Engagement Shaping for SEO Starts with Content
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 blindfiveyearold.com (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.