Three user behavior metrics that make a difference in SEO


Even though you optimize like crazy for keywords and keyword groups, don’t overlook another powerful, although somewhat mysterious, Google ranking factor: user behavior. There’s strong evidence that optimizing for user metrics can boost your position in SERPs.

True to form, Google has never explicitly said that searchers’ behavior influences the way your web pages rank. But company executives over the years have mentioned this, most notably when engineer Amit Singhal told the Wall Street Journal that Google had tweaked its algorithms by including more signals of quality. He said, “How users interact with a site is one of those signals.”

Google’s patents also provide strong evidence that this is so. In fact, Google holds a patent on modifying search result ranking b ased on implicit user feedback.

Good performance in user metrics can impact not only the ranking of the page in question but also your website’s overall quality score. Even if only some pages on your site perform poorly in comparison to other sites, Google may generalize and down-rank more pages – or even your entire website. This works the other way, too. Plenty of high-performing pages within your site can influence Google to up-rank more of your site in SERPs.

Here are the three user behavior metrics you should optimize for:

1. Click-through rate (CTR)

There is no optimal or expected CTR for any particular search, but Google does expect it to fall into a range, depending on the type of query. For example, for branded keywords, the click-through rate of the top result is around 50 percent. For non-branded queries, the top result usually garners around 33 percent of clicks; 15 percent for a second-place result; and 10 percent for number three. If your listing falls outside of the expected range – even if it’s above that range – Google may re-rank the result in real time.

How to improve CTR:

  • Use Google Analytics webmaster tools to identify pages with CTRs that fall below Google’s expectations and focus on them first.
  • Make sure page titles and meta descriptions meet technical requirements. Eliminate duplicate titles and descriptions, and then optimize them for keywords.
  • Keep URLs clear and easy-to-read. For longer URLs, consider using breadcrumbs, which are Google’s alternative way of displaying a page’s location in the site hierarchy.
  • Include a strong call to action in the meta description. Speak directly to searchers about the value of clicking through to your page.

2. Pogo-sticking

If the searcher hops quickly back from a result to the SERP, that’s an indication that the result page initially selected wasn’t high quality. When a user pogo-sticks back to results like this, Google may down-rank the first page. If that searcher then dwells longer on the second page he clicked through to, Google may up-rank that page.

How to reduce pogo-sticking:

  • Improve page loading time. Searchers can get frustrated if a page doesn’t load and bounce back.
  • Remove or limit distracting ads or pop-ups.
  • Add site search, so that if the initial result does not satisfy the searcher’s query, she can keep searching within your site instead of hopping back. Google’s custom search engines are a good option, because they allow you to use Google Analytics to track searches and identify search trends that you can satisfy by creating new pages.

3. Dwell time

Dwell time is the amount of time between when a searcher clicks through from a link on the search results page to when he goes back to the SERP. A longer dwell time is a clear indication – to Google and to you – that the result was valuable. The ideal search experience is when the searcher immediately lands on a page that has exactly the information she was looking for.

How to increase dwell time:

  • Use a tool such as WebSite Auditor to check for broken links on your site. Remove or repair them.
  • Up the quality of your content. Make sure every page is unique and delivers the information promised in the meta description.
  • Create task-oriented content pages. Analyze queries as the first in a series of steps leading to completion of a task. Provide several pages that can lead someone through those steps.
  • Entice searchers to stay on your site with links to additional information on the landing page. For example, on e-commerce sites, a Related Products section encourages them to keep exploring if the initial result wasn’t spot-on or the item searched for is out of stock.


It’s important that you follow SEO best practices and white-hat techniques when trying to improve your user behavior metrics. For example, Google won’t be fooled by the use of bots to artificially increase overall dwell time.

Simply focusing on how to help searchers find what they’re looking for on your website is the only effective way to optimize user behavior metrics.

For a deeper dive into how Google sees user behavior, read User behavior: A ranking factor to reckon with.

sps-logo* Sponsored content in collaboration with SEO Powersuite. Views expressed in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect Search Engine Watch’s opinions.


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