Admittedly, we have made it sound like the holy grail of Search Engine Optimisation is the type and mix of links. This is not completely true. Although links are extremely important, one thing that heavily counts towards your website’s favour with Search Engines, another may be overlooked. A criteria that has been around since the birth of SEO – Footfall.
Footfall’s Place in SEO History
Footfall has had a place in SEO from the beginning. When Search Engines were working out how to determine a website’s authenticity, it must have seemed logical to have this as a criteria. A large number of people visiting a particular website does, after all, indicate popularity. Since its implementation, people have taken it up as important, while others see it as too much work to make happen organically, and so resorted to less trustworthy measures to satisfy this ranking factor.
Is Footfall an Accurate Measurement?
Well it should be, right? Well people caught on pretty early on that Search Engines had not quite worked out how to validate all the visitors to the sites. This allowed, and caused, people to develop ways of fooling the Search Engines into thinking that their websites were receiving hundreds and thousands of visitors. This is because the criteria was built to only require a site’s address to be pinged in order to register as a view.
Luckily for all of us, Search Engines caught on rather quickly. They changed it so that simply pinging a site was no longer adequate, only users who loaded the entire page qualified as visitors. But even this was taken advantage of, and hackers wrote simple scripts that made webpages refresh constantly, boosting their views.
All was not lost though, and Search Engines today take far more into account than just reloads of the same site. Their solution is quite genius in fact. They changed the ranking factor itself to no longer focus on the number of visitors, but rather how much visitors actually interacted with the site. This ranking factor is called the Bounce Rate, and it focuses on negative interactions.
Footfall Vs. Bounce Rate
As opposed to Footfall, Bounce Rate focuses on the negatives, but why? Basically it looks out for bad customer interactions with your website. How it measures this is by looking at how many people visited a page on your website (i.e. Home page) and leave shortly after. How do they measure the “Shortly After” part? If a user lands on a page and clicks on nothing else, and then leaves. That will be considered as a negative interaction.
This makes it more difficult for hackers to boost ratings as they then need to figure out ways to visit multiple pages on a site, in a unique and believable order in order to mimic organic human behaviour. That last part is important because, guess what, Search Engines now also look at multiple visits by the same IP Addresses (Devices) and flags them as negative interactions.
A Double-Edged Blade?
All of this is quite innovative. Search Engines have sunk a lot of time and budget into ensuring that their analytics results are respectable. There is one problem though, this may end up affecting the wrong people as well.
Imagine this scenario: You are an aspiring chef, and have been working on your food bog for two years now, religiously! Your site is well designed and people can easily find your recipes via a Google search. But then, suddenly and out of nowhere, the visitors stop coming. No more comments, emails, nothing. You investigate and find out that your website has been downgraded by Google. You sign up for a Web Analytics Service and discover that your Bounce-Rate is in the red! But Why?!
The simple answer is that even though your website is well designed and updated regularly, the way it is structured may be the thing that is causing the downgrade. So people Google Search for a chicken Cacciatore recipe and find your site, they click on the link and go straight to the recipe page. They use that to cook with and then they close the tab. Dinner is served! But because they did not click on anything else, to give the Search Engines the impression of engagement, this is flagged as a negative interaction. Regardless of how satisfied that family in Johannesburg is after their delicious meal!
Is this Real Life?
Yes, unfortunately this is the reality – and it does not look as if it is up for a change any time soon. Surprisingly, this is fine. Bounce-Rate is not the enemy here, and people have come up with elegant ways to keep their site’s relatively unchanged, while still satisfying their Ranking Factors – Pop-Ups and other CTAs.
CTA stands for Call-To-Action, you know the annoying little banners that appear shortly into the first sentence of that article you are reading – that may very well be the solution. An element like that coupled with a small domain change can be the green light that Search Engines are looking for. If the above example speaks to your own experience, we apologise that it took 855 words to get to this point – and since you’re here, might as well see this through to the end!
But Why. Why Why Why?!
This one is also quite simple, and makes a lot of sense. Remember that amazingly-jaw-dropping article we wrote about Search Engines and their vision for the internet? Well this kind of prerequisite speaks heavily to that desire. What a ranking factor like this is essentially doing is putting pressure on the online community to generate a more healthy relationship with their customers and eachother, between individuals, businesses and other entities.
Search Engines want to form an internet that is free of spam, and where users of all shapes and sizes form relationships with one another in order to perform well. Now this may sound like the Flower-Child-BelievesInCrystalPower-Bulldust you would expect from someone getting paid by Search Engines to say these things and we are not * ROBOTIC VOICE * ALL GLORY TO THE MIGHTY GOOGLE! * SNAPS OUT OF IT * I repeat we are not being paid by anyone to say this, this is an overall impression we have gotten from lots of research into Search Engines and SEO.
What we may not have realised before is that another reason these companies may be so invested in creating such an online utopia is as follows. Currently, there is a lot of semi-informal competition for ranking services and tools, which undoubtedly make a lot of money. Money that the Search Engines are not getting their hands on, and these tools are managing to provide somewhat effective competitive tools. They are essentially, passive-aggressively ushering the internet into a state of not needing/wanting those other tools, and instead putting that budget for SEO into dear old Google’s back pocket.
What an article, wow! If your tinfoil hat is as sweaty as mine then you have definitely stuck it out from the start, well done! But in conclusion of what we have covered here is as follows: Footfall was a fantastic idea, until it got abused. They then changed it to be more strict, and it got abused again. They changed it to Bounce-Rate, which is amazing – but now it could end up hurting people as much as giving a critical analysis of true engagement. Phew! It is a difficult thing to measure, though. And so far it seems to still be something that can be mitigated and altered so that it doesn’t hurt anyone unnecessarily.