Friday, February 19, 2016

How to Analyze Three Key Website Data Points to Improve SEO

Most website owners do not use (or understand) website data--the rich analytical statistics that detail the performance of a website. This data is available to all websites for free via Google Analytics, or for a fee via enterprise SEO platforms. Yet most website owners ignore data in favor of intuition and guile.

An intuitive understanding of your audience is crucial to your website's success, but the combination of intuition with knowledge of website data--and how to use the data to your advantage--is the surest path to profits.

Website data can tell you precisely how people discover and interact with your website. With the help of this data, you can tweak your content to focus more specifically on the browsers who truly want or need your service; more importantly, you can perfect your "user experience," a term used in the SEO world to describe the experience of browsing your site.

Is your content easily discovered and shared. Do your pages load quickly? Is your website structure seamless? If so, your site will be viewed favorably by search engines.

As Moz notes in its "The Beginner's Guide to SEO",

"Usability and user experience are second order influences on search engine ranking success. They provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site's external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality."

So how can you use your data to improve your user experience?

Click-Through Rate

Click-through rate (CTR) is a term used in AdWords to describe the difference between the number of people who see your ad and the number who actually click through.

Yet SERP CTR can be a helpful metric, too. SERP (search engine results page) CTR is the difference between how many people see your results in the rankings and how many people actually click-through to your page.

In either case, a higher CTR means that your website intrigues browsers by name and/or description alone. A lower CTR means that you're not successfully marketing your brand on the most basic level--you're not creating, as Neil Patel (see below) says, "a sizzling title or an appealing meta description."

Even then, CTR viewed by itself can be misleading. Once a browser clicks through, you want to make sure your content convinces him/her to stick around.

Dwell Time

"Dwell time" is a bit of SEO jargon coined by Bing's former webmaster, Duane Forrester, to describe how long a user dwells on your site before returning to the SERP.

As defined by Moz, dwell time is "an amalgam of bounce rate and time-on-site metrics."

When viewed in combination with SERP CTR, Moz believes, dwell time can be a "killer combo" for evaluating your site.

In case this makes no sense to you, let's take a step back.

Bounce rate is a Google term for the percentage of your visitors who only visit your site for a brief time before navigating away.Unfortunately, Google's definition of bounce rate "time" is somewhat vague:

"Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page)."

A Google Analytics image of "Bounce Rate" from Neil Patel's helpful article on dwell time.

To Google, bounce rate is a signal that the SERP did not adequately fulfill your needs--after all, you clicked on a result, then clicked away. A certain result might rank high on a given SERP, but if the bounce rate is high the site will inevitably decrease in the rankings.

Time-on-site (AKA: session duration) is a measurement of the total time a browser spends on your site.

Session Duration in Google Analytics [Source]

Since Google's definition of bounce rate is vague, some in the SEO world combine bounce rate with time-on-site to create the seemingly more accurate "dwell time."

Neil Patel combines dwell time with CTR to create an even more durable representation of website performance. His description is very easy to understand:

"If a user is spending time on a site, interacting with it, not bouncing, and going deeper within the content, it’s evident there is something of value on the site for that particular user. As this happens, SEO improves.

SERP CTR and dwell time converge in the nexus of SEO for this reason. A CTR is not alone an accurate presentation of user behavior. High CTRs can merely reflect a sizzling title or an appealing meta description.

CTR is not an indication of the quality of the content on the page itself. That’s where dwell time comes in. If dwell time is low, then the high SERP CTR is discounted in the algorithm’s calculation. If, on the other hand, the dwell time is high, then the CTR receives its due value."

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