Every day I talk with small business owners about optimizing their websites.
Many of those business owners ask me about keywords and links. However, in recent years, I've had to explain to them that those are no longer enough to rank well.
To help you understand what is important in 2013, let's take a retrospective look back in time, way back in time, a time before Google became a household name in the Internet search space ...
On Page Optimization
Before Google, much search engine optimization was focused on “on page” optimization. And in fact, on page optimization was quite literally a science predicated on ensuring a precise number of keyword phrases and keywords were positioned exactly on the page and in the right number such that its density (the ratio of the keyword to all of the words on the page) matched exactly what the search engines were looking for.
As time marched on and as search engine optimization progressed more and more keyword phrases were appearing on the page as competition became stiffer requiring SEO's to repeat the keyword phrase more often just to maintain ranking and out do their competitors. Having that many keyword phrases on a page made the page barely readable and SEO's were more concerned with ranking the page than providing a good user experience.
Google's foray into the search space changed all that. It became apparent to Google that search results should be based on the number of external links pointing to the webpage with a specific keyword phrase in it rather than the frequency of the keyword phrase appearing on the page. So external links were the dominant factor in determining ranking in Google.
The thought was that the popularity of a site signaled by the number of external links with the all important keyword phrase or as Google called it the number of "votes" that were pointing to the webpage would determine the pages rank order.
SEO Evolves in Complexity
Fast forward to 2011, a combination of external links and content optimization and were the norm in Google finding your place in the search results. And once again SEOs had learned to manipulate search engines like Google by buying links. Fast-forward to spring of 2012, Google introduces its infamous update called Panda. So more and more of Google's search engine ranking will be attributed to so-called social and user engagement signals that were introduced by Panda. And that in itself makes it more difficult for SEOs to game the ranking system because it puts ranking control into the hands of the visitor and not the SEOs.
In order to rank well in the search engines like Google will depend heavily on a number of factors but the most important of these are are the bounce rate, the average length spent on your website, and the average number of pages visited per visitor.
Why is Bounce Rate So Important?
Where should you focus your attention in 2013? The answer to that would be the bounce rate.
If you're not familiar with the bounce rate, then let me explain. The bounce rate is simply the ratio of the number of people who click to go to your webpage from Google and click the back button to go back to search results in contrast to the total number of visitors who visited 2 or more of your web pages. So it's the number of one page visits versus two or more page visits to your website. Interestingly, once you take care of the bounce rate for your landing pages, the average time visited in the number of pages visited on average will correct itself.
So you can make the Google gods smile upon your website by increasing your visitor engagement and user experience, and you solve that by looking at your bounce rate for your landing pages. The magic number would seem to be maintaining your bounce rate for your landing pages below 55%.