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As we draw to the end of 2023, a quick update on exactly what we have learned SEO-wise.

Here at Vanilla Circus, we like to test the facts, the fiction or the myths before we make up our own minds on whether a particular ranking factor, in fact, does make a difference to a website’s position within Google.

Interestingly, clients often come up with several ideas they have read about in blogs or tweets and ask us to test their credibility. We encourage all ideas, with none being good or bad until we test them.

We have a clear corporate message: don’t believe anything we say until we can prove it.

1. Bounce rates and dwell time

Ever since Google’s core web vitals became part of SEO, clients have always been talking about Improving bounce rates. 

Improving bounce rates is always the goal of successful UX optimisation. We don’t want people to leave; we want people to stay and buy. Improve bounce rates.

However, the belief that the time a user spends on a website or the speed at which they leave a website is a ranking factor for Google is a fallacy.

We are fortunate to look after hundreds and hundreds of websites. We have very successful websites with high traffic volumes and huge user engagement. 

These websites do not necessarily rank better than websites that are more superficial in their content or specific to their target audience and, hence, are often affected by high bounce rates.

  1. One of the reasons why a bounce rate could not be a ranking metric is how does Google know the time spent on a website. Clients argue that there’s Google Analytics. But, of course, so many websites don’t have Google Analytics.
  2. Then, of course, there is the time between leaving a Google search index page and returning to a Google search index page. But again, if a user opens the search query results in a new window, how would that work?
  3. Also, what would constitute a good or bad bounce rate? If I am looking for a cure for cancer, I’m going to spend longer reading a page than I am when I’m looking for what is in the cinema. Would Google penalise the cinema website because its information is so quick and straightforward that I do not need to spend hours reading the time the film begins?

If you don’t believe us, then, of course, you have the words of John Miller in the video below. 

This is part of a weekly session of the Google Webmaster Central office where you can ask questions, and Google will give you the answers. 

Unfortunately, most of the questions are technical and are of limited interest to creatives; however, we are grateful to Google. Meet John Mueller Google’s SEO spokeman here.

2. Exact match Anchor text

We have been outsourcing and building backlinks for 17 years. The days of exact match anchor text being effective have long since gone. 

We believed correctly that advances in Google’s algorithm meant that search engines would easily comprehend generic anchor text within a paragraph, as Google can take the contextual meaning into account. 

This seemed to become true when talking about Backlinking websites where Google especially monitored the anchor text to avoid manipulation and cheating.

However, what was interesting was that within a website, although internal links using exact match anchor text to optimise for core keywords was detrimental to the site’s SERPs, we found that using exact match anchor text for longer tail queries resulted in dramatically improved rankings. 

We can only conclude that there was because no one was actually doing this.

3. Site structure

Site structure is easily the most important part of optimisation. 

Most marketers either do not understand or cannot be bothered to develop a site structure that reflects and explains what the website is about and, more importantly, what you want a user to do. More.

  • It is a question of enabling a user to be able to navigate to the relevant content with the minimum of clicks and confusion.

An optimised site structure also has the advantage of being Googlebot-friendly and makes it extremely simple to indicate to Google which are the most important hub pages.

However, one thing that has become apparent this year is that although we are experts at a website hierarchy, we weren’t always as efficient at ensuring that each silo contained links within that section and didn’t offer unnecessary inefficient information and links to other parts of the website. 

We decided to study it using additional secondary navigation, which helped keep the user within that section of the website. This website uses it, and we have seen a doubling in conversions.

As we became more and more entrenched in new ways of conversion optimisation, we could see clear patterns that over 89% of users (that contacted a client through a website) only ever looked at between three and four similar theme pages before either making contact or moving to the contact page. 

We also found that the minute the user clicked out the section of the website that Google had listed as a result of their search query, the conversion rate fell dramatically. Window shoppers (browsers) don’t buy.

Content length

Most clients now believe that if we create an article, blog, or service page of less than 1500 words, Google will not consider it sufficiently detailed or list it on the first page. 

Over the years, there has been evidence that Google rewards more detailed content that doesn’t necessarily mean quantity. Keywords within content are seen not as a number but as a ratio.

Here at Vanilla Circus, we study the language. One of the first things we do when looking to rank a website on the first page of Google is look at who ranks number 1 to 5, extract all of the words and language from those pages, and ensure it is used in our work. Read More.

This still does not mean that any article has a word count. All of the content writers of Vanilla Circus have been instructed to avoid fluff and waffle. 

We now have rules that if you do not answer the user’s question within three seconds, please edit your work. Optimising pages for mobile is an excellent way of cutting down on bumf!

For example, current content writing seems to have been dumbed down to the extent it is boring. (See The Dearth of Google, Dumbing Down The Internet.) For example, if you search for optimised site structure, the webpage will tell you what site structure is then it’ll tell you what search engine optimisation is,  then it’ll give you some examples. After about a thousand words, it’ll begin to tell you about optimising your pages. Does anyone ever get that far?

We have found quite on the contrary, if we list an answer to the user question within the first paragraph or preferably in very brief bullet points, which we can then elaborate on as efficiently as possible, not only do we improve the quality of the user’s experience we also impart the knowledge of the webpage more efficiently and appear higher in Google.

So, quite on the contrary, what we found by streamlining our content, which invariably means shorter content, outranks the longer pieces and articles.

Trust words

Definition: Trust words are positive words that established professionals or businesses might use. We have continued to find that by comparing collated ‘word’ data from websites that rank number one for various commercial search terms; we can create lists of words that encapsulate trust, authority and expertise. 

It is not restricted to words, of course. We found that if we used much of this language within our websites, we were rewarded with a higher position in Google search.

In late October 2023, we are continuing our research into the difference between a social media website, a blog website and a commercial website. 

How does Google interpret which is which? We, of course, are only really interested in what makes a commercial site a business website. And if so, what would make a business website a more business website, if that makes any sense? 

After all, if the search queries by a tennis racket, we want to ensure that Google understands we are a tennis racket shop.

When we look at Google search intent when a user is leaning towards making a purchase, we want Google to thoroughly understand that our client’s websites are not informational websites but our businesses. ready to sell their products

Making every page earn its money

One change which we made in 2023 was to become more sales-orientated. Web content is often very informative but not always convincing. 

Not only does it fail to be accurate, but it also fails to connect. 

There’s a lot of talk on the Internet about user journey and UX optimisation; however, if the content and the web designers are uninspiring, then it doesn’t matter the website’s speed or the quality and information contained within; the website fundamentally fails.

  • Every client who employs Vanilla Circus to optimise their website for organic search traffic game from a high position in Google is doing this to sell products and services. If they were experts in sales and marketing, they would not need our services.
  • Every website that we take over fundamentally lacks both the personality of the business owner or the mission statement and reason debt truck of the company. They are often boring and uninspiring.

We spent a large part of this year looking at not only Google’s search intents, which, of course, begins to divide the tyre kickers from the users with money, and then taking that information we learn from search intent and overlay it with traditional psychology around a consumer’s buying process.

The result was an impressive increase in conversion rates.

But more interesting, we dramatically improved the average amount new customers or patients were buying. 

Interestingly, we offer a free service where four clients we monitor and answer live chat. We do this to connect with the customer directly, study the exact language they are using, and learn to answer their queries efficiently.

We then put this information on the website to improve our interaction and make it more relevant to the users. 

In our live chat, we found a huge increase in the number of enquiries for high-ticket items that we had not seen before. Fun eh?

Interestingly, ensuring that content sells has not caught on. If you go to Fiverr and do a search for content creation, whilst I appreciate this might not be an example of the very best authors and creatives in the world, it is interesting that not one of their descriptions selling their services mentions the word sell, convince, persuade, or in fact, anything to do with writing content to increase their sales revenue.

The Internet is not free, so why are most websites creating content for informational purposes that will never result in a sale?

Check back for more updates as we near 2024.

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