google toolbar

I was recently at Pubcon and one of the presenters in the Advanced SEO Tactics session brought up a good point: What does Google know that you don't know. 

What do we give to Google without knowing it?  What do our visitors tell Google about our sites and what can we do to help make our sites better for the unknown metrics?  Lets look at the Google Toolbar and think about what it tells Google but does not tell us.

Google Toolbar

Actual time on site, page views and time per page.

Although Analytics can tell us how many page views our sites have, it cannot tell us how many page views our competitors have for the same search phrase.  Analytics can tell us how much time the person spent on our site, but the Toolbar is telling Google how long they actually spent on our pages, how many times they came back to that page and compare it to the other sites that show up for your terms.  This information that Google can gather with the Toolbar about the user experience is insane and can be used to help boost you in the SERPs or possibly hurt you if people are coming  to your site, but spending more time on your competitors pages.

Bounce rates.

The toolbar tells Google the bounce rate of your site compared to your competitors.  Not only can this say that people found the information they were looking for from a particular keyword search, but if your competitors can lower their bounce rates on their competing pages, then that may be telling Google that their pages may be the better option for that keyword phrase and show them above you in the SERPs.

What these two metrics are telling us is that SEO is once again about the user experience.  Technically it always has been about the user experience since I consider conversions a part of SEO.  The difference is that Google gets actual and real time data about the user now and can follow and compare it to our competitors.  This wasn't 100% available 10 years ago, especially not in the volume that it is now.  So what can you do to make your site better for your users?

ask-questions

Ask yourself these questions:

Are you trying to sell too hard instead of providing information to them, and then selling when they know why they should buy from you?

If all you are doing is pitching your products, people may want to leave and not shop.  This is especially true with non brands and expensive items that have an effect on the person.  People want to know more about it, why they should spend their money with you and that your page and site are the right place to buy from.  If all you do is a hard pitch, you may make a few sales but if your competitors are more inviting, they could win the customers and Google may be able to tell the difference because of the Toolbar.

Is your copy written for SEO only or for your end user?

If the person finds your site and likes the product, do they like your copy?  Your copy needs to be readable and friendly for the end user.  If it is only written to stuff a million keywords then you could be providing a bad user experience and one where the person doesn't want to shop.  Remember to write your copy so that your keywords are present and in the right places, but you also provide a readable and good user experience.

What is your load time?

If you pages take to long to load, some people will leave.  Not to mention load time plays into Google's algorithm anyways.  If anything, make sure the product image loads first and fast so that even if the rest of the page isn't loading quickly, at least they know the product is there and for sale.  You may also want to focus on loading the order now button quickly.

Is your page in all flash or java or something that could cause someone to not be able to see it?

This is pretty self explanatory.  If the person cannot see the page or your information, they will leave.  Remember to keep your site friendly for as many browsers and end users as possible.  If Google notices people leaving, or people with certain browsers leaving, they may stop showing you to people with those browsers and possibly many other people with different browsers.

See also: Advanced SEO Tactics session notes