Long ago, we mentioned how search engine algorithms were moving away from traditional ranking signals and towards indications of user intent. This was some pretty big picture stuff in the world of search engine optimization (SEO). In that post, we noted that lots of different pieces in the SEO puzzle were being moved just a little bit, but always in the same direction. That direction was away from search engines like Google determining what pages were relevant and important on their own, and towards watching how internet users figure it out as they searched the web and interacted with what they found.
As a result, search engine algorithms are increasingly adding weight to reader metrics over other traditional metrics like word count or keyword density. Here’s a brief description of what a reader metric is, as well as 3 reader metrics that are becoming more and more important in today’s world of online legal marketing.
An Overview of Reader Metrics
It’s safe to say that Google knows basically everything about you, just by monitoring what you search for, online. In the last few years, search engines have started to use all of that data to watch how you interact with websites. They’ve asked questions like:
- What are things that users do when they don’t like a webpage?
- Are there reliable indications that a user thinks a particular page is reliable?
- How can we acquire more data to gain a more accurate insight into a user’s satisfaction with a page?
And then used data to answer those questions.
The data that search engines have mined come from lots of sources, but all go towards one goal: Using how someone interacts with the internet to better determine what sites are reliable and important for a particular search query. By tracking how the millions of internet users interact with the sites they see in the search engine results page (SERP), Google and other search engines have found the data they need to make their algorithms even more precise.
There are numerous types of reader metrics that procure this data. Here are 3 of them.
1. Time Spent on Page
Let’s imagine someone does a Google query for, let’s say, “Pittsburgh personal injury attorney,” and they click on your law firm’s practice area landing page for personal injury. Google and other search engines have decided that, if the visitor spends lots of time on that page, it’s an indication that they find it relevant and important for the query “Pittsburgh personal injury attorney.”
Remember, relevant and important webpages get promoted in the SERPs, so lots of time spent on the page can lead to better rankings.
2. Bounce Rate
A bounce is an online marketing term for a visit to a website that only involves one of the site’s pages. If someone visits your law firm’s website by going from a SERP to one of your legal blog posts, and then goes somewhere else on the internet that is not on your firm’s website, that’s a bounce. If they go from your legal blog post to somewhere else on your firm’s website – say, from the legal blog post to the contact us page, or to a landing page – then it’s not a bounce.
Search engines seem to have decided that the ratio of bounces to non-bounces indicates a website’s quality for the given search query. However, there are online marketing professionals who are not so sure. At Myers Freelance, we’re on the fence when it comes to bounce rates because, as we covered in one of our posts from long ago, the context of a site’s bounce rate matters a lot: Some types of websites, like news sites, are going to have bounce rates around 20% because visitors go from one story to another. Other sites, though, are going to have bounce rates approaching 80%. The difficulty that comes with categorizing websites and then determining what a “good” bounce rate is for each category would be incredibly difficult to do with accuracy. We think that Google and other search engines would find that data unreliable enough to either disregard it, or weigh it very lightly in their algorithms.
The amount of web traffic that a site or page gets is a simple reader metric that is also likely one of the strongest indicators of that site’s relevance or importance for a given search query. It’s straightforward, really: More people are visiting this page, so that’s clearly a sign that it’s a good one.
As we’ll show in our next blog post, though, web traffic metrics are a self-fulfilling prophecy in the SEO world: High rankings beget web traffic which begets high rankings. There are, however, ways around this terrible cycle that your law firm can take advantage of to succeed online.
The Takeaway: Algorithms are Trying to Align With Readers
The holding of this case is that search engines are increasingly taking a laissez faire approach towards determining a site’s relevance and importance. Rather than dictating what it takes to make a webpage a good one, search engines are increasingly punting the judgment call to the people who use their indexing service. By watching how they interact with a site, Google, Bing, and other search engines are using web surfers to tell them about the quality of a given site and revising the rankings, accordingly.