The author's views are entirely his own (with the exception of the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect Moz's views.

Does Google use engagement signals to rate websites?

Certainly yes. Google even says so in their official How Search Works documents:

Source (emphasis added)

How exactly Google uses engagement signals (i.e. clicks and interaction data) is the subject of endless SEO debates. The above passage suggests that Google is using engagement metrics to train its machine learning models. Google has also admitted to using click signals both for personalizing searches and for evaluating new algorithms.

When pressed for particularities However, Google typically responds with either forced rejections ("We don't use such metrics") to carefully worded distractions ("Clicks are noisy").

While many Googlers undoubtedly work hard to help the SEO community, they are also under pressure not to reveal "too much detail" about their algorithms, out of caution that SEOs play search results. In reality, Google SEO will never tell you exactly how they are using engagement metrics, no matter how many times we ask about them.

Most of the SEO debates center around whether or not Google uses Bio Click rates (CTR) in its ranking algorithms. If you're interested, AJ Kohn's piece is as standout as Rand Fishkin's Whiteboard Friday on the subject. For a differentiated perspective, I would recommend reading this excellent post by Dan Taylor.

To be fair, I think most of the CTR debate up to this point has probably been way too easy. Regardless of how SEOs believe Google uses click data, the way Google actually uses clicks is guaranteed to be far more sophisticated than anything we can imagine. This complexity gap gives Google a slight denial and justification for calling otherwise reasonable SEO theories "made up crap". (Google may very well say something similar about this article, which is fine.)

No more CTR debate

At this point, you might think that this is another post to be added to that CTR debatebut in fact it is not. THAT'S JUST NOT THIS POST.

The argument "if" Google uses click signals leads us on the wrong path. We know Google does it, we just don't know how. For example they are direct signals, or just used for machine learning? Are click signals used in the? wider algorithm, or just for personalization?

Instead, let's suggest something much more radical that is likely to be far more helpful for your SEO:

Why you should assume that Google is using clicks for ranking

Not long ago, Google patent guru Bill Slawski published his discovery of a new Google patent describing how "the ranking of search results is changed based on implicit user feedback".

The patent is fascinating from an SEO point of view as it explains how the use of click signals can be very "noisy" (as Google often says), but describes a process for calculating the "long click" and "last click" metrics in order to reduce the noise and rank better search results.

To be fair, we have no evidence that Google uses the techniques described in this patent, and even if it did, it would likely be far more sophisticated / nuanced than the technique described here.

However, the patent is exciting because it supports many of them same best SEO practices We have advocated this for years. So much so that if you optimized it for these metrics, you'd almost certainly improve your SEO traffic and rankings, whether or not Google is using those exact processes. Specifically:

  1. More clicks ("High click rate"): You get more traffic regardless of your rank and first clicks form the basis for all subsequent click metrics.

  2. Improved engagement ("Long Clicks"): Almost always a positive sign from your users and often a quality indicator as well as a correlation with future visits.

  3. User satisfaction ("Last Click"): The holy grail of search engine optimization and ultimately the experience that Google wants to provide in its search results.

We can summarize these principles into three tenets of click-based engagement metrics for SEO: First, Long, and Last.

Let's examine these one by one.

1. Be the first click: Earn high click-through rates

As mentioned earlier, this is not a debate when Google is using CTR. There is plenty of evidence that they monitor and account for clicks in a variety of ways. (And to be fair, there is evidence that they don't use CTR as often as many SEOs believe.)

As the Google patent US8661029B1 states:

Source (emphasis added)

Even if the click-through rate is not a ranking signal, a higher click-through rate is almost always good for search engine optimization as it means that you will get more clicks and more eyeballs on your content.

In addition to the inherent value of a high CTR, clicks also form the basis for subsequent click-based metrics, including long and last clicks. So the first click is an essential step.

This is how you earn higher click-through rates

Your ability to get a higher CTR is almost entirely limited by optimizing your appearance in Google search results. How your snippet gets noticed and perceived as a likely helpful, relevant answer – amid a sea of ​​other competing results – is the name of the game.

You may think that your options for influencing CTR in this way are pretty limited, but in fact you have many, many surprisingly strong levers draw in your favor including:

  1. Compelling, relevant title tags (My master class, definitely worth a watch)

  2. Compelling, keyword-rich meta descriptions

  3. Structured data and rich snippet markup

  4. Win selected snippets

  5. Keyword-rich URLs that Google may use as breadcrumbs

  6. Favicon optimization

  7. Increase Brand Search

What about artificial Manipulate your CTR, either with bots or one of the many blackhat click services you can find on the web? Most of the time, these tactics produce disappointing results. One possible reason for this is that Google is very adept at detecting "unnatural" surfing behavior.

source

Such a high CTR can be a good thing, but the fact remains – as Google has told us countless times – that CTR is a "loud" signal to rank. Should a result be rewarded with a flashy title just because users click on it, even if the actual page offers a lackluster experience?

While collecting clicks is one of the main goals of SEO, the "noise" of the signal is probably why Google avoids using CTR as a direct ranking signal itself.

If you get a high CTR when your content results in a poor user experience, it can end up hurting you. More on this below.

First, we need to find out if our clicks are creating a good user experience. Continue reading…

2. Earn long clicks

What if you trick people into clicking your URL, but your page doesn't deliver what you promised or even adequately respond to the request?

This is not good for users or for Google. And it's definitely not good for you.

A measure of content relevance that search engines can use is weighted observation time, based on the concept that users typically spend a little longer on a website they think is relevant compared to a page they think is unhelpful. In this context, "long clicks" can have more weight than "short clicks".

The patent explains it this way:

Source (emphasis added)

"But Cyrus," protests intelligent SEOs, "not every query requires a long click. Many search queries, such as the weather or the" highest mountains in Europe ", can be answered very quickly, often in seconds. It makes no sense to have these pages long clicks. "

These SEOs are correct, of course. Fortunately, Google engineers understood that not every query is created equal and came up with a clever solution: click scores can be weighted with a per query base, including language and country-specific click data.

Note that such categories can also be broken down into subcategories, such as fast and informatively slow: a person may need little time on a page to gather the information they want when they query "George Washington's birthday." "but the same user may take a lot more time evaluating a result when the query is" Hilbert Transformation Tutorial ".

– US patent 8,661,029 B1

To dig a little deeper, it's not so much how long visitors stay on your page, but your ratio of long clicks (LC) to total clicks (C), weighted per query. This LC | C ratio could be used to reorder queries based on user interaction.

Go one step further: Results with Good long-click ratios can rank higher, while results with poor long-click ratios may rank lower.

So imagine a situation where you've "hacked" your CTR to get more clicks, but the page itself isn't delivering, resulting in shorter clicks. In theory, this could actually affect your ranking even though you started with a higher CTR!

So make sure you secure your higher click-through rates with great user experiences, such as: long clicks.

How to optimize for long clicks

Many SEOs refer to long clicks as being analogous to improving your "dwell time" or simply the time a user spends on your website. The signals associated with improving the dwell time are often referred to as "UX" (user experience) signals.

The golden rule for longer clicks is simple: provide the most useful, complete, and engaging response to a user search query in the most attractive and effective format possible.

A note to differentiate: Since most pages rank for multiple keywords and multiple keyword variations with potentially different search intentions, it is often helpful to target those different search intentions all on the same page.

For example, a user searching for meta description information may also be interested in Meta Description Length, Meta Description Format, and Meta Description Writing. By optimizing more broadly for these different search intentions, you can improve your long-click metrics.

Pro tip: You don't need to optimize on the same page for every user intent. Linking to other resources on your website is fine and even recommended! Visitors don't have to stay on the same page for a search click to be considered "long".

Aside from the quality of the content itself, there are a number of UX factors that you can use to encourage your visitors to engage with your content on a deeper level. While this is not an exhaustive list, some examples can include:

  1. Ensure clean, user-friendly navigation

  2. Make your website easy to browse

  3. Place important content above the crease where it can be easily found

  4. Make use of high quality videos (Moz's Whiteboard Friday Pages have an average display time of almost 10 minutes!)

  5. Aim for 10x content

  6. Use an attractive, modern design

  7. Prominently link on closely related topics to cover several search intentions. These can be internal links or even external links.

Granted, it doesn't publish many good, excellent resources to increase engagement and improve long clicks. That said, I believe Backlinko's Brian Dean is doing an excellent job here, and his resource on improving dwell time is well worth a look.

3. Be the last click

Yes, being the last click can be the holy grail of SEO.

A user clicks through a search results page and can't find what they're looking for. Finally click on your url and lo and behold! …. you have the answer you were looking for.

This means that you have fulfilled the user query.

Source (emphasis added)

Simply put, the last click means seekers Don't go back to Google to choose a different result (e.g. sticking pogo.)

Even if Google doesn't use this as a ranking factor, you can see how it can benefit your SEO to be the user's last click as much as possible. If you meet the user query, the more likely users will be browsing and sharing your content and looking for you again in the future.

How to be the last click

In my own search engine optimization there are fewer things that I have associated with greater success than there are Improving visitor satisfactionAnd that's exactly what Google wants to reward.

It's also pretty darn hard to get to.

Unfortunately, a typical process in search engine optimization is giving a copywriter a content report, expecting them to cover all the important points, clicking "publish", and hoping for the best. But do you mostly think that this content really deserves first place? Is this the first, last, and only result a user has to click?

Years ago when I was working in a successful restaurant, a manager gave me advice on delivery 100% customer satisfaction I'll never forget that: "Whatever happens, make sure you want to come back."

How to deal with SEO: Make sure that every visitor to your website wants to come back.

How exactly you can ensure that your visitor will want to return depends on each individual request. But in general, it means doing more, answering questions more fully, and giving the user more resources and a better experience.

In short, you offer an experience that is superior to any of your competitors.

Additionally, I recommend these 3 resources as you improve your content (all amazing by Rand Fishkin):

  1. How Google gives us insight into searcher intent through the results

  2. 121 Examples of 10X content

  3. Optimization for viewfinder intent Explained in 7 visuals

Metrics for click-based intervention signals

To be honest, it is next to impossible to measure click-based signals accurately because Google has all of the data.

(Even if you could accurately measure your long click-to-click ratio, or metrics for last click, calculating their true value would be meaningless without an accurate representation of all other Google search results, let alone query-based.)

However, there are metrics that can be used to directly measure your progress. These are all available either through the search console or through Google Analytics:

  1. Click Rate (CTR)

  2. Average session length

  3. Bounce rate

  4. Target conversion rate

Keep in mind that these numbers do not have a "good" score because everything is relative to the specific query it was displayed for, as well as each and every one of your competitors.

Regardless, these metrics can be useful benchmarks as you make improvements to your content. For example when you see a Drop in bounce rate and Extension of the session duration After a major update of the content, you can use this as an indicator that things are moving in the right direction. In fact, it is not uncommon for an increase in rankings / traffic after such a change to be accompanied by a positive shift in metrics.

While we can't directly see what complex click metrics Google could measure, we can often make educated guesses.

And even if Google doesn't use these metrics exactly as we speculate, we can improve our SEO by paying attention to user click behavior that we can influence.

Thanks for making it this far. Notice:

  1. Be first

  2. Be long

  3. Be the last

Get These Clicks And Earn Them!

Appendix A: Evidence from Google using click-based ranking signals (incomplete list)

  1. Google publishes that local results are influenced by clicks and then deletes them

  2. How Google intervenes in its search algorithms and changes your results

  3. There is evidence that click-through rates influence ranking

  4. User Behavior and Local Search – Dallas State of Search 2014

  5. Is the click rate a ranking factor for organic results? (Negative result)

  6. Crazy Scientific Experiments in SEO & Social Media

  7. Queries and clicks can influence Google's results more directly than previously thought

  8. Yes, the click rate is a ranking signal, but …

  9. Test points for the likely influence of the click rate on the search ranking

  10. Google Brain Canada: Google Search uses click data for rankings?

  11. Rank Fishkin: Yes, Google uses "user signals like clicks".

Appendix B: Sub-list of Google's patents describing the use of clicks as ranking input

  1. Propagation of query classifications – US8838587B1

  2. Modifying Ranking Data Based on Document Modification – US9002867B1

  3. Modifying Search Results Ranking Based on Implicit User Feedback – US8661029B1

  4. Determine availability – US8838649B1

  5. Identification of implicit local queries – US8200694B1

  6. Locally Important Searches – US20140172843A1

  7. Modifying search result ranking based on implicit user feedback and a presentation bias model – US8938463B1

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