Google evaluates web pages before listing them on their search engine results pages (SERPs). In fact, there are over 200 factors that help Google rank websites. They do this through complex algorithms that are not open to the public. However, Google does say what type of data they use to rank websites, and user signals are one.
Put simply, Google search user signals show how visitors interact with your website. And SEO experts agree that user signals are getting more and more important for Google.
So let’s dive into this Google search signal and how you can use it to boost your website’s Google search ranking.
Google search user signals are behavioral patterns that Google uses to analyze your website. These behavioral patterns can be positive or negative user interactions. Positive interactions indicate that users find your website useful and helpful, while negative interactions signal the opposite: that users tend to leave your website for others.
The following list describes all of the user signals Google looks at to rank your website:
The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. This is considered a single-page session. To calculate the bounce rate, simply divide the amount of single-page sessions on your website by all of the sessions on your website.
Of course you want your bounce rate to be low. But Google also uses this information to gage how useful visitors find your site. If you have a high bounce rate, Google assumes most visitors don’t find your website useful, so they demote your site to rank lower on SERPs.
To reduce your bounce rate, try implementing clear calls to action (CTAs) and implementing good internal linking.
Click Through Rate (CTR) is the percentage of viewers who click on your website after seeing a link to it. Whether your website is listed as an ad or a search result for a keyword, these are called impressions. CTR, then, is the number of clicks divided by the amount of impressions.
Having a high CTR is ideal for your business, and it is also important information to Google. If your website has a high CTR, Google may boost your website ranking in its algorithms.
To improve your CTR, make sure you optimize your website URLs, title tags, and meta descriptions for SEO.
Dwell time is the amount of time users spend on your website before returning to the Google search results page. If visitors spend a lot of time on your page, you know they find value in it. If they return to Google quickly, your site probably wasn’t what they were looking for.
Though Google does not officially state anywhere that they use dwell time as a ranking factor, SEO experts believe they do. Dwell time tells Google how relevant your site is to particular keywords. If users tend to stay on your site after a search, Google assumes your site is a good match for that keyword.
Don’t focus too much on reaching an ideal dwell time. Instead, try to increase your site’s average dwell time by having a hook. Users should know exactly what your website is about from the get-go. Further ways to increase dwell time include embedding videos, writing longer easy-to-read content, incorporating a comment thread, and optimizing page speed.
The frequency of return visits to your website says a lot about your site. It means that visitors liked your content enough to come back a second time. It means they kept at least a mental note of your site. It means you are developing a loyal following.
Return visitors also mean a lot to Google. To them, many return visitors means your site has high-quality content.
To increase your return traffic, focus on building a following. Try starting a newsletter, be active on social media, offer push notifications, publish new content regularly, or start a loyalty program.
Google Analytics will break down your new vs returning visitors for you under “Audience Overview.”
Google Analytics New Visitors vs. Returning Visitors
Type-in traffic refers to the amount of visitors who find your website by typing the URL address into their web browser. This tells Google that users are very intentional about visiting your site.
If users bookmark your site in their web browser, this also signals that your site offers real value.
Similar to the bounce rate, the return-to-SERP rate simply measures how frequently users return to the Google search results page after viewing your website. This is also called pogo sticking. Everyone does this to find what they want on Google.
If users tend to pogo stick back to the SERP after seeing your site, this is a signal to Google to relegate your site further down on the results page because Google wants to help people find what they are looking for as fast as possible. To them, your site is taking up valuable space and time as a top result if few find what they are looking for there.
Another valuable user search signal can be found in social signals. These are likes, shares, and any other type of engagement over social media.
If your website gets lots of attention on social media, Google will rank your website higher. At least, that is what many SEO experts believe. How strongly Google pays attention to social signals is debatable.
In any case, spreading your website on social media won’t hurt. Might as well invest in some social media marketing that will benefit your SEO at the same time.
Another user signal to consider is whether users log in to your website. If you have an account feature that requires users to log in, and they do, Google sees that users are serious about using your website.
Of course, you don’t want to put your entire website behind an account wall. But perhaps make some features exclusive to members who log in. That way, your loyal following can help boost your SEO.
How users navigate through your website tells Google a lot about which pages are most relevant for SERPs. For example, popular landing pages will rank higher than other pages on your site.
At the same time, popular exit pages may earn lower rankings because users tend to leave the page.
If you want to analyze navigation paths on your site, use Google Analytics. There, you will find user flow charts that tell you exactly how users navigate through your site.
Satisfying search intent is Google’s ultimate goal. If your site is exactly what people are looking for when they search for a particular keyword, it will rank high for that keyword. It’s as simple as that.
Google’s understanding of user intent is constantly improving. They pay attention to how keywords and questions are phrased to display the most relevant search results.
If your website satisfies a particular search query, it will rank high. If it does not seem to answer a particular search, it won’t.
Google will launch a new ranking signal in May 2021 called Core Web Vitals. It will be made part of the Page Experience signals that Google already uses to judge websites.
Google’s studies show that websites gain 24% more traffic when meeting Core Web Vitals thresholds.
Core Web Vitals use an object-oriented approach. Specifically, it is made up of three measured objects: largest contentful paint (loading), first input delay (interactivity), and cumulative layout shift (Visual stability).
Largest contentful paint measures how fast a web page loads. Here, you want to make sure all of your images, video, and text render as fast as possible to earn a good score.
Cumulative layout shift measures how long it takes for a page to be stable. By stable, Google means when all page elements are positioned correctly. Even if your site loads page elements quickly, it can take time to arrange them. If your page is slow to reach stability, users might tap or click somewhere on a page only to be directed somewhere they did not intend.
First input delay gauges the speed of a web page’s interactivity. When a user clicks on something on your page, how long does it take your site to react? Obviously, the faster, the better.
Core Web Vitals is all about the user experience (UX). That is why it is part of Google’s search signals for page experience. If you get your site ready for this new search signal now, you won’t be taken by surprise come May.
Now that we’ve gone through the various user search signals that impact your site’s Google ranking, let’s dive into how you can optimize your site for them.
Here are some basic tips to follow:
You won’t have total control over your website’s user signals because they are ultimately based on users’ behavior. But you can influence how users use your site by applying the principles above.
To monitor Google search user signals, you have several tools at your disposal.
First, you can install Google Analytics. Google Analytics allows you to analyze web traffic to your site. It produces all types of reports, including many mentioned already, e.g. new vs. returning visitors, bounce rate, and navigation paths.
Another great tool is Google Search Console. Previously known as Google Webmaster Tools, it helps webmasters optimize visibility of their websites and check the indexing status.
There are other web traffic analytics tools out there like Adobe analytics, SEMrush, and Moz Keyword Explorer, too. Find one that suits you and learn where you can improve your site for user experience.
If you want a website that is optimized for Google user search signals, look no further. We can help you improve an existing website or create a new one from scratch. Contact us today to get started.
Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations–delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.