Over the years, SEOs focused all their attention on link building. Why? Because it impacted rankings more than anything else.
Although links still help with rankings, the big misconception in the search world is that the majority of your time and effort should be placed on building links.
So, if building links is not what you should be spending your time on, what is? It’s user experience—because it will impact rankings more than anything else.
Here’s why user experience will impact your rankings more than links will:
What’s best for users is best for Google
As you already know, Google makes a large portion of its revenue from ads. If users started to see search results that weren’t relevant, what would they stop doing?
Using Google, right?
If Google wants to continually ensure that it stays the leader in the search game, it has to provide users with the best results. This doesn’t come down to links or on-page code. It comes down to user experience.
Sure, having links and an optimized site ensures that search engines can crawl your site, but Google would rather rank a relevant to a search query webpage with no links than one that contains hundreds of links but is only somewhat relevant.
Here’s how I believe it measures the relevance of a search result:
Click-through rate – as you know, this metric is about the number of people who see a listing and actually click through to the site. For example, if most of the searchers inputting a specific query are clicking on the second listing and not the first, it should tell Google that the second listing is more relevant.
Bounce rate – if users are hitting the back button within their browsers and going back to the search listings page, chances are they didn’t find what they were looking for, especially if they click on another listing after they hit the back button. In an ideal world, Google wants to give you the best result first so you don’t have to keep going through listings to find the answer you are looking for.
Time on-site – after users perform a search, they tend to click on a listing. Assuming a portion of those people will hit the back button, Google will eventually (if it already isn’t) analyze the time it took the user to hit the back button. If users do this within three seconds, it will tell Google that the result is less relevant than the result that kept users on-site for five minutes before they clicked back.
In essence, the sites with the best user experience are going to win in the long run. That means sites with good quality content, media, etc. will tend to rank better in the long run.
Plus, the sites that put their users first tend to generate the highest number of social shares and backlinks organically. They don’t focus on manual link building; instead, they focus on providing the best user experience.
As you can see below, my site has the least number of backlinks compared to a lot of the webpages that rank beneath me. Just look at Wikipedia and Forbes who rank below me. Both of those sites have many more backlinks than I do.
So, what’s the main difference? The page I send users to provides a much better user experience. I spent over $40,000 creating that guide. I know it sounds crazy, but I am now finally seeing the fruits of my labor.
Another great example of how Google values user experience is when it penalizes a site. For example, if BMW gets penalized for unethical link building, Google still has no choice but to rank BMW for the term “BMW.”
It’s such a popular query that users would be really upset with Google if it stopped ranking BMW. Users wouldn’t care if BMW did unethical link building—they just want to get to BMW’s site.
Granted, Google can ding BMW’s ranking for generic keywords, but if it dings them for brand keywords, it will hurt Google’s reputation with users more than it would hurt BMW.
What does this mean for you?
By no means am I saying that you should ignore SEO. Optimizing your code for search engines, building links when you have spare time, and growing your social media channels are all activities you should continually do.
But they shouldn’t be your main focus.
You should be shifting the majority of your focus to building a great product or service as that is what users want. And when you aren’t building, you should be creating great content.
You need to provide content so great that people will want to not only read it but also bookmark it, share it, and tell their friends about it. Your content should be so detailed and helpful that no competitor would dare to copy you as it would take too much time and energy.
In addition, you should be signing up for Google Webmaster Tools and continually analyzing your click-through rates. You can get this data by clicking on “search traffic” in the navigation bar and then clicking on “search analysis.”
SEO isn’t rocket science. Sure, Google has a ton of PhDs working for it, but its goal is aligned with yours: Google just wants to provide users with the best possible experience.
So, if you can create the best product/service and write the best content out there, you will be helping users. Eventually, Google will see this, and your rankings will climb. You may not see the best results in the short run, but over time things will get better.