User Behavior: The Next Frontier in SEO

Amirash Patel

Jul 12, 20165 min read
User Behavior: The Next Frontier in SEO

The digital marketing landscape can change on a dime.

In a recent study by Adobe, 76 percent of marketers stated they believe the industry has transformed more in the past two years than in the previous 50. Marketing technology, along with buyer behavior, has morphed drastically, and SEO has shifted course even faster.


In the past several months alone, we've seen some major search shakeups, including the recent AdWords update, RankBrain, and January's unnamed "core algorithm update," just to name a few.

And those are only the updates we know about. Google is famous for regularly altering its search algorithm between 500 and 600 times a year to deliver a better user experience.

In SEO's infancy, winning organic search was a game of technical on-page optimization and link building. Now, in its pursuit of an optimal user experience, search engines are moving toward a behavior-based ranking system.

Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, there is no way to "game the system" anymore. Marketers must optimize content for user intent. Only then can they provide the necessary user experience level to capture higher search rankings and organic traffic.

Future-Proof Your Strategy

While user behavior data isn't the top-ranked signal just yet, Google continues to integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence into its algorithm to interpret SERPs like a human would.

Moz's Dan Petrovic wrote, "Google has designed and patented a system in charge of collecting and processing user behavior data." Put simply, because Google is smart enough to know whether users like your website and content, it's now accounting for this in search rankings.

Savvy marketers looking to future-proof their organic search strategy must prepare for this trend immediately.


User Behavior Data That Matters

So which metrics define a good user experience? Here's what search engines are most likely looking at:

· Click-through rate: In SEO, the click-through rate is the number of users who click on your search result or the number of searchers who viewed your site in SERPs. Typically, companies stop at simply looking at keyword ranks as the measure of success. This is a mistake – even if you're ranked in the top five, if you're not getting clicks, what's the point?

A high click-through rate means your keyword mapping, page titles, and meta descriptions are well-aligned with user intent and effectively drive traffic to the site.

Sites often use page titles and meta descriptions to simply include keyword instances. It's important that you treat these elements like ad copy and use language that captures a user's attention and incurs a click.

· Bounce rate: Bounce rate indicates the state of your content's alignment with search query intent. Pages with a high bounce rate could point to either a bad fit with the average visitor's search intent or a poor experience, both of which will affect your rankings.

· Pages per session: This is the number of pages a user views per visit to your website. A high volume of pages per session indicates that the user is engaged with the content and is progressing down the path to conversion.

· Frequency: This is how often a user visits a website. If the user makes repeat appearances, the website is perceived as valuable.

How does Google track this? No one knows for sure, but many speculate that it's drawn from cookied searchers logged into Gmail accounts and/or from Google Analytics information.

How to Win the User Behavior Search Showdown

Remember, SEO is no longer just about keyword rankings; creating valuable content and aligning your message with user intent is imperative to success.

The next step is crafting an experience that causes visitors to binge on consumer content. With so much content available online, marketers must create standout content to captivate and engage the user. Once you have their attention, use internal linking, relevant calls to action, and links to related material to draw users further down the funnel. In today's online marketplace, you're competing for the user's time; once you have it, you have to take advantage and keep the user engaged.

So how do you future-proof your search strategy?

1. Run an organic search performance analysis. Analyze the organic visitor behavior from click to close. Along the way, ask yourself these questions: Is the bounce rate particularly high for organic visitors? What's my pages-per-session average? How does this compare to other channels? How well does my organic traffic convert compared to other channels?

Then, assess these organic search metrics for each landing page. Are some noticeably stronger or weaker than others? We can assume that top-performing pages are well-aligned for user intent, but underperforming pages need more optimization.

2. Do keyword research. Do you take a "Field of Dreams" approach to creating digital content? Subscribing to the "if you build it, they will come" theory simply won't cut it.

Think about content relevance. How will users unfamiliar with your brand search for your products or services? This is why finding relevant keyword themes is still an important step of building a sustainable SEO process.

The key is to actually search the terms you're considering and make sure your content aligns with user intent. Search engines have somewhat infinite data on online human behavior, and their search results are a pretty good indicator of what data is telling them about user intent.

3. Revisit site navigation. As a marketer, your goal is to build a frictionless path to purchase. How many clicks does it currently take to reach each call to action? Analyze the typical path organic visitors take on your site.

For example, if most of your organic traffic is driven by a blog that lives on a subdomain, you may want to retool the navigation structure. A smooth connection to your main domain will improve the user experience, lift pages per session, and reduce the bounce rate.

In a HubSpot study, 76 percent of consumers say the most important factor in website design is that the "site makes it easy for me to find what I want." So don't require visitors to think about where they need to go and how to get there. Make it easy for them – the more complex and overwhelming navigation is, the harder it’s going to be for users to find what they need.

4. Optimize for mobile. By now, this should go without saying, but it's critical to develop a seamless user experience across all devices. Google explicitly favors mobile-friendly sites in search results, so use the above metrics to evaluate your site's mobile performance as well as its organic status by landing page.

Voice apps such as Siri and OK Google have significantly changed how users search via mobile. When users ask questions straight to their devices, let that guide how you structure page content.

User experience and content alignment have always mattered when it comes to great marketing, but it's now critical to organic search rankings. Stay ahead of the curve, and start optimizing your site for user intent now. Once you do, you'll be positioned to win the next frontier of search.

Author Photo
Ami Patel is president of DemandWave, a B2B digital marketing agency based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since joining the company in 2011, Ami has helped DemandWave grow into a leading digital demand generation agency as a two-time winner of the Inc. 500/5000. Ami and the DemandWave team have served as strategic digital marketing partners to hundreds of enterprises and fast-growing startups across a wide variety of industries. Connect with Ami on LinkedIn for more B2B marketing insights.