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Your Audience is the New Algorithm

How To Improve Your User Engagement

For two decades and more, search engines including Google’s popular search engine, have been ranking web pages using a text-based computer algorithm.

Yet the web has changed. Text and links don’t provide good enough clues to the best content. Video and social posts are the new web. And user-based responses will guide assessments of content quality.

Traditionally, search engines ranked content based on the keywords, topics and link anchor text they found. Users interactions weren’t observed and they ignored whether users actually enjoyed the content.

User Engagement Metrics are More Meaningful

There weren’t very reliable user engagement metrics available, and everyone assumed that text-based ranking systems would work best.

In a simple straight forward way, Google, Bing and others examined keywords, link text, headings, title tags, related words, and numbers of backlinks to assess something called keyword relevance and popularity among consumers.

Their computer algorithm measured web user’s vote of confidence about the quality and relevance of a webpage.

But people aren’t using the web the same way anymore.

User Behavior as a Key Metric

And now, there’s a big evolution about take place. What’s happening today, is algorithms are gauging user’s interaction with content. Such data is available and new AI software is integrating the insights into their solutions. This will vastly improve user engagement and content satisfaction, if publishers take content improvement and strategy seriously.

And it’s not just search engines that are into it. Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, and many other major entities all want to measure user behavior — their enjoyment of content and what the outcome of their visit was. All the tech companies want to keep more customers and create more revenue.

So the focus isn’t the content per se, it’s the user’s response to it. Your audience’s response to your content is the new algorithm of relevance, quality and ultimately sales success. We must master this and give our clients better performance.

Is Google Into User Engagement?

As important as user engagement metrics are for end users, Google has claimed it is not into “user engagement as a ranking factor.” Bing does.  But Google’s statement is odd for a company that brags about its dedication to consumer satisfaction.

And recently, they’ve announced a new predictive capability to their analytics platform. You can’t predict much if you’re not studying user behavior. So the absence of user-based factors in their indexing algorithm is very strange.

More likely is that they’re watching user action in terms of the end revenue value for Google. They may not really care about real content quality after all, but rather an interpretation that helps create the most ad revenue for them. In the end, shareholder value and GOOG stock price are the end goal.

Yet, sites with intense engagement often do satisfy the “one page for one question” Google exhalts. So, if Google doesn’t go with user engagement, it’s because that one great page doesn’t give them maximum revenue. They may find the less engaged websites create more revenue for them. That puts Google in an awkward place with their users.

My clients have complained about this for decades.

Google’s Vision Will Change to Support User-Based Algorithms

So why then would Google support user engagement more as a key algorithm factor? There are 5 good reasons:

  1. because user satisfaction affects search engine usage. If users really enjoy what they’re viewing, they’ll use Google more. They’ll even cut down on their social media time to search more on Google.
  2. Because Google’s can only index text.  It can’t rank images, video, audio, or social media activity with its current outdated system. It must evolve to cover all content including video.
  3. high quality content in turn boosts Google’s brand value — that Google has the very best search engine value proposition.
  4. because there is something in “high engagement” that can’t be ignored. When users actually do get deeply engaged and move to purchase, there is a greater revenue opportunity vs abandonment. Low engagement means wasted opportunity.
  5. competition – Google’s competitors, Bing and Yahoo and Duckduckgo can seize on this vital user data and make their search engines better. Once Google feels some heat, they’ll have to change.

Google is paying attention to user satisfaction and sales funnel success. This insight has to be applied in some way to the algorithm. I believe they are already doing it (site bounces for instance, and low dwell time are obvious indicators of a poor user experience). Take a look at your own site’s bounce rate in your analytics data.

SEO and Content Strategy

Search engine optimizers, writers and webmasters dove into manipulating the algorithm by altering content elements like keywords, links and so on.

It was SEO but also a basic type of text content design strategy. If you the copywriter or SEO didn’t understand how Google weighted each of the factors, and then crafted your content to match them, your site simply didn’t rank well.

Your Content is Your Conversion Funnel

As a 22 year, seasoned SEO/Copywriter Content Strategist, it’s been my role to create relevant content for both the users and Google. We must combine SEO and Content Strategy. And today, the challenge is extreme up against highly funded corporations who are taking more of the traffic.

And as Google toughened the algorithm so it could filter out irrelevant spammy content, companies went to buying links to give their site a ranking boost. And with Google’s trust betrayed, many of those websites suddenly became very irrelevant to Google. Buying links isn’t a solution yet many big companies are doing paid sponsorships to get an unfair advantage.

Does SEO Have a Future?

To answer that question, we have to remember that Google is always assessing your content against some standard of relevance and credibility. Google has weighted trust very heavily in their algorithm as a “validation superhighway” and it was a good way to fight spam. People are always trying to portray their content as something special and keyword topic relevant, when it isn’t.

As long as Google uses an indexing algorithm, SEO will always be needed to grow exposure and correct unfair errors on Google’s part. Google has to rank content and there are ways to manipulate their assessment. In fact, as we discuss the new era of “user-based algorithms“, these too can be manipulated. SEO Experts will be creating great experiences that also fit Google’s interpretation of ‘great experiences.”

Te may be deprecated while other types of content must be optimized to appease Google’s algorithm.

SEO will never die.

Website engagement now rated in top 3 content performance factors:

Screenshot courtesy of Contentmarketinginstitute.com

Screenshot courtesy of Contentmarketinginstitute.com

Google’s Current System Makes a Lot of Mistakes

And it’s not easy for a computer program to detect human exaggeration, intent, preference, errors and deceit. Search engines often misinterpret content and an SEO expert has to figure this out and fix the problem.

Google has been looking for a solution for this, even though their search results had hit a high note in returning fairly good results. They didn’t always get it right, but the top ten search listings often offered insightful and credible information. Which is why the company has done so well for 22 years and why Google’s stock price is so high.

Yet, Google engineers, in their everquest for perfection kept digging into the perfect indexing and ranking algorithm. That’s when AI entered the picture.

Using their Hummingbird, Rankbrain and Google Brain technology, they managed to up the quality element even further. Yet, it was still the same old shtick of evaluating content based on what the content says it is (keywords, anchor text, and topics). Basically the content tells a story and Google has to determine whether it’s credible, valid, and relevant to user’s queries.

But that approach didn’t actually measure what users were experiencing.

Google will change its vision.  They will catch onto a whole new way to measure search result quality. It’s about assessing the user experience because that’s what it’s really about. That requires a whole new set of analytics and leads them into a new advanced type of analytics, called predictive analytics.

The content must still be relevant, but whether it’s good and useful depends on how the user interacts with it.

It isn’t about AI. It’s about using AI to understand user behavior better and whether the content matched the user’s intent.

For that, they will need to measure engagement, satisfaction and goal achievement.

It’s this purposeful progress in users surfing and clicking (content funnel) that defines whether content is useful and effective. There is content funnel optimization software that can help with that.

Engagement Will Rise as an SEO Factor

Currently, many strongly engaging web pages aren’t ranking highly. I’ve created plenty of content that users enjoyed on average for more than 12 minutes. And in today’s world, 12 minutes is a lifetime. As we move forward to 2021, this high engagement content might begin to rank higher.

If 70% of users let’s say, stayed on a page for 7 to 12 minutes, and returned to it later, that is a strong sign they found something that was valuable. Doesn’t that suggest that engagement is more valuable than keywords plastered into the copy and headings?

Other Factors Killing Engagement?

Other times, poor brand quality, bad brand messaging, annoying images and colors, or a value proposition that misses the mark, kill SEO success. If the visitor bounces off the site, that’s not a good sign.

Then again, bad SEO might also be resulting in users not understanding the actual brand promise. These are issues that can be talked out and resolved.

It is controversial that such well engaged content would not rank at the top, below duplicated news stories from large news publisher domains (with lots of backlinks, and domain authority) whose post was read in 2 minutes, and the reader never returned to it, nor completed a purchase goal.

Obviously, there are business and political issues that tie into which content is chosen to rank at the top. This is something we can’t do anything about. We have to fight and overcome it.

The best way, heading into 2021 and beyond is to vastly improve content engagement and users satisfaction. But it’s no easy task to create highly engaging content for a diverse group of visitors. Some will enjoy the content and some will not.

Personalizing Results is Segmenting Via User Behavior

That’s why Google is varying its search results to serve up personalized content that’s relevant for each specific visitor. For that, they assess your behavior then present content that’s more engaging for you.  And that’s why a single piece of content can’t dominate all search rankings — the audience is chopped into micro-segments.

In essence, Google is assessing user satisfaction based on their own criteria. They can measure engagement (e.g., time on page, pages viewed, clicks, return visits, reached bottom of page) as well as conversion funnel progress.

Their recent emphasis on “one page for one query” is an attempt to encourage publishers to tighten up user satisfaction into one or a few pages. This simplifies measurement for Google, as conversion success, topics, and engagement can all be viewed on one website.

There may be business reasons for this too. Perhaps Google wants to cut down on searcher abandonment (traffic lost to other websites where Google can’t earn money).

We don’t know for sure as we can’t see into Google’s “black box.”

However, based on my research, experience and analytics, fresh, engaging and authoritative content enjoys big boosts in rankings and traffic, far beyond what its domain authority and backlinks deserve.

Small publishers can dominate rankings if they get the user engagement optimization down pat using the tips outlined below.

User Behavior is the New Algorithm

The new concept currently is that users are the new algorithm. I think Jay Baer might have coined that term. It plays on the idea that user engagement determines whether your content is useful, relevant, and credible. At the very least, it’s a nice enhancement to the traditional content ranking algorithm.

Now Google and Bing aren’t just assessing content and topics, they’re measuring actual behavior of users — how they consume the content and then what they do afterward. By knowing this, the AI ad serving algorithm can present advertising that helps with the user’s next action (the consumer’s product research, buying a product, and then buying additional related products in future).

AI helps predict their future behavior. For ecommerce sales, you can imagine the value of knowing what consumers will buy next.

To match up with Google’s new algorithm, you’ll need to evolve your content to appease the emotional needs of your audience. People decide based on emotion after collecting ideas.

When people consume your content, they’re collecting the ideas you give them. That mass of ideas leads to emotions, which then direct their behavior.

How do you create content that evokes those emotions?

  1. Know your Audience Deeply. Nothing works until you know your target audience and then how you might evoke their emotions. What are their emotions, beliefs, turnoffs, values, knowledge, location, buying cycles, and the related topics/products they’re interested in? Try out a new analytics software tool that offers audience insights such as content engagement, traffic flows, key funnel touchpoints, and sales funnel optimization. In a couple of months, you can analyze the behavior of your current website traffic. You don’t need a big database.
  2. Choose a Topic Prospects Care About. The topic brings relevance. They want ideas surrounding a topic. When they search for “vacation in Hawaii” they’re seeking ideas on how to make that happen. Don’t just show them a hotel room. Vacation in Hawaii to them is a set of images that make them seek more images that builds their confidence about their intent — going to Hawaii and finding the way to make it happen.When you do your keyword research, you need to filter through topics that are compelling to them. Sometimes the ppc bids on those keywords will be high, other times maybe not. But if you choose the wrong topic, users won’t be engaged. The trail runs cold.
  3. Be Memorable. Whether through certain experiences you describe, certain headings, or some great photos and charts, choose something that will really stick in their minds. Sometimes, it could be specific data or facts, or a story they can relate to. This is where your knowledge of your customer comes in and your empathy for what they want. A picture of a beach, hammock, panoramic view, palm trees, restaurant, or activity can help get you closer to what really drives them.
  4. Be Authentic and Authoritative. Trust is huge in content. They want to know you really understand their quest. If it’s a home in a certain community, your actual living experience in that community, connections, and knowledge of the local housing market can put you well ahead of other real estate agents who have no experience in that community. By keeping your copy balanced and free from hype, you come across as believable and trustworthy.
  5. Make an Impact. It’s the Wow factor and captures attention. Emotional impact can be achieved many different ways. It’s often done through presenting amazing facts, photos, unique details, and features. If you’re selling the latest 5G iPhone, you can present facts that show the new benefits of 5G technology and how the IPhone’s camera has incredible video quality — perfect for Youtube, Instagram, Snap or Tiktok videos.The impact feature makes it relevant to their end use.
  6. Be Creative. Creative simply means taking the dullness and over-familiarity out of something. You have to get key ideas and keywords in there as part of the relevance factor, but you still have room to play on the angle of the blog or video. Being unique, unpredictable, and playful can help you find a workaround that’s not so common.
  7. Be more Purposeful. Know what your end goal is. Then you can strategize backward in your article/video research to the beginning when they first see your content. The end goal is to get them to fully accept your ideas, overcome their objections, and get them to act or do something specific. Keep what you need them to do in mind at all times. Fill in the content funnel with items that keeps them moving forward.
  8. Tell a Real Story. Other than compelling facts, nothing builds more credibility and engaged attention than good storytelling. If you’re a Realtor, talk more about actual selling experiences with buyers and sellers, and tell it in a way your target prospect can relate to. If you’re a software developer, you can talk about how your app helped a specific business owner to solve crucial problems. Perhaps your software helped a landlord collect payments from tenants online, and you can quote how 5 of them really felt about using the payment app.
  9. Be the Story. For instance, Realtors when posting social media stories and videos are taking part in the content. They introduce, share details, express emotion, and take the visitor by the hand through an experience. That makes it very real for the visitor. They don’t have to worry about credibility and they receive information via video/audio which can have a powerful persuasive effect.
  10. Create Fresh Content. Yes, new, exciting, interesting, and helpful content is a new experience – a new high engagement event for your visitors. And search engines love fresh content. How to execute fresh content is another matter however, and a key one for search engine optimization and social media reach. You may want to have a pro SEO expert with solid copywriting skills do this for you. The results are worth it.
  11. Faster Page Load Time. If your pages load slowly because of technical issues, it can really hurt user engagement. The faster they see your content, the less frustration they feel, and the faster they can unleash all their enthusiasm in your content. An SEO audit can help uncover the server bottlenecks and other performance killers. For mobile media, fast is absolutely necessary. Consider making your blog AMP’d to help you show up better on Google.
  12. Use Variety. Surprise and delight your visitors with a variation of content that might include videos, graphic charts, data charts, photos, quotes, lists, product details, news tidbits, and relevant titles and headings. Include links to other related content. Variety makes it a more interesting visit.
  13. Make Yourself and Your Company Brand Likable. People get engaged with content when they like and trust the author, or the company brand. Many readers want to validate the credentials/experience of the site owner before digging into content. People don’t want to waste their time. They’ll make an intuitive judgement or visit your about us page to decide whether you’re credible and someone they can like. Your content carries a tone or style in imagery and word usage that helps them decide to stay or leave.
  14. Make Content more Readable and Sharable. Definitely create longer posts, but ensure they’re readable at the 8th to 10th grade levels. Long complicated sentences and text blocks are tiring to read, especially on a smartphone.
  15. Edit a lot, simplify, and clarify. Confusion reduces engagement.  View your content in a mobile browser.  In a sense, users are experiencing your ideas/values, so on social media, they’re sharing you, not just your content. If your brand is horrible and your article is full of fluff, they’ll leave quickly and won’t share your content on social media. Make your content easily sharable and skew it for Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin audiences, who have different preferences.
  16. Be Persuasive.  Whether direct or subtlely, the reader needs to know you’re committed to your ideas.  Being logical, respectful, using good reasoning, and establishing an end goal makes them believe your content is purposeful and valuable.  Don’t be pushy, arrogant, or presumptuous as readers don’t like that.

Be Determined to Improve Your Content Engagement

Success takes a strategy and commitment. High engagement content is a surefire way to create a new customer. Once they’ve validated your ideas and understand how you can help them, they’re going to build a solid preference for you and your products/services.

There’s much more we can do to grow and improve user engagement, and I’ll be adding tips in future for many different industries. Bookmark this page, it’s an important one. For any industry however, the process is the same.

Know your customer and create compelling content that makes you relevant to their personal or business lives.

Emotion drives people’s behavior, but capturing that emotion requires using some fundamental strategy and organized tactics. That’s going to help move them right through your content funnel and sales funnel to a purchase.

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AI Marketers provides digital marketing services (content, SEO, social media, PPC) for software companies, manufacturers, hotels, recruiters, moving companies, publishers, sports equipment retailers, building supplies companies, window and door companies, Realtors, investment companies, IT companies, clean energy, consumer products, branding consultants and many more.

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