Google is apparently “breaking up with links,” and could instead use a myriad of on-site metrics to gauge the effectiveness and relevance of your website.
As SEO specialists, we keep track of the ever-shifting world of search engine optimization, which these days basically boils down to keeping pace with what Google is up to.
For years, one mainstay in SEO has been links. The more links coming into your website – and the better these links are – the better your website will rank, all other things considered equal. That sounds perfectly reasonable, right?
But as explained by Elisa Gabbert at WordStream earlier this year, Google could be moving away from links, like the kind you get from guest blogging and other methods:
“Google is slowly chipping away at all our link-building tactics. Rather than replacing guest blogging with another kind of link building, maybe it’s time to think about a system that isn’t dependent on links.”
She goes on to say that Google is apparently “breaking up with links,” and could instead use a myriad of on-site metrics to gauge the effectiveness and relevance of your website.
In other words, according to Gabbert and many other SEOs, Google might start placing more of an emphasis on metrics that have to do with how visitors interact with your page, rather than incoming links and other off-page SEO techniques.
We think the community might be on to something. Links are probably going to retain most of their importance for some time, but we can’t ignore the growing emphasis on site performance when it comes to SEO.
With that in mind, here are three metrics you should focus on improving in order to boost your SEO and improve how your website performs for your visitors.
The first metric is bounce rate. Bounce rate is the rate at which visitors arrive at your website, then leave.
A high bounce rate, to Google, suggests bad or irrelevant content. By “bad,” I mean content that isn’t useful, informative, or entertaining. Maybe it’s too short. Or maybe it just doesn’t provide anything meaningful. Whatever the reason, high bounce rates indicate a lack of interest.
As we discussed last month, there are things you can do to improve your bounce rate on your web pages. Along with those tips, add internal links and calls-to-action that direct visitors from one page on your site to another, and to another, and so on.
Another key metric, one related to bounce rate, is dwell time.
Dwell time is how long a person stays on a page before returning to the search engine results page (SERP). As explained by Duane Forrester, a dwell time of just a few seconds suggests the user didn’t value the content on the page, or didn’t think it was relevant.
How is this different from bounce rate? To answer that, consider the following situation. A visitor – we’ll call her Susan – clicks on your website’s link on the SERP and goes to a blog post you wrote. It’s a great blog post – long, informative, plenty of visuals, etc. Susan spends five minutes digesting the content. Then, satisfied, she goes back to the SERP to gather more information or put in a new search.
The bounce rate would suggest that she came then left, which would suggest that she didn’t find the content relevant. But the dwell time – the time on the page – suggests that she did enjoy the content, since she spent so much time on the page reading it.
You can improve dwell time by making your content more immersive. Give your users more to chew on. A video embedded on a page is a great way to boost dwell time. The same goes for an infographic, or a meaty blog post over 500 words long.
Finally, a metric you’ll want to boost, regardless of what Google does with links, is social shares.
This is the sum of the number of times your web page has been shared socially on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. Google has placed more importance on the role of social media in SEO, and will continue to do so. That’s (mostly) why Google + even exists – to try and capture some of the social market for search engine purposes.
Add social share buttons to your pages. Include calls-to-action, when necessary, to direct people to share socially. You can also include social proof devices like widgets that show how many followers you have and how many times the content has been shared.
There are other on-page metrics that will matter more that we’ll discuss in the future. But for now, focus on building content that keeps your visitors happy and focused on your website – and not your competitors’.