Several months into the radical changes brought about by Google’s Panda/Farmer update, it’s becoming apparent that user experience has grown in importance. The series of updates to how Google ranks sites for search results started in February, with successive changes rolled out through late July. The stated goal was to penalize lower-quality sites, and make the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) more responsive to social media.
What has resulted is a wholesale change in what makes a website come up on the first page of results when someone types in a search term. Sites are now judged on a new set of criteria to determine if they’re worthy to rank in those coveted top spots. Gone are the days when simply writing a lot of content with the keywords you want to rank on, soliciting links to your page, and putting in the right title tags were close to enough. Google felt these criteria made the system too easy to “game.” To prevent this, they've changed their ranking algorithm, and added more human evaluation of web pages, rather than automated.
- How many visitors return to your website after their first visit
- How many pages they view per visit, and
- How long they stay on your site
Although interesting content is the main reason people stay a long time on your site, view a lot of pages, and keep coming back, usability also a vital factor. If your site is easy to navigate, people stay. And great content needs to be made accessible and easy to find if visitors are going to enjoy it. Features that were once nice to have, such as social share buttons, are now among the most important, as Likes and Tweets impact search rankings. Navigation, share buttons, and layout join content and structure to form a much more complex way sites become highly ranked. Search has become about big-picture, strategic thinking, as it always was when done well.