Those people who work in search engine optimisation are often to be found pondering where Google might go next in developing its ranking algorithm. One thing’s for sure: it’s already incorporating signals which most of us haven’t even thought of, so what’s to come will probably be scarily complex. The best guess is continued development of monitoring user behaviour and responding to that; in other words, higher quality sites will be identified with increasing precision and moved up the search results page. Google has a mind-boggling amount of user behaviour which it can monitor, from sources such as the Google Toolbar which millions of people have installed, through the data returned by the Google Chrome browser (now at 25% market share) to its own public wi-fi services and relationships with ISPs. They know what we do on the web, there’s no getting away from it.
So what does that mean? Well, Google AdWords users will already know that if your site has a high “bounce rate” from ads, your “quality score” can reduce and your costs rise; Google wants to provide users with sites which have a track record of providing high engagement. The same should increasingly happen with natural search results, only this time you can’t just turn off the search and landing page combinations which don’t work. If people are visiting your site and sticking around, Google will know about it and they’ll reward you appropriately, because you’re clearly providing a better result for their users. Your job then is to provide a website which immediately says: “Come in and look around, we’ve got something here which will be worth your time.” Does yours? Or does your site say: “Here are a hundred links designed to keep every product manager happy, most of which can’t be relevant to you”? Does your site put up barriers from the start, like forcing people to tell you what country they’re in (as if life isn’t short enough already)? Does your site look like it was designed in 2005 (because it was designed in 2005)? These are just a few of the things which suggest to visitors that they’d be better off hitting the back button and seeing if Google has something more attractive on its results page.