When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), understanding user behavior metrics and increasing engagement can improve your results. After all, shouldn’t the amount of engaged time people spend on a web page be a good judge of how relevant its content is? In theory, yes. But incorporating that into the 3.5 billion searches Google processes each month isn’t that simple.

How User Behavior & Engagement Doesn’t Influence SEO

Google has always maintained that on-page behaviors do not directly influence search rankings. Once a user leaves the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), a user’s actions and data about WHAT they do on any given website isn’t introduced into the search algorithm in any way.  This makes sense because perceived behavior can easily be manipulated and HOW or WHY a visitor may take an action is difficult to verify. For example, webmasters could pay 100 people $5 each to go to their website, click through some pages, and leave the browser open for an extended period of time.

How Personalized Search and Dwell Time Help Validate User Behavior and Imply Engagement

In December 2009, Google expanded Personalized Search to all users of Google Search, whether they had Google Accounts or not. Personalized Search leverages users’ location, previous searches, and SERP behavior in an attempt to provide better SERP results based on that data. For users with Google Accounts, it also incorporates personal behavior and interest data associated with those accounts. In addition to generally providing more relevant search results, this also meant that Google was now processing a new, more unique layer of data with every search.

Dwell Time refers to the amount of time between a user clicking a link on a SERP, viewing the linked page, and returning to the SERP. Again, while Google isn’t looking at what a visitor is doing on your site, they can infer some things based on how long they were there. This Dwell Time could be manipulated, but by combining what Google does know about the person making the search through their implementation of Personalized Search, it becomes a lot easier to identify genuine searches and search behavior. That makes it increasingly more difficult to mimic user behavior without Google recognizing the lack of authenticity and either disregarding that information or potentially penalizing a site because of it.

How Machine-Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Have Changed Things

In October of 2015, Google confirmed its use of RankBrain, a new machine-learning artificial intelligence system designed to help process unique search queries that had not been searched before. Many in the industry had noticed changes in SERP behavior prior to the announcement, but this was the first time Google had acknowledged they had been using the new advancement in technology. While RankBrain doesn’t directly relate to user behavior and engagement, Google could still be utilizing unannounced machine learning and artificial intelligence in other areas like analyzing dwell time to improve the quality of their search algorithm.

How You Can Increase SEO with a Positive User Experience

So now that you know user behavior can influence SEO rankings, how can you benefit from this? The answer is simple: Create content that matters. When your content is relevant and genuinely interesting, Google will find it and rank it against similar content. If your SERP result looks compelling, people will click it, go to your site, and stay there. If it is good content and users are finding it through genuine searches, the improved rankings will come. Every time someone searches on a relevant keyword, finds one of your pages in the results, clicks the link and spends quality time on your site, it can improve Google’s impression of the quality of that page and how it ranks against similar pages across the web in the future.

Bottom Line: Content is King, and it Matters

It is clear that user engagement matters when it comes to SEO, so quality content is necessary in today’s digital marketing world. Creating this content is not only imperative for your website’s SEO health, it’s vital to your customers and ultimately leads to a higher conversion rate.

At G5, we are experts in SEO and digital marketing. When it comes to your website’s SEO health and creating a positive user experience, we’re here to guide you every step of the way.

Contact G5 for more information regarding your personalized SEO strategy.