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Do Engagement Rates Affect Rankings? And Other Questions with Larry Kim

In one of our most popular webinars ever, Larry Kim — leading industry search nerd and CEO of Wordstream — presented surprising results from his 7 SEO experiments, which investigated engagement relationships, featured snippets, and more.

If you didn’t hear the webinar, listen first! Download it now:

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Since we couldn’t get to all your questions during the webinar, Larry is answering a few more in this post.

Jump to your question of choice by clicking on the link:

  1. Is CTR driving rankings, or are rankings driving CTR?
  2. How do you recommend testing more “aggressive” title CTAs for more “boring” industries, page-purposes, or topics?
  3. Would you argue the persuasiveness of your article’s headline and content wins the day over cramming in keywords?
  4. Are there different CTR curves for different search terms? 
  5. Regarding Facebook engagement vs. Google CTR: are you saying the two aren’t related?
  6. Does time on page matter independent of page length?
  7. Does Google only factor in average time on page achieved from organic engagement or from all my channels?
  8. Do you test meta descriptions?
  9. Are you saying that black hat SEO is becoming less relevant and that content is becoming more important in achieving better user engagement in the future?
  10. Why should bounce rates hurt your ranking?
  11. What’s your best advice for getting snippets on up-and-coming technologies and regulations that DON’T have a lot of thought leaders?

1. Is CTR driving rankings, or are rankings driving CTR?

Larry Kim: Obviously, there’s a relationship – CTR and ranking are codependent variables. So if you only look at the extent to which a keyword beats or is beaten by the predicted CTR for a given position, you are essentially isolating the natural relationship between CTR and ranking in order to get a better picture of what’s going on.

Organic CTR vs. Organic Position.png

In summary: the more a search listing beats the expected CTR for a given position, the more likely it is to rank in a higher spot. If a listing’s CTR is below the expected value, then it’s more likely to occupy the lower spots on the SERP. You can read more about my findings and the metrics I used in this article.

2. It seems a bit “easier” to influence CTR when you can use phrases such as “jaw-dropping.” How do you recommend testing more “aggressive” title CTAs for more “boring” industries, page-purposes, or topics?

Larry Kim: Its always a good idea to use emotional triggers and persona targeting to make more impactful headlines. Being in a boring industry is never an excuse for boring content. SEO is technically a pretty boring industry – except it’s not. Why? There are tons of interesting personalities in our industry who have created lots of interesting content over the years.

For $50, you can create Google AdWords ads to test out 10 different headlines (at minimum). Whichever one has the highest CTR wins (if there’s no clear winner, test out 10 more headlines). You can also check out this article for 11 ways to raise your CTR.

3. So would you argue the persuasiveness of your article’s headline and content wins the day over cramming in keywords?

Larry Kim: Yes! Google has evolved. The way people search has evolved. So evolve your tactics to match those changes. Don’t be an SEO dinosaur! (or an SEO donkey!)

 the-power-of-ctr-optimization

 

4. Are there different CTR curves for different search terms? How do you gauge what a standard CTR is for a particular keyword spot?

Larry Kim: Yes, there are different CTR curves for different search terms.

I shared data for 1,000 different search terms for one website in one industry (Internet marketing). The curves vary dramatically based on the query niche. For example, shopping keywords usually have those huge shopping ads, which lowers organic CTR, because the shopping ads soak up 66% of the clicks. So in doing your analysis, benchmark your keyword performance relative to your own keyword portfolio.

5. Regarding Facebook engagement vs. Google CTR: are you saying the two aren’t related?

Larry Kim: Your Facebook engagement rate and Google CTR aren’t related. They’re just showing the same thing: that you have engaging content! The same emotions that make people want to click on SERP listings also make people want to share and click on stuff in the Facebook News Feed.

reason-for-correlations-machine-learning-larry-kim

Both Google and Facebook employ machine-learning enabled algorithms that dramatically reward high engagement content with dramatically increased visibility. For more information, see this article.

As an aside for those of you who asked about how to find your Facebook engagement data and Google CTR, you can download post engagement data from Facebook Insights, and your Google CTR is in your Google Search Console, under “Search Traffic,” and then “Search Analytics.” (click “CTR”)

6. Does time on page matter independent of page length? Would it be beneficial to write longer content that would increase your viewer’s time on page?

Larry Kim: It’s not the time on page that matters as much as dwell time. If you have short content, that satisfies the user query – and if the user doesn’t hit “back” to the SERP, you’re OK.

7. Does Google only factor in average time on page achieved from organic engagement or from all my channels?

Larry Kim: Organic search engagement would just impact organic search rankings. Though you obviously can get indirect benefits from having good overall engagement from other channels.

For example, people who visit your site after clicking on a paid social ad might later search for you and, because they know you, stay on your site/page longer.

8. Do you test meta descriptions?

Larry Kim: Yes, I’ve done this experiment but haven’t published it anywhere yet. If a ranking change happens as a result of having a catchier meta description, then it’s reasonable to conclude that the CTR is impacting rank.

9. Are you saying that black hat SEO is becoming less relevant and that content is becoming more important in achieving better user engagement in the future? This would make a large part of SEO less effective in the future.

Larry Kim: Black hat SEO is generally a dumb strategy if you’re serious about building a profitable business or brand. Sure, plenty of people have had success with black hat stuff (and some still are in certain industries), but it’s a lot harder to do nowadays.

Also, I’d disagree that black hat is a “large part” of SEO. SEO = great/useful/inspirational content + fast/optimized site + good user experience + integrated with other channels (social, PPC (search and social), display/re-targeting, email, etc.).

Even today though, many sites have managed to “fly under the radar” by having high “link authority” and cranking out keyword-rich crap. The new engagement-based ranking factors can see through this kind of rank-inflation.

10. Sometimes a bounce rate is a good thing. For example, if you find the info you are looking for immediately you would navigate away from the page quickly. Why should that hurt your ranking?

Larry Kim: It depends how you’re defining a “bounce.” If someone leaves your site after viewing one of your pages, but then returns to the Google SERP and then clicks on one, two, or three other pages from that query, that wouldn’t be good. You don’t have that info – only Google does. And that’s a signal that they didn’t find the info they were looking for.

bounce-rate-vs-organic-position-larry-kim

There are a lot of variables in play here. But Google has tons of engagement data about your site and your competitors. If your engagement rate doesn’t meet a minimum threshold for your query type, it will hurt you. On the other end, beating the minimum bounce rate threshold won’t give you any “bonus points.”

11. What’s your best advice for getting snippets on up-and-coming technologies and regulations that DON’T have a lot of thought leaders?

Larry Kim: Figure out the questions people have in your industry (what is/are, how are/to, why, etc.). Google is looking for “snippable” pieces of content, so you should write in sentences that are clear and concise, but also optimize your pages so you have great engagement metrics (CTR, dwell time, etc.). You can get more advice here on how to be chosen for featured snippets.

snippets-not-based-on-classic-ranking-factors-alone

Want to learn more about how engagement rates affect rankings and conversion rates? Download our free webinar with Larry Kim now!

Content Marketing is a Quantity Game - Exclusive with Larry Kim

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