What Is User Behavior

Ultimately, user behavior is the process in which users and customers interact with the search engine results page, as well as engage with your website. There are a number of ways to track user behavior in regards to your site, such as dwell time, clicks, click-through-rate, conversions, conversion rate and behavior flow. 

Google and other search engines track user behavior to better understand how users navigate their search engine results page, as well as help their algorithm (RankBrain AI) adapt to changes in search and click behavior. 

As a business owner, having your website rank is one part of the solution, the other part is creating a site that encourages higher engagement, conversions and a better overall user experience. This helps Google provide higher value to your domain and pages to rank higher for any number of competitive search terms. 

Google RankBrain Explained

To put it simply, RankBrain is Google’s chosen name for their machine-learning AI that was created to help them process their search results.

RankBrain is part of Google’s Hummingbird search algorithm. There are also a number of other parts that help make up the Hummingbird algorithm such as; Panda, Penguin, Pigeon (local search), and Mobile Friendly to name a few. 

The machine-learning AI helps Google to better understand the hundreds of millions of searches done each day that Google has never seen before. That is right, about 15% of the roughly three billion daily searches have never been processed by Google before. Most of that is what we in SEO call long-tail searches, like the example seen below. 

Google needed to create RankBrain because of the large increase in long-tail or conversational search terms in recent years. A lot of that is attributed to mobile search, more specifically mobile voice search. 

Thankfully, Google’s RankBrain is able to learn from user behavior in the search results to improve the quality of results, even if the phrase is something new. RankBrain learns from a sort of trial and error method. For example: 

A user searches “lawyer.” The results populate, but there is nothing specific to what they are hoping to find. So, they narrowed their search some more by searching “injury lawyer.” This provides some better results, but still the results aren’t specific enough to their needs. Finally, the user searches “car accident injury lawyer near me.” The results populate, and the user is able to find exactly what they were looking for. Google knows this because they track the users time on each SERP, any time they amend the search term, and also the click-through. 

How Search Engines Analyze User Experience (UX)

Google and other search engines like Bing.com and DuckDuckGo.com focus on a number of signs to help them provide the best results possible. A few data points worth mentioning are click-through-rate, time on page (dwell time), and the navigation path of the user (behavior flow). 

CTR or Click-Through-Rate

Data is collected by search engines whenever a user clicks through to a site on the search results page that was served based on the search term or phrase. CTR is easily calculated using the below equation:

CTR = Clicks / Impressions

So, if there are 100 search users looking for an injury law practice in Tennessee, and 20 of those 100 users click-through to your website, that means your site has a 20% CTR. 

It is also worth noting that the position or rank of your site can influence the CTR, as shown in the graph below from SmartInsights.com.

Another thing to consider when trying to improve CTR, is how relevant and compelling your title tags and meta descriptions are. The Title Tag is always going to be the large blue text in a search result, and the meta description is the descriptive text below that. It is best practice to try and use a title tag that states what the page is, and a description that properly describes the subject of that page. 

This is an example of a poor title and meta description for a page intended to encourage clicks from car accident victims. 

This is an example of a title and meta description that tells the user exactly what the page is, as well as what information they can find on the page. It is best practice to have a unique title tag and meta description for every single landing page on your site. 

Another clever way to improve CTR is to add number values to a title tag, such as the ones below for “home remedy for heartburn.

Behavior Flow or User Navigation Path

Every user, regardless of how they came to your site, and what page they leave your site will leave a bread crumb trail. This is logged and analyzed by Google and other search engines as a means to better understand user behavior beyond the initial click-through. 

One way of improving your odds of ranking is to create an information architecture that makes it easier for not just the user, but Google to navigate your site to discover what bit of information they intend to find with the least amount of effort. Page depth is an important thing to consider, and Botify does a great job explaining this importance in a study they completed

Ultimately, they discovered that the majority of sites that ranked higher organically tend to have a page depth of 5 or less. The reason is Google has a crawl budget, or a limited amount of resources they can allocate to a given site when crawling. The deeper the page is from the homepage the less likely it will be crawled and indexed by Google or other search engines. 

One way to improve information architecture is by making sure you are implementing proper internal linking from one page to another related page on the same website. The purpose of internal linking is simply to help the user in their attempts to navigate your site, distribute authority from one landing page to others in which that page is linking to, and helps shape the hierarchy of a website.

Content Freshness Is Necessary

Now what ties all of this together? Great content, but not just great content, fresh content. Your site has to always have new content added or old content that is updated regularly. The frequency in which you need to update the content will vary greatly, but the rule of thumb is usually once you start to see that piece of content losing traffic over a two to three month period. This is usually the tell-tale sign that Google no longer considers your page relevant or timely enough for its users. 

Fresh content is also the proven method to keep users coming back to your website. If you can prove that you will curate content that is of great value to users, they will continue to reward you with great click-through-rates, dwell time and even conversions. All of which can help improve your rank in search engines. 

Yes there are a few negatives to creating content. The first being if you are creating content that is copied from another site, which could result in a Panda penalty. Second, you could be creating content that is irrelevant to your site as a whole. You wouldn’t publish content that covers “ways to teach your kid to brush their teeth,” when your site is for a law practice. Lastly, there is such a thing as too much content. This goes back to the point about creating a clear and simple information architecture for the user and search engines to navigate.  

Final Thoughts

User experience and behavior in regards to search engine optimization has quickly become a double-edged sword. It is something that every site should look to improve upon, but is almost always neglected. 

A website that doesn’t utilize best practices to improve CTR with unique and compelling meta descriptions or title tags is likely to lose rank in SERPs. The same goes for any website that doesn’t utilize internal linking as a means to help users navigate their site with ease. 

SEO neglect is a real problem, even more so during this economic uncertainty as a result of COVID-19. As businesses look to throttle back on their paid search budgets, or cut paid advertising all together, SEO has become a necessity for them to maintain search visibility. Failure to address user experience chokepoints is only going to create fewer leads for your business, and as a result less revenue.