Google’s RankBrain represents the end of SEO as we know it, if some search pundits are to be believed.
When Google announced the existence of RankBrain at the end of October the predictions of its ultimate impact on SEO numbered about as many as the frustrated webmasters themselves. While RankBrain will certainly have an impact on how your site ranks within search results it will not eliminate the need for good SEO; quite the contrary. RankBrain signifies a renewed focus on the user’s searching experience that Google intends to enhance – an experience that alone cannot be defined by back links, tagging, or keyword density. To stay ahead of the curve, SEO professionals should keep these three cornerstones of user experience in mind when optimizing their sites in 2016:
Meta descriptions – again.
You’re likely thinking this is a joke; I can tell already. The truth is that meta descriptions are as important as ever when thinking about good, solid SEO. Not only do they have the ability to impact your paid search efforts on Bing, they also help qualify your site to relevant user queries and further entice the eager click-through.
Having a good click-through-rate (CTR) will only increase in importance as RankBrain gains greater influence within Google’s algorithm. CTR is an important signal of relevance to Google that your site contains information that is likely to satisfy the user’s original query input into the engine. One way to help boost your CTR is to write powerful and compelling meta descriptions that accurately convey what your site is about and help drive the demand to learn more. Look to get the searcher excited about your site and try to impart why visiting is in their best interest. What can your site offer they are unlikely to find anywhere else? Why should your site be considered the authority? In short, think like an advertiser.
The key to writing compelling meta descriptions, however, is to not over promise or chase after an artificially high CTR while not accurately describing what is on the site. Be accurate and truthful. This ties in directly with the next critical metric that RankBrain will consider…
Remember bounce rate?
I have a confession to make – I have a love/hate relationship with bounce rate. Too often looked at by webmasters and clients alike as the only standard in assessing webpage effectiveness, bounce rate certainly remains a critical KPI that figures to only increase in prominence as Google looks to define just what represents a good searcher’s experience.
While we want high CTR, we also want to ensure our sites pay off on the promises we make in our meta descriptions. Sounds a bit like paid search, don’t you think? The irony is not lost on Google which realizes that user experience cannot be defined on existing algorithm signals alone (e.g. links, h1 tags, etc.) Make sure there is nothing that will make a user think twice about staying – pay attention to your site’s load time and overall performance. Also, be sure that what the user is searching for is easy to find on the landing page. Don’t make them hunt for it!
The goal here is simple – provide a compelling reason to visit and then hold the user’s interest post-click to ensure they don’t back right out and search again. In other words…
Answer the question
I recognize that not everything a user types into Google needs to be a question in order to potentially fit with your site. That said, at the core all searches seek to answer a question at some level – whether explicit or not. The goal of your site for your given target set of topics is to be sure that you answer the question in full for your users and that you don’t provide them with any excuse to back out and search for the same question again.
In addition to CTR and bounce rate, the type and quality of the bounce will likely be analyzed by RankBrain. Specifically, if a user lands on your site and then bounces out the question will be what do they search for then? Is it the same exact query? Does the user then click on a competing listing?
Essentially Google is looking to determine how effective your site is at answering the core questions faced by your users. If Google determines that visitors to your site often back out and continue searching, that will likely indicate that your website is not as relevant for the given keyword or keyword set as a competing site, thereby harming your overall traffic rankings.
For most SEO professionals, the writing has existed on the wall (on the website?) for some time that Google would leverage artificial intelligence (AI) within their approach to ranking websites in search results. The end goal for Google is to continue to get smarter and more accurate at assessing a given website’s value against the core concepts for which it hopes to rank and compete for. Above all, what this translates to webmasters and agencies alike is the need to maintain the user experience above all other factors when optimizing a site for organic traffic.