it’s not just machines that marketers need to impress.
A Nielsen Norman Group web usability study found that the first 10 seconds of a page visit are critical for determining if a visitor will stay or leave. So, if you can convince users to stay on your page for half a minute, there's a fair chance that they'll stay much longer — often 2 minutes or more.
So, how do we keep folks interested? How do we turn SERP surfers into leads?
We engage them. But first, a quick vocabulary lesson.
NOTE: Not all of the following terms share universally agreed-upon meanings. For instance, some have suggested that Dwell Time is functionally closer to a hybrid of Session Duration + Bounce Rate, and many believe that nuances around human behavior (like “website parking”, where you open a tab and leave it open without interacting) should also be studied closely.
But for our purposes...
“Session Duration or Average Time on Page” typically tracks how long a visitor stays on your webpage or website.
“Dwell Time” usually refers to the time spent between leaving a SERP and then clicking back to return to it.
“Bounce Rate” is the number or percentage of visitors that come to a page on your website without visiting any other pages.
Okay, now let's dive in.
4 WAYS TO BUILD FOR ENGAGEMENT
1. CREATE AN ENGAGING, INTERACTIVE CONTENT MIX
Users love infographics, polls, quizzes, illustrative images, and video... and the stats that back up this claim are staggering. A Wistia report found that users spent, on average, “2.6x more time on pages with video than without” and Unbounce’s Conversion Benchmark Report found that in certain industries, interactive content can generate conversion rates up to 40% -- far above the standard 3.5% - 13% standard.
Keep in mind, the same rules that apply to writing also apply to video or interactive content- it has to look good, sound good, and make sense. Generic videos built from a combination of stock footage and inspirational quotes won’t get you anywhere.
Remember that aesthetically pleasing, clickable content still needs to be substantive and packed with helpful information. Every six months, conduct an audit on your site’s keywords and your competitors’ ranking keywords to determine which ones are losing popularity, and which are currently leading people to your respective domains.
Don’t immediately turn around and start cranking out content around a new keyword - try and understand what people are trying to learn about when they search for those terms, and write helpful content that meets that need.
The cardinal rules of creating quality inbound content:
Use the keywords and topics that your research surfaces along with what you know about buyer personas and where they are in their buying journey to help set your editorial priorities.
Offer specific solutions to problems or valuable information instead of just focusing on shoehorning in keywords.
Create interlocking sets of material, so that small pieces “feed into” or advertises larger content offers, like gated eBooks, guides, reports, or white papers. Don’t just break your large content offers into smaller sections and use those - readers will experience diminishing returns as you repeat yourself over and over, and may never make it to the big finale.
Keep ‘em going! Suggest related content to your visitors, and keep them circulating through the site.
2. SIMPLIFY NAVIGATION
The primary goal of website navigation is to help users find what they need. We often see folks try to get fancy with their information architecture and sitemaps, but departures from a simple and easily navigable structure can mean quick bounces and lots of questions.
The cardinal do's and don'ts of building effective website navigation:
DO put menus in familiar locations
DO use simple, human-readable language in your menu
DO reduce the number of menu options to make it easy to scan
DO use mega-menus for meaningful choices
DO provide “local menus” for closely related content
DON'T try to reinvent the wheel with branded or unique phrases for common page names
DON'T dump long lists of disorganized links into mega-menus
DON'T use design-heavy or video menus that only work well on one type of device
3. USE BOTS (WISELY)
When used properly, bots can dramatically improve your visitor’s experience. (Click below for more on those.)
A well designed, easy to use bot can provide interactive ways for users to learn more about your offerings and ask questions. They can enable you to identify a lead’s value, offer special incentives to move them closer to the point-of-sale, and provide meaningful real-time assistance -- a serious differentiator in many sectors.
Make sure you’re employing a live chat bot (which connects visitors with a real member of your team, when they’re available) and automated, AI-powered bots with pre-written scripts. Don’t let visitors confuse one or the other! They’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if a “chat” is really just a bot, so plan accordingly and don’t be too ambitious.
4. DESIGN RESPONSIVE, FAST WEBSITES
At a bare minimum, your website should work on all major browsers and devices. That means tablet, mobile phone, and desktop views on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari should all load and function properly. This may seem obvious, but since designing responsive sites usually necessitates wireframing several iterations of the same page, it’s often overlooked.
Sites should fulfill the following requirements on all devices:
Be readable -- without having to squeeze to zoom
Provide usable menus and interactive elements (that means no tiny buttons!)
Be intentional when incorporating hover effects, parallaxes scrolling, or special functionality
Use layouts that collapse gracefully
Load “above the fold” content in under 3 seconds (according to Neil Patel, of course...)
While you’re ideating, publishing, or optimizing content for higher SERP listings, remember to ask why someone would want to find your website and engage with your brand.
If your strategy is to increase Dwell Time that means you’re increasing the amount of time a real person spends on your materials. Don’t leave them feeling as though they’ve wasted those seconds, minutes or hours reading through self-serving or irrelevant information. When in doubt, conduct user testing or regularly request feedback.
If a few seconds of additional browsing time can dramatically impact your site’s effectiveness, it’s time to design and create content accordingly.