According to the latest SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations study, which was published by Searchmetrics earlier this month, content is still the most important factor in search rankings, however, user-signals are more important than ever before.
The study focused purely on Google rankings, and did not examine other search engines, however it is safe to say that anything that matters for Google will most likely be important for Bing/Yahoo too. The study examined common metrics on pages that rank well, and found that as you would expect high quality, relevant content tends to rank the best. It also found that pages which are well optimised from a technical point of view tended to outrank poor performing pages.
User Signals Gaining Importance
The most interesting part of the study, however, highlighted user signals. For the first time in the history of the survey, Searchmetrics measured user signals and found that there was a relationship between click-through rates, bounce rates, time on site and ranking. Sites that had good click-through rates, high average time-on-site scores, and low bounce rates tended to rank the best.
Tips for Webmasters
Searchmetrics compiled its findings into a detailed report, and released some tips to help webmasters improve their rankings. A lot of the tips are things that webmasters will already be aware of, such as the importance of having relevant content, using keywords in title tags, and having high quality hosting – ideally hosting near where most of your traffic will come from, to optimise loading times.
The user behaviour aspect of the study poses some interesting challenges though. Having high quality content would most likely improve your time on site metrics, but to reduce bounce rates you may need to re-design your website. Consider setting up a heatmap system so that you can see what your visitors are looking at, and track where they go (or think about going) on your website. Use analytics to track the route your visitors take when navigating your site, and pay attention to where you tend to lose visitors.
Google is committed to improving the quality of its index, and de-valuing sites with a high bounce rate is an effective way of doing this. The good news for webmasters, however, is that this is one aspect of SEO that is quite clearly an improvement for your end users, as well as an improvement for the search spiders.