A Guide to Behavioural Design & Its Impact on Website SEO

The complete landscape of search engine optimisation (SEO) can change on a dime. The change was always constant, but now the rate at which the change is happening is alarming. For many years, “organic” SEO was just about designing, writing, and coding a website in such a way that pages will appear at the top of search engine results for targeted keywords.

The definition of SEO has now been completely changed. Search Engine Optimisation optimises a website for people who use search engines, including web search engines and site search engines. Since searchers have become such a major factor for ranking a website, it is very crucial to understand their characteristics and behaviours.

For more than 15 years, search engines have collected enough data about search behaviour. From the constant algorithmic updates, it is clear enough that any SEO approach should have four primary building blocks: Text component, Link/accessibility component, Popularity component, and behaviour Component.

The main focus of the guide will be to go in-depth about the fourth component i.e., behaviour. Moreover, there will be insights on how to accommodate the characteristics and intent to rank higher. But first, it is important to understand what behavioural design is in the context of marketing.

What is Behavioural Design?

The fact that humans have concise attention spans is not at all surprising. There’s even a study by Microsoft that put a number on it – 8 seconds. Eight seconds is the average attention span of humans since 2013. It is a second less than goldfish and four seconds less than what humans had in 2000.

The implication of this statistic in online marketing is quite relevant. Online space is boisterous and highly competitive. Here, one can either grab visitors’ attention the moment they enter the site or lose them- possibly forever. The point is, when both goldfish and humans visit your website together, your focus should be on attracting the human first because they are most likely to leave first.

With such a short attention span, one must create ways to target human behaviour and choice-making factors to increase the chance of a conversion. In simple terms, behavioural design is about designing actionable paths based on your consumers’ subconscious choices. If the behavioural design is a road trip, then a company should focus on- the destination, the vehicle, the map, and the shortcuts. The company’s product should be the destination, the website should be the vehicle, content should be the map, and ranking higher on the SERP is the only shortcut available.

It is crucial to understand how a searcher behaves before getting into how a searcher’s behaviour impacts the website SEO.

Searcher behaviour – Simple and Complex

How a searcher will behave is unpredictable to an extent. However, their behaviour can be classified into two categories- simple and complex.

Simple Searcher behaviour

The entire search marketing strategy of many website owners and search engine marketers is based primarily on the simplicity of search behaviour. For these people, the process from querying to making a purchase is pretty straightforward:

  1. The searcher enters the keyword and clicks the search button
  2. Clicks on the first link that appears on the SERP
  3. Enters the website
  4. Add needed products to the shopping cart
  5. Buys products or services and leaves

This is a straightforward process. And no matter how hard it is to believe, sometimes the behaviour of a searcher is this simple. During usability tests and field studies, many users often click on the first available link just because it is present there. Jacob Neilson, the guru of Web page usability, named this search behaviour as Google Gullibility. Unfortunately, many marketing and SEO professionals rely on Google Gullibility to build search marketing strategies.

The assumption that searchers click on the first link because it is most appropriate for them is wrong. Nevertheless, the search behaviour that seems so simple is more complex than we can ever imagine. Elements of the search behaviour like the psychology of choice, usage patterns, and characteristics cannot be simply written off as Google Gullibility.

Complex Searcher behaviour

While observing the behaviour of a searcher, a pattern emerges- gender, search experiences, device, and the list goes on and on.

  • Gender: Men and women scan the result pages in entirely different ways.
  • Search Experience: The behaviour of a novice searcher is very distinct from that of an advanced searcher. There’s interesting that almost all novice searchers believe that they are advanced, and you cannot do anything to convince them otherwise.
  • Device: How a user will spend time on a mobile device is very different from PCs and Laptops.

Searcher behaviour is so complex because there is no single behaviour associated with searching. The search consists of a wide range of behaviours. These behaviours evolve with each success and failure. To put in an equation,

Search = Browsing + Retrieval

All these aspects- gender difference, different ages and languages, searcher goals, how these goals are expressed in keywords- evaluate how people search and the intent behind it.

Only ranking high is not enough. The pages should appear at the right time to meet the end goal of the searcher's query. This is complex. But complex or straightforward, the website needs to be adjusted well for the behavioural elements.

Google Prioritises behavioural Design

Understanding users and how they interact with algorithms while searching has been one of the driving factors of Google’s business. And because of this particular reason, in the last 15 years, Google has brought significant changes in how their algorithms work. Here are a few significant changes that showed how vital customer behaviour is for Google.

2005 – Personalised Search

In 2005, everything related to search changed. Google launched an algorithm update that changed its focus as a company. This update was related to personalised search results. Right from the moment Google launched this update, Google’s focus shifted from business needs to user satisfaction. The update was frustrating for big businesses initially, but it started bringing a more relevant audience with time.

2010 – Social Signals

For the first time, because of the rise of social media, rich data of user behaviour was available online. Google took charge, launched Social Signals, and integrated the user behaviour data. This completely changed the way people made purchases and even what they see on the internet.

2011 –  The Panda Update

In 2011, Google ensured that thin sites with poor-quality content are demoted down the order with the Panda update. After this update, CNET reported a boost in the ranking of news pages and social media sites in particular, and a downfall was seen in the sites with heavy advertising. Soon, Panda rolled out further updates to clean the SERP from scrapers/copyright infringers and show only original content on the top.

2015 – Mobilegeddon

Different updates came after 2011, like the Penguin and Hummingbird update; these also were based on behavioural factors. But the game-changer was Mobilegeddon. Mobilegeddon was Google’s way of responding to the frustration of users. Browsing websites that developers did not optimise for the mobile phone was a challenging task, and Mobilegeddon update ensured that such websites do not stay on top.

What’s typical between these updates? Google was noticing the behaviour of consumers and how they reacted when they faced the issue. For example, one would not stay on a website if it is not convenient to browse information on it. So based on customer behaviour, Google solved the issue, and it’s working.

Elements That Impact SEO and UX

In the past, SEO was one of the simplest things one could do to rank number one, just stuff a page with tons of keywords only if it were this easy now. Google considers hundreds of factors before deciding the rank of a page. This new reality has made User Experience (UX) an immutable part of good SEO practices.

SEO and UX go hand in hand. Here’s the list of elements that impact both SEO and UX:

Headings

Heading that is written and sized correctly makes it easier to find information. It makes it convenient for the visitor and for the search engine crawler to understand and parse the content.

By using Headings (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, and <h6>), a logical hierarchy forms which helps visitors when they get lost on the webpage. There should be only one h1 tag on the page to tell the search engine about the primary focus. H1s should always be placed on the tops, and with keywords in them, they can certainly boost the rankings. Other headers are there to give structure to the page and organise it.

Simple Site Structure for Easy Navigation

The structure of the site is as essential for the search engines as it is for the visitors. Not everyone enters a website through the homepage. So, all the pages on the website should be easy to navigate for the visitors or even search engine crawlers.

When the site’s structure is clean, the chances of navigation links appearing on the SERP increase. One can own more space on the result page with the help of sitelinks – room for competitors decreases.

Site Speed

The loading speed of any site has been a ranking factor for a long time. Google has even announced that mobile page speed is a crucial factor in determining the ranking of a website. So, a website should not only load faster on mobile devices, but the user experience should be fast as well.

Google’s PageSpeed Insight tool allows you to see various issues your site might have related to mobile responsiveness. Various other tools in the market can help in improving a site’s performance. One of the best tools that offer a wide range of features is SE Ranking. This is an all-in-one toolbox to support your marketing needs. The website audit feature of this tool gives excellent insight on how to optimise your website for best performance.

Behavioural Metrics & How to Improve Them

Now, it’s pretty clear that the behaviour of users can affect the ranking in both good and bad ways. As a result, to excel in modern SEO, it is crucial to monitor and improve visitors’ behaviour constantly. You should improve user behaviour because the website’s traffic won’t matter if the users don’t find the information they need- they’ll stop engaging with the website.

When the engagement reduces, Google will notice it, and in return, it’ll impact the website’s ranking. To stay in Google’s good books, it is essential to understand what metrics it uses to determine the relevance and behaviour.

Here are the crucial metrics and tips to improve them:

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Click-through rate is a ratio between the number of people who click the link and the total number of users who saw it.

CTR = Clicks/Impression

Google rates CTR very highly. Clicks have a high impact on which pages will rank higher. Why is this factor so important to Google? In the eyes of Google, each click acts as a vote for the page's quality and reliability. The top-ranked page means most people chose the given page hat out of all the pages present on the page.

The more the number of clicks, the more relevant a page is for Google.

How To Improve CTR?

There are specific parameters that need attention if a page is underperforming in terms of CTR. To improve, focus on the following:

  • Focus on optimisation: There are no shortcuts for optimising a website. It is something that you should do irrespective of the strategy you are following. A well-optimized site increases the CTR by good margins.
  • Look at the features of SERP: SERP features like rich snippets, knowledge graphs, stars, breadcrumb links, etc., have taken some of the glory from organic results. Optimising for the number one position should not be the only target. Optimise content for the SERP feature section, too- it brings quality traffic.
  • Title tag and description: For a long time, title tags and descriptions played an essential role in the rankings. But now, they provide the same value in the case of CTR. If a page has a very low CTR, you can try changing its title tag and description. Monitor the changes to see if it has improved.

On-Page Time

The average amount of time a user spends on a page is called On-page time. This metric gives very significant and specific insights about the web page’s content- whether the visitor found it exciting or not.

If the time on the page is low, it signals that the content was not relevant to the user's intent behind the search. On the flip side, high on page time suggests that the user found the content helpful, relevant and exciting.

How to Improve Time On Page

Here are the parameters you can work on to improve the time on the page:

  • Make the pages more interactive: One of the best and most working ways to make a page more interactive is adding elements like images, videos, and FAQ sections. The aim is to provide users with all the necessary resources for their search queries. Make a page that resonates well with the visitors.
  • Think of the end goal: Low time on page is not always bad news. On the conversation page where you’ve done Conversion Rate Optimization, the primary goal is conversion. So if on this page, if the session time is down, but the conversions are up, then you don’t need to worry about the low on-page time.

Bounce Rate

From a distance, the bounce rate seems similar to the time-on-page. Bounce rate measures explicitly the percentage of visitors who leave the site without visiting any other pages.

A bounce of 80% indicates that 80% of the visitors see only one page. They do not explore the menu option, do not click the links on the site, and don’t even scroll much. It also suggests two things- the content was not engaging enough, and the traffic was irrelevant.

How To Improve Bounce Rate?

All the parameters related to time on the page apply with the bounce rate too. Looking at the overall user experience is critical; here’s how to do it:

  • Do not overwhelm users: When visitors look at your website, they should be sure that they are at the right place. Make the headers clear and concise, ensuring no confusion. Using short paragraphs always helps. The key is to produce easily skimmable content.
  • Check the page speed: Respect the user’s time. They won’t wait all day for a slow website to load when they’re not even sure what’s inside the website. The average time a user waits is not more than 4 seconds. Ensure you give what they need before those 4 seconds.
  • Stay on topic: Visitors bounce off when a web page does not hold up to its end of the bargain. Provide what you promised because misleading people for information is the last thing you want to do to stay on top of the SERP.
  • Make it mobile-friendly: In 2018, more than 50% of the online traffic was generated through mobile devices. If a site is not mobile-friendly, you are bound to lose a big chunk of the traffic, and even the ranking suffers. Make it convenient for the users by building responsive pages.

Before We Go

Search engines will continue to give importance to the behavioural design elements of a website. Marketers must adapt and focus on improving these areas. One cannot improve anything if one doesn’t have proper insights and stats. Tracking and monitoring are crucial factors. Try to find the key areas that have a scope for improvement, correct and implement them to achieve long term SEO results.

Author Bio: Marya Kazakova is the Head of Outreach at SE Ranking. She likes sharing her experience in outreach marketing, link building, content marketing, and SEO with readers. You can contact her on LinkedIn.

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