Understand the Correlation between SEO & User Engagement (without drowning in numbers)

Do you spend a lot of time creating “engaging content” for your blog? Are you told by SEO gurus that user engagement is the #1 on-page SEO ranking factor? If you answered yes, I have a bad news for you.

User engagement is in no way related to SEO, at least not directly.

In this post, we will go through a lot of confusion that there around this topic & check out some best practice to utilize the user engagement in our favor.

Is user engagement a ranking factor?

In an office hour conducted by Google search central on YouTube, a user asked this question to John Mueller, who’s a search advocate at Google.

Question asked to John Mueller on relation between user engagement & SEO
Image created by Author using Canva

The conversation ended, but let us dig deeper & find evidences if it’s otherwise. Shall we?

What are the type of user engagement that matters for SEO?

John said that user engagement is not a factor, but on-page SEO is all about what user does on the page. So does that mean that John disqualified on-page metrics?

Absolutely no!

All the on-page SEO metrics are taken into consideration indirectly. If someone is spending a lot of time on your page, (high on-page session time & low bounce rates) this signals Google that people are finding the page useful.

But high on-page session time is also sometimes misleading. We all have several tabs open, do we read all at once? Nope. I don’t.

So what are the factors you should be worrying about? Let’s have a look at SEO factors that you shouldn’t miss tracking.

#1 URL Optimization:

URL is where all the SEO stuff begins. The crawler follows links from one page to another & the URL is the first thing that it notices. That’s the entry point of any crawler.

Over optimize & you lose half the battle.

Keep the URL just enough for users to understand what’s on the page. The URL will tell people if they should click the link on not. Stuffing keywords doesn’t help anymore. Focus on giving the context of the page. 9 out 10 times, context will target the right keywords than your “keyword research” ever will.

#2 Meta tags:

I don’t mean meta keywords. Major search engines like Google have stopped relying on meta keywords since ages now.

Meta tags are how you describe the page to a the search engine first & then the user. I say search engines first, because the crawler will go through the meta tags first, save a copy in the index & show for relevant keywords.

Checkout how search engines work to get detailed view & understand the importance of meta tags.

#3 Keyword research

I’m not a big fan of finding keyword research before writing the post. I leave that to search engines (& webmaster tools) to suggest me the keywords that my pages have best chances to rank.

However, if you don’t but this idea & if you’re insecure that you’d need keyword research beforehand, here’s how I’d ideally do keyword research:

  1. Pick the central topic your page is targeting, it has to strictly be just one
  1. See what are the searches being made around that topic
  1. Checkout the conversations people are having on social media
  1. Collect the list of questions/searches you find on “People also ask” & “Related searches”
  1. Create chronological outline of the questions you’ve found
  1. Create a post with internal links to & from the post

These steps will lay a very strong foundation for on-page SEO.

#4 Optimizing content

I skip the keyword research & come to this step once I publish the post (& it starts indexing)

Technically, this is my keyword research.

Once my page starts indexing, I dig into Google search console & see the keywords my page is getting impressions for. Optimize my page for the keywords, I think I wouldn’t find otherwise.

The fact that SEO is not a one time job, proves itself to be true here. If it was, what was the need of continuously optimizing a page for years in order to stay on the top (or at least be eligible for #1 rank)?

#5 Number of words

It almost became an unwritten rule in SEO space that longer the content, higher are the chances of ranking at the top. Even studies showed that to be true.

I have a theory.

Number of words matter only if you’re running a printing press. Otherwise, I really don’t think number of words make any difference. I know, everybody can’t be Seth Godin. But speaking of numbers, I’d never agree with the fact that more number of words means more chances of ranking at the top.

You can write garbage & expect to rank #1 is hallucination. However, when you find an article that lengthy & is ranking #1 for the target keyword, perform a biopsy. You’ll find that number of words was never a motivation. It was covering the lengths & breadths of the topic was the motivation.

Don’t focus on the number of words written, instead focus on the search intent & how long the topic should be covered to fulfil the intent. You should do just fine.

How to engage users on your website?

All the factors user-engagement factors are indirectly instructing you. To do what? To directly do what will actually help you with SEO.

Say for example, in this post on Forbes, the author talk about 7 user engagement metrics that influence SEO.

We’ll pick one to diagnose how it indirectly points you.

We’ll talk about Click-through rate.

CTR means the percentage of people seeing your results on SERPs, vs number of people who actually click.

I’ll tell you how this misleads you into chasing wrong metrics. Pay attention.

Every time a user clicks, the page loads & if they don’t find what they were looking for, they’d bounce back. This will leave you with high bounce rate (it’s percentage of people who bounce off, soon after landing on your page).

To have high CTR, you’d work to make the page relevant, match the intent, increase the page load speed etc.

Now, ask yourself, did CTR help you increase the SEO of the page? You’d answer NO!

You fixed the repercussions of a poor CTR which in turn helped you get better SEO for the page. This is exactly what John meant in the video.

Speaking of engagement, here’s a post I found useful with amazing strategies to help you with engagement. These strategies won’t directly help you with SEO, it will only set you in the right direction.

Now, we’re going to cover a very interesting topic. Sales.

How to convert user engagement into sales?

The whole point of having a website & driving traffic to the site is to convert a small fraction of it into sales.

The traffic to your website acts as the top of the funnel. The engagement acts as a catalyst to take users deep into the funnel and finally convert.

#1 Setup lead generating magnets on your websites

The fact that most people begin their buyer’s journey on Google, is enough for us to understand the importance of having a net to capture leads. It’s very easy to lose them when you don’t have any sort of lead capturing nets.

#2 Add value

This is not top of the funnel that you can get away without adding value. People are serious at this stage & they’d instantly hate if you seem to con them. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of cheating at this stage since you might have exhausted by now.

Don’t give just yet. Create something really valuable that is not available anywhere else (or at least very hard to find)

#3 Outreach

Join facebook groups, subreddits & cold message as many people as you can to checkout what you have to offer. You can skip the website & direct the users to your sales page. These are the people who’re already looking out for solution. Cold outreach can trigger action from the needy.

Remember, there’s a sequence of cold outreach as well. You can’t directly get in touch & pitch your product/service. Build a relationship first, offer something for free, get them to know you. People are most like to do business with people they know.

Final Thoughts

SEO is very subjective when it comes to on-page SEO. Things get even more confusing when you have a ton of traffic. Keeping things simple is what will help you stay on track.

With this post, I’m sure I’ve made it clear that user-engagement is not directly helping with SEO in anyway. This post was to help you with understanding the indirect correlation between user engagement & SEO. You also now know what actually to focus on.

If you have any queries related to SEO, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, we’ll take our conversation further from there.

Did you know: I’ve created this Notion template for those who want to leverage the power of content marketing. This can be someone who wants to make a career out of blogging or a founder who wants to promote their business by blogging about it. Book me for paid consulting here.