One of the many factors which contributes to your success in the search engine results is the proportion of clickthroughs which come to your site and stay for a decent length of time. If you think about it, that’s exactly what the search engines should be focusing on: sites which appear to be of most interest to the user.
How do the search engines measure this? After all, they don’t know what happens once users have clicked on a result. What they can do, however, is to look at how quickly users come back to the search results and click on a different result. The search engines can’t really assess positive experiences, because if users click on a result and never come back, the search engine doesn’t know if the users found what they wanted, although there’s a good chance that they did. However, the search engines can assess poor experiences, if they see something like this:
0 seconds: search request received for “blue widgets”
1 second: search results delivered
5 seconds: result clicked on
8 seconds: different result clicked on
In this case, the user went to a website, and came back to try something else within 3 seconds. Clearly, the first result wasn’t really delivering the right answer for that search, for that user. And if – over time – this proves to be the case consistently, of course the search engines are right to demote that result for that particular search.
There are several reasons why people might click on your result and quickly return to Google to click on another one, even if the page you’re offering is very relevant. One is that the page doesn’t immediately scream: “we’ve got exactly what you’re looking for on this page!” Another is if it doesn’t load within 3 or 4 seconds. If you’re falling down on either of these items for your major search results, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get this sorted.
There’s a good video on this (with a transcription) at Moz.com called Solving the Pogo-Stick Problem.