I’m a frequent visitor to Quora, a website where people post questions on anything from how to write a business plan to tips on feeding three-legged lactose intolerant llamas on the island of Bermuda between the months of April and May.
However, a question I came across today was – surprisingly – unrelated to llamas. It centred on SEO, and specifically the difference between attracting ‘paid visitors’ versus organic visitors.
It’s a well known fact that CTR (Click Through Rate) does greatly affect search engine rankings. A good value provider of ‘clicks’ is the California based company SerpClix, which allows you to specify the keyword phrase you want to be ‘known for’, and then you can actually choose the geographical location of your human – yes, human(!) ‘clickers’, which is a bonus, as gone are the days when google can be fooled by a warehouse full of workers in India fervently clicking to boost the rankings of a doll repair shop in Birkenhead.
Here is the Quora question, along with my answer:
A website is like a brochure you’ve spent a lot of time writing and designing, that is left on the floor of your office. If no-one knows it’s there, no-one will look at it. It needs to be put in the hands of the right people who are interested in what it has to say.
So, the answer to your question depends what you mean by ‘paid traffic’. If you’re referring to ads, then in the long term they have no significant effect, and could, in fact, do a great deal of harm if visitors click on your ad leading to your website, and then don’t find what they are looking for, and leave immediately. This increases what is called your ‘bounce rate’. A big no-no for google.
This is like a celibate monk finding your leaflet which turns out to be a small-form Kamasutra – one would imagine that it wouldn’t hold a great deal of interest for him, and would be discarded (to his recycle bin), in haste.
In 2015, Google released something called RankBrain, which is now the most influential ranking factor, based mainly on ‘user’s behaviour signals’- that is how they react with your content, how long they spend on your website, what they click on, and what page they leave from. RankBrain is designed specifically to understand a user’s intent in order for google to serve them the best possible results.
The factors that google takes into account has changed over the years, from on-page content – specifically relevance related to the user search, then it gauged popularity – ie the number of backlinks. In 2011 this changed. Now, the RankBrain algorithm is based on user experience – it is designed specifically to figure out what the user wants. Google wants to provide a good experience, providing exactly (or very close to) what your visitor is searching for.
It therefore looks for ‘trust factors’. It watches every move you make – every single link you click on, how long you spend on a page, etc. It is trying to anticipate the reason for searching. Bounce rate has a negative effect because it signals to RankBrain that a user has had an unsatisfactory experience. You have to show RankBrain that your website is trustworthy enough for google to hand over its visitors.
So, the user behaviour signals being picked up by RankBrain boil down to the fact that sites with more clicks are being pushed higher up the rankings in google. You therefore need high quality user signals to send to google – an increase in clicks, the time spent on your site and reduction of bounce rate shows you are keeping visitors happy and that they are getting what they are looking for. Decipher your user’s intentions, and show google your site belongs at the top. High quality user behaviour sends signals that feeds back to google’s RankBrain which, in turn, does your website enormous good from an SEO point of view.
Google very often carries out ‘split-testing’ – it will take a site from page two, place it on page one for a limited space of time, and if the site fails to attract clicks, it ‘loses’ – and without radical action from the website owner, it will never appear on page one again. Indeed, it may even be pushed to page three. You have to earn your search signals and reduce bounce rate in order to show your site is worthy of a high ranking. It boils down to figuring out what your users want, and working hard to provide it.
There are a number of services, some that employ people to search for your site on google, and are paid to spend a certain amount of time browsing on random pages, exiting by a page you specify. There are other services that perform similar actions using a piece of software which can be installed on Macs, PCs and mobile phones. These services directly influence CTR (Click Through Ratio).
So long as you provide quality content, a user friendly experience, and most importantly, what users are looking for, increasing your CTR through one of these services is a ‘boost’ that many websites could (and arguably should) take advantage of.
Pictured, a llama-like bull terrier looking very happy with his SEO strategy and click through ratio.