Content Marketing Blog

Understanding the link between user engagement and search rankings [INSIGHT]

Recent Google changes from Phantom to Panda 4.2 have placed a renewed emphasis on quality content. But understanding exactly how Google defines and measures quality is far from an exact science.

While Google has a vast pool of data and almost limitless resources to continually improve its search algorithm, quality feels like a subjective, human judgement rather than something that can be measured by a mathematical formula.

So it’s not surprising that some website owners remain skeptical. Especially when they see competitors using spammy, borderline black hat tactics that should be obsolete by now enjoying strong rankings.

For content marketers there is an obvious interest in winning the argument about quality. We want the chance to create better content and see that content achieve tangible results.

And while organic search is only one of the ways to measure the success or otherwise of your content marketing efforts, it remains one of the first indicators website owners and marketing decision makers look at.

READ: Kate’s Guide To Quality Content

This means that demonstrating how better quality content can lead to better search results is a big part of winning the argument for investing not just in more content, but in content that’s richer, longer and more diverse.

Rankings, traffic and engagement from Moz and SimilarWeb

A recent study from influential search marketing company, Moz, and SimilarWeb, which provides insights for apps and websites, looked at the relationship between search rankings and traffic and engagement metrics.

The study revealed sites that received high levels of direct visits and search traffic also ranked well in organic search. Sites that rank will obviously have greater visibility and more chances to win traffic, but the correlation could also be down to brand bias, both on Google’s part and on the part of users.

“Regardless of the exact cause, it seems logical that the more you improve your website’s visibility, trust, and recognition, the better you may perform in search results,” Roy Hinkis, head of SEO at SimilarWeb, said in a post on the Moz blog.

When it comes to user engagement, the study found some correlation between search rankings and popular metrics such as time on site, page views and bounce rate. While the correlation was not as strong as the one between traffic and rankings, there was some evidence that popular sites are also engaging sites.

“It could be that Google is using Panda-like engagement signals,” Hinkis said. “If a site’s correlated bounce rate is negative, that means that the website should have a lower bounce rate because the site is healthy. Similarly, if the time that users spend on-site and the page views are higher, the website should also tend to produce higher Google SERPs.”

Quality v quantity at Castleford

Since we started work in this part of the world back in 2011, we’ve been steadily shifting our client strategies to lower volume, higher quality. Over the past 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen increasing evidence that cutting back on the amount of content you produce and re-investing that time in improving your content leads to better search performance in the long-term.

There is no doubt that the number of landing pages you have or how often you update your blog still have an impact on your rankings. But when you have limited resources, quality should come before quantity.

On our blog, we’ve seen a marked improvement in search traffic since we reduced the number of blog posts we publish by more than half. Where we used to publish 30 or 40 articles per month, we’re now investing much more time and energy in a smaller number of posts. We’ve found that longer, richer blog content has a very strong correlation with more visitors – from search and other channels.

As well as search, better quality content can also help you engage and grow your social media and email followers. In fact, one of the best arguments for improving your content is that you can get a lot more uses out of each piece.

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Adam Barber
Adam Barber About the author

Adam is one of Castleford's founders and remains actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business. He started out as a writer and still contributes regularly to our blog, covering SEO, CRO, social media and digital strategy.

Read more of Adam's articles