There’s an acceleration in the  importance of social signals to search engines as part of their ranking calculations., and from my perspective, these fall into two main categories:the engagement of users with content, and the willingness of users to share content.

Engagement

Engagement relates to the way in which users interact with a website throughout their search process. Duane Forrester from Bing was interviewed on Stone temple Consulting, and talked about user interaction within the search results as being a key social factor in the Bing ranking algorithm.  Elements such as Click Through Rates (CTR) from the search results, bounce rate and the length of a session in terms of pages viewed and time spent on the website, and also the number of returning visitors are all metrics that are considered.  When you think about the volume of data Google collects via their cookie and analytics, this seems like a no brainer.  There are ways to improve this.

Improving CTR

In search, your ability to communicate with users is relatively limited. The average listing is pretty limited to just 66 characters for the title, and 160 characters for the description.

We use meta descriptions to communicate the USP of your website, but if our focus is to deliver a higher CTR from the search results, the  most effective message needs to be identified and used.   This can be achieved in many ways including by using  the ad-text variations that deliver the best CTR in paid search and use these as the basis for a more successful message in natural search.

Emotive terms such as “free” and “discount” tend to have a positive effect on CTR, but specific numbers can also catch the eye.  Competitive prices  help to prequalify users but discounts such as “save 20%” also work pretty well.

Reducing Bounce Rate

A high bounce rate is not always a bad thing. There occasions where a user might be looking for a quick answer to a question and find that answer within a few seconds of arriving at your site. This isn’t always the case and it might indicate a lack of satisfaction.

Compare bounce rates across pages that share function to see whether there is a pattern which means that one page might have a higher bounce rate than another.   This might be the type of search term that people are using to enter the page, it might be the price of an item, it might be because your site has a horrible picture of a product.  If your site has a consistently high bounce rate, it might be because your design is horrid.

Increasing Session Length

Encouraging users to explore more of the website is always helpful from a marketing perspective because it exposes customers to more products.  There are loads of ways of encouraging people to explore.  Wikipedia always does this pretty well, but as a note of caution, this type of activity needs to be done gradually, because you always need to protect your conversion rate.

Sharing

Sharing involves transactions around links to content in Twitter, Facebook, +1 metrics, social bookmarks, and also the number of people who link to your content from other media such as forums and blogs. Google access sharing data via a number of sources from public social media profiles, monitoring traffic flow via analytics and also via the goo.gl URL shortening service.  They also have a small social platform of their own ;-).

Old school links are dying, because they don’t reflect genuine user behaviour any more.  Greater personalisation within the search results means ever greater value is placed on real human linking techniques.

Sharing existing content

You probably already have bookmarking / sharing functionality on your site, in the form of Facebook, Twitter and +1 buttons.  The question is whether you test them and treat sharing as a goal.

Try making the buttons bigger, and experimenting with different placements to make them more prominent.  Zero share counts can reduce user propensity to use the buttons whereas an active community can self promote.

New Content

I promised myself that I would never use the phrase “content is king”, and I just have, because it is.

Creating great content that adds value to any website needs to be at the core of customer centric SEO. if you don’t have a blog of some kind, you need to ask why. A blog is the foundation of a corporate community.  It is an opportunity to communicate values beyond a simple description on a page and allows greater engagement with users.  Good blogs bring personality to a site and give a business an opportunity to expand their brand into new areas as well as giving people an opportunity to feed back.

A well balanced blog informs users, gives advice, and of course sells, subtly.

Product Posts

You’ll always end up with some posts that are there to sell less subtly.  Thanks to the freshness elements of Google’s algorithm these posts can rank pretty quickly for competitive terms.

  • New this month…
  • Great value discounts across the XXX range…
  • Christmas gift ideas under £50…

These blogs could all link to individual products using keyword rich anchor text that helps to boost search engine rankings. The freshness elements of Google’s algorithm will also reward new content with higher initial rankings as the content will be perceived to be highly relevant when the post is published.

Optimising posts around individual product names should result in quick SEO rankings albeit for a short period of time. Provided a clear path to conversion is present from such blog posts, there is no reason why traffic from this source shouldn’t convert as well as any other.

Informative Posts

These are posts that are designed to provide guidance users.  They shouldn’t be explicitly sales led, but they’re useful for linking to relevant products that might help to close the circle:

  • 5 great  tips…
  • A guide to something…
  • Helpful advice for doing something better…

These types of post should be written as useful resources that can rank for search terms outside the key product set, but could still potentially encourage sales. In most cases, these types of informative post should be the ones that will deliver the most value in terms of shares via social media as they are perceived as being advice that people are comfortable sharing with their own network.

Culture Posts

These are posts which tell the story of a business and do something that goes beyond self promotion. If anything, these are the posts that will be shared least and read most, they are also the ones that are hardest to write because not everyone feels comfortable telling the world about themselves.

They give you a chance to tell customers about the real you, and provided that they have an authentic voice, they can be uber successful at increasing engagement with your brand.

 

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