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Engagement Shaping for SEO Starts with Content

Updated on September 24, 2014

What is Engagement Shaping

If you follow the trench warefare of SEO, over the last few years, you'll have noticed that sites are using white hat and black hat techniques to send signals to Google that users enjoy spending time on their site.

There are two main aspects of engagement shaping.

  • Users spend time on your site interacting with the content and are satisfied with the experience.
  • Users pick out your site from the search results that they think will best satisfy their query.

The Best Way to Shape Engagement on a Site

There are a few things that can be done site wide to improve engagement. The three big ones are.

- A simple way to navigate a site that users can easily understand

- Place ads unobtrusively and best placed outside the main content areas.

- Create a mobilized version of the site

My belief is while Google is getting much better at analyzing individual pages that a significant signal about a site's engagement is derived from the pages that provide the majority of the traffic.

Focus on creating stellar content around the head of your content corpus. While we use metrics around our definition of user satisfaction to combine with traffic data to select content for HubPro, a simple and effective way to edit content is to start with the most highly trafficked pages and edit them until they are best in class or if they are not salvageable, consider deleting the pages.

As the number of edited pages increases, the engagement signals will become stronger. The site's quality signals will increase and while you may not see quick dramatic traffic changes, over time your traffic will grow more steady and if you have suffered volatility in Google rankings, volatility will likely decrease. However, this isn't a short term play. Content businesses traditionally take a long time to build (decades). If you are applying content to ecommerce or other industries, it will likely take several years to significant results for large scale sites.

Where is the threshold for how much you need to edit? Sorry, but we don't really know. Instead we think of it as a long term investment that is a core business function to continually improve the overall corpus quality by some view weighted metrics. If people are reading it, we want it to be good.

Bad Ways to Shape Engagement?

Site owners think that if they can just reduce those quick bounces a bit, maybe that will be enough to let Google know that their site is really hiqh quality.

So, what are some ways that really should be avoided.

- Somewhat debatable, is opening all links in a new window. If a user clicks an outbound link, your window is left open and time on site rises. Right? Well not really. If the user is shuttled off and they are not satisfied, this is likely going to come back and haunt you. They will search again and avoid your site.

- The popup photo gallery. This is a classic. It originally got it's day in the light in the early days of ad driven sites. Just pop up a photo gallery and the user hops through fifteen photos. The ad impressions add up and next thing you know, your pockets are stuffed with nickles. This has been expanded to pop up photos, video lists, quizzes and more - just as the user goes for the back button, bam! Time for a pop up quiz. Often, a user will pause and it will increase your time on site, but does it really lead to a satisfied user. I don't thinks so.

My advice is to focus on the core content to change the reader engagement - avoid the short term tricks.

Off Page Engagement Shaping

At the end of the day, as a site owner I want to see the number of branded queries increase and I also want to see people hunting through the search results to find a HubPages result.

These are hard things to do. One of the particularly hard challenges is that it requires significant brand building and word of mouth. I believe I read this on (but can't find the article) that users tend to remember sites by

  • site name and article keywords
  • author and article keywords

So, if I want to find an article that I've heard about I either think author (AJ Kohn) and article (author and article), but not author and site. Because nobody searches to find an article by author and site alone.

I digress a bit, but the point is as site owners we want people from all over the world hunting and pecking through the search results to find our site. This sends a strong engagement signal.

If we can't build a strong brand, we can think a bit how Google works and try to influence the snippet Google shows in the search results that will make our article stand out. The most basic way to do this is with a good title. The next is concise sentences in the article that satisfies the main page queries. As users scan the serps, our article will stand out because it offers a clear answer to the query, and if the user wants more info, they will click through.

This has become such an important signal, there are now services that will take a keyword list and distribute it to a large audience and then have them hunt and peck through the search results to try and influence the rankings. Like buying links, this is starting to get legs as a service people will pay for as part of an SEO package.

I'm not sure how Google ultimately discounts sites that are using blackhat techniques for engagement shaping other than doing this really well is pretty expensive and if you have a lot of money, you likely have a lot to lose, so it can be viewed as a high risk proposition.


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    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      4 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      @WriterFox Well, I usually don't agree with you, but you are spot on here.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      4 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      When you speak of users spending time on a page and interacting with content, these things are important to include:

      1) Google's Page Layout Algorithm penalizes sites with too many ads above the fold. This is because feedback complaints from users to Google showed that users want to see the content they are looking for immediately. "If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience." Also, if a user does click on an ad above the fold, this signals Google that the user didn't find what he was looking for on the page and Google will push the page further down in rankings. On this Hub, for instance, there are three ads above the fold with only 33 words of content.

      2) Website speed impacts search rankings. According to Google engineer Arvind Jain, “Every millisecond matters.” Users expect a site to load within two – three seconds. HP's homepage takes seven seconds to load. Some Hubs take 22 seconds. Users will abandon a page before it loads if the wait is too long. Abandonments push the pages farther down on search results.

      3) Google's Panda Algorithm downgrades sites without intuitive structure and navigation. HubPages has one navigational bread crumb for some Hubs, which is a site-wide navigation, and only subdomain-specific navigation for other Hubs. This is a confusing user experience.

      4) Opening links in a new window improves user experience and engagement. With the introduction of browser tabs, opening links in new windows is preferred according to, user experience analysts., twitter, most emails and most forums open links in new windows.

      The single most important thing about engaging with users on search results pages is the quality of the snippet shown. If you look at the snippet shown for this Hub, would you click on the result? Because you only provided 58 characters (including spaces) in the Meta Description for this page, Google pieces together text to complete the 157 characters (including spaces) that it shows for a snippet. For this Hub, Google added this to the snippet text:

      ". ... see people hunting through the search results to find a HubPages result. .... Paul Edmondson 6 hours ago from Burlingame, CA Hub Author ... Now where he got that assertion, I don't now. http: //www."

      Is that something a user would click through to read? Does that look like a webpage a user would trust? It even contains a spelling mistake and a link unrelated to what the searcher is seeking.

      Also, why would anyone want to edit/change a Hub receiving great traffic from search engines? That's tantamount to taking a successful classic novel like 'Gone with the Wind' and sending it back through an editing process. It is the Hubs which are not receiving Google traffic that might benefit from editing, provided an editor has years of experience editing SEO website content and has a personal track record in that specialty field.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 

      4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Maybe we're exceptions, but I'm the same as MakingaMark and Paula Atwell, I hate it if a link doesn't open in a new page, especially if the original site has more links to a certain subject. I never think of using the control+ click in FF when clicking on a link.

      I'm also not a big fan of Google as it comes to the personification of searches. I really hate it when my hubby and I search for the same thing and he gets different sites than I'm getting. I find Google's assumption of knowing my preferences rather arrogant.

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      4 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Yes, I just saw that blindfiveyearold article. I think that is right.

      Paul, I am on Firefox but I just right click, then pick open new tab. I don't know where I stand on this argument because I always open my links in a new window whether they do or not. That gives me the ability to stay on the original page and also read the new page without going back. But I don't consider myself a typical user.

    • alison monroe profile image

      Alison Monroe 

      4 years ago

      This gent says it's human nature to remember two out of three tags for what they saw or heard: article, title, and/or site, but not all three. Now where he got that assertion, I don't know.

    • Paul Edmondson profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Edmondson 

      4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Firefox is control + click and command + click on a mac. Also, browsers have options to set all links to open in new tabs in the preferences. Not sure on IE, but I know you can right click on the link to open in a new window.

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 

      4 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      Thanks Paul,

      It would be interesting to take a survey of hubbers to see how they respond to this.

      As far as chrome, I don't use it so I was unaware of the shift-click option. Is there a similar option on Firefox and IE? I can see where people who know about this would have the advantage of choice.

    • Paul Edmondson profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Edmondson 

      4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Our stance on opening windows in a new window automatically isn't good for users. Here's our thoughts.

      - If users want to open a new window, they can (shift+click in chrome). User controls it. All users have this control and it's easily accessible, so we should let users decide on their preference.

      - It disables the back button

      - It disorients users that don't know it's happening and creates clutter in the browsers tab, and potentially has accessibility issues.

      I think there are some scenarios where it makes sense to do it, but there are very few of them. It should also be extremely clear to the user that a new window is about to open if your site fits one of these type of scenarios.

      This Hub is about user engagement. I think if you're trying to keep users on the site longer, it's a poor way to go.

    • makingamark profile image

      Katherine Tyrrell 

      4 years ago from London

      I ALWAYS open links in new tabs. There is nothing that annoys me more than losing the original page where I entered a site. I can end up down a blind alley using links - with no way of getting back to the original query or response. It's just like websites which don't follow the trunk rule.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      4 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I'm another that likes links to open in new tabs or windows. I prefer new tabs, but I don't like having to use the back button to return to a page. I always assumed most others felt the same way.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      I appreciate the insight. This will take a couple of readings, but it's troubling how much time we have to spend, not just creating content, but contending with cheaters who think they can better profit by skirting the rules.

      This stuff never seems to go away online.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Paul, thanks for this excellent and straightforward analysis and recommendations for shaping visitor engagement for SEO. "Short-term tricks" are just that - ways to artificially trick Google into viewing our content as more relevant and engaging than it is. Long-term organic SEO success always has been and always will be about providing targeted, relevant content that keeps visitors on the page longer because we've answered the question or satisfied the need that led them to our content in the first place. Doing that consistently builds credibility with our target audiences so that they actively search for content we've created. And whatever changes to its algorithms Google makes periodically to combat would-be manipulators of the search results, consistently delivering substantive, relevant, satisfying content will always be a successful SEO strategy.

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 

      4 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      I have always set link up so they open on a new page. My reasoning has been that it annoys me to have the original page closed by the opening of the linked page. I like having the original page open so I can bounce back and forth. When it is closed, there is a delay until it reopens when you click the back button, and it is that delay that annoys me, and I am assuming, my readers.

      From the information you are giving here, it sounds like this is not a good idea and might be hurting me. Am I reading this wrong or should I heed you advance not have links open on new pages.

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      4 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      This is an excellent overview of the current situation for content management and really says that we need to pursue creating content that answers specific queries fully and well. Therefore our thinner and more general content is no longer as relevant as it may have been previously. However, it still leaves a lot of space for different types of articles and experimentation to see what works best per topic.


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