We know that search engines require a significant amount of relevant content to crawl, and of course your content should consider relevant keywords for SEO. But optimising for search engines shouldn’t be the main focus; instead content must be written for the user.
Google’s algorithm has changed over the last few years to focus on meeting user expectations. What this means is that focusing on the user through valuable, high quality content and an improved user experience is the key to improving your rankings and increasing traffic.
Google’s whole aim is to satisfy users, and the way it does this is by ensuring that users find exactly what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. It is this thinking that led to the addition of Google’s ‘featured snippet’.
Featured Snippets are the short snippets of text that appear at the top of Google’s search results in order to quickly answer a searcher’s query.
The interesting thing about featured snippets is that if you’re able to get your content into one, you can appear at the very top of the search results- above the traditional number one spot- even if your site doesn’t rank for those keywords in the traditional sense. Because the snippet’s goal is to provide a simple answer from a strong piece of content, it might pull from a website listed some way down the SERPs instead of using the one ranking in first position. In short, featured snippets are an opportunity to get more clicks from the organic search results without higher Google rankings. According to Search Engine Land, a featured snippet gets approximately 8% of all clicks, which means that getting your content in a featured snippet can give your organic click-through-rate a significant boost.
So how do you go about getting your content into a featured snippet? This is where it all comes back to focusing on the user. The aim of the featured snippet is to give someone the answer they’re looking for without having to click any further, so Google will select the content that answers the query most accurately and succinctly. This means that you should be focusing on the questions your audience are asking: understand what they’re looking for and how you can help them. Creating content that answers the specific queries of your target audience will stand you in better stead for getting featured.
When it comes to focusing on the user (and improving your SEO rankings as a result) there are some other user engagement metrics that Google seems to prioritise too:
In 2015, Google announced that mobile optimisation would become a contributing factor to SEO rankings, which makes sense as half of all searches are now on mobile devices. It’s all about giving users the best possible experience, and a site which isn’t responsive on mobile doesn’t deliver.
In order to comply with Google’s algorithm, websites must be designed to be responsive across desktop computers, mobiles, and tablets. Google will reward mobile-friendly sites with higher rankings on SERPs compared to those that are not responsive.
Back at the dawn of SEO, keyword stuffing was a common tactic. However, an early change from Google allowed the search engine to judge not only the amount of keywords on a page, but the way in which they were used. This is when digital marketers were required to ensure keywords and phrases appeared naturally within content; if keywords felt forced onto a page, Google would penalise the page’s ranking.
A subsequent update- the 2013 Hummingbird update- took into account the overall meaning of a page. This allowed for human error: you may not know the exact words to find what you are searching for, but Google’s ‘understanding’ of the page means it will still return relevant search results. Google has also recently rolled out the BERT update due to the fact that more and more users are searching by asking questions, and this technology aids that method of searching. It works by allowing Google to process words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, considering the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it. These algorithm updates allow content marketers to really consider the kind of questions their users may be asking, to figure out their needs and concerns, and then provide the answers. This kind of “question and answer” content, written in the way that people speak, is also valuable when it comes to optimising for voice search, which is only set to rise.
Dwell time is the amount of time a user spends on a page before navigating back to a search engine. Google uses this metric to judge how relevant the page is to the user’s search query: if a user stays on a page for longer, then it’s likely that they’ve found valuable information and stuck around to read it.
By creating the kind of content your users want to consume, and designing a user experience that encourages visitors to remain onsite for as long as possible, you can send the right signals to Google which in turn may help to boost your rankings.