What Does User Behavior Data Mean For SEO?

SEO experts have been debating the extent that user behavior data affects search engine rankings for the last few years. Recently, at the latest MOZCon event Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz and current founder of Sparktoro, said that “Google is now relying on behavioral data that it gets from searchers, Chrome users, Android, etc. as the primary way that it ranks pages.” (click here for details in webpronews)

So what does that mean? Let’s start by explaining what is meant by user behavior data.

What is User Behavior Data?

User behavior data in terms of a website is data that is collected about the actions a visitors takes when they visit a website.  The actions the user takes on the website include the amount of time they spend on a page, what links they click on, what pages they visit, what forms they fill out, what videos they watch, how much data they scroll through, and every other action you can think of. Basically, user behavior data is everything a person does when they go to a website.

How Does Google Collect User Behavior Data?

Google collects user behavior data through its large number of products. Google collects the data when a website has Google analytics on it; it also collects the data when a visitor uses Google Chrome to go to a website; and when a visitor uses a Google Android device and visits a website. In other words, Google collects a lot of user behavior data.

Why is Google Using User Behavior Data In Its Ranking Algorithm?

When someone searches for something and clicks on a result, the actions that person takes is the best way for Google to know if that page was the best result for that search. If the visitor goes to the page and leaves within a few seconds, it probably wasn’t a good result. If they visit the page and stay on it a long time and engage with the site (bookmark it or share it on social media, copy it to a google doc, etc.), then it probably was a good result.

Because of all the user behavior data Google has collected, they can create generalizations from the data. For instance, they might know that 80 percent of the time a person searches for information about penguins, the websites they interact with the longest are websites that have white backgrounds with black text, have fonts that average 18px in size, have an average of 350 words per page, have 5 images, etc. They can use this aggregate data to provide better search results in general for penguin searches.

So, let’s assume that Rand Fishkin is right (and he probably is), what should you do about that?

How Do You Get High Rankings If Google Is Using User Behavior Data In Its Algorithm?

Google wants people to find relevant content related to the words they are searching for, and they want that content to be user-friendly. They want the user experience to be great. So, think of what you consider to be a great user experience- the things you like and don’t like – and that is what Google is probably looking for.

Here are 3 Things You Can Do To Start

1. Let Your Analytics Guide You

If Google cares what your users are doing on your site, you should as well! If you don’t have Google analytics on your site, install it now. Look through the analytics and see how your visitors are engaging with your site. What pages do they visit most? What pages are they on the longest? What pages are they leaving quickly? Make more pages like the ones that visitors are visiting and spending the most time and consider whether you can remove some of the pages that are have low rates of interaction.

Also, consider how easy it is for users to share content or save it. Can you increase their opportunities to interact with a page by signing up for your newsletter or downloading a piece of content? Not only will this provide a better user experience, it will also signal Google that a page was a valuable tool for that search result.

2. Make Your Site Content Easy To Read

People need to be able to easily read your content.  If your site is hard to read, and you change the readability of your pages you will usually see your rankings improve. Some of the factors to consider with readability are font size, line spacing, the contrast of your background and foreground, grammar, spelling, images, the words you use and even the speed of your site. If your site is slow to load, visitors are going to leave and go to another site to get their information. Use a tool like Google page speed insights or GTMetrix to get a list of things you could do to improve the speed. We often find that some of the recommendations site speed tools make can’t be done without breaking functionality on the website. So, be careful when making changes to improve your site speed and always have a backup of your site in case it stops working after you make changes.

3. Write Longer Content

I have found that by adding just 100 words to a page, you can increase that page’s ranking. Most SEO experts recommend 1,500 words or more per page because most of the top ranked pages we see have 1,500 or more words on them. In fact, some studies have shown a correlation between 2000 words or more and higher rankings. Suffice it to say, for most searches longer content is preferable.

Google has officially said that there is no perfect numbers of words per page and that the ideal number of words to rank for a particular search depends on what people are searching for. So, in some cases content with fewer words will rank higher than content with more words. Which goes backs to what I said about Google. Google is looking for the best search results, and if the best answer to what someone is searching for is short content, then that is what Google is going to rank higher. That said, in most cases longer content seems to outrank shorter content.

Those three things are a good place to start to help your sites be more user-friendly and to help your clients rank higher.

On a different note, I wanted to let you know that some of our PR and content marketing clients have asked us to put together a training to help them be able to offer SEO to their clients. We are looking into creating an 8 week SEO training course for agencies that want to be able to learn more about SEO. If you are interested please contact us and we can get you more details about being part of our pilot offering.