What Are User Signals?

In the information age, searching the internet has become an everyday action. From seeking the number of calories in a cup of coffee to the distance between Earth and the nearest galaxy, information seekers need not look any further than the nearest smartphone or laptop.

However, some searches are more successful than others. Sometimes information that results from a search may not lead to the desired result. Perhaps we click on a site that seems relevant to what we are looking for, only to find it doesn’t relate at all.

Numerous factors determine the quality of a website and a user’s experience, such as content and technical issues. Search engines like Google can surmise just how positive or negative a user’s experience is by collecting user signals. With the help of user signals, they can determine the usefulness of search results and proceed to rank websites based on these results. The standard user signals, which include bounce rate, time on site, click through rate (CTR) and return-to-SERP rate, should be considered to improve users’ experience and SEO rankings.

Types of User Signals

Below, we have provided a breakdown of the various types of user signals, including the most common types as well as some not so common ones.

Time on Site And Bounce Rate

Time on Site refers to the amount of time spent on a site. The bounce rate can be defined as the rate at which users log on to a website but then leave in a matter of seconds. There are a few reasons this can occur:

Google usually assumes a website is more engaging to a reader who remains on the site for long, especially if a user decides to explore other pages within. However, the bounce rate and TOS can both be a two-edged sword.

For one, if a visitor quickly finds the information being sought after, then there’s a high probability of leaving the site quickly. Additionally, a long visit may be caused by a timely search. Sometimes users will remain on a site desperately hoping to find needed information. This increased time can give a false impression that the site is engaging.

In sum, it’s highly recommended that webmasters take action to avoid the common reasons for a high bounce rate. Ensuring users have a high-quality experience and a high TOS not only increases user satisfaction, but it increases the site’s search engine ranking.

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Return-to-SERP Rate

This rate measures how often a site’s visitors return to the search engine results page. A high return-to-SERP rate could indicate many issues. In fact, this rate is closely associated with the bounce rate because when a user has a reason to leave the site quickly, it’s usually to return to the SERP.

Click Through Rate

The amount of time searchers clicks on a site when it appears in the SERP determines the CTR. It is typically higher with the top three search results and then declines, as the users will instinctively click on one of the top three results.

However, the most crucial factor that determines CTR is the snippet. It consists of a brief title, the URL and a description of the site. The more thought that goes into the snippet’s design, the higher the CTR. High-quality snippets include some of the following characteristics:

  • Uses Rich Snippet enhancement, which adds useful information for the audience, such as recipes, product reviews, a company’s address, relevant how-to videos and more.
  • Relevant to search words
  • Depicts a reputable brand
  • Directly addresses users
  • Contains clear, concise wording

Log-in Availability

Offering users the ability to log-in to a site (Log-in Availability) is one of the less common user signals, but it can be useful if users do log-in. Blog style websites, like those available through WordPress, are examples of sites that might have users log-in to post and respond to blogs. If a webmaster succeeds in attracting users who subscribe or log-in, this can, in turn, improve SEO.

Whole Site Type-ins

When it happens that someone has memorised a website and types the entire name into the address bar, points are added to the site’s SEO ranking. It’s an added perk to have a short, memorable URL, ensuring users can type in the name with ease.

Returning Visitor Frequency

We all know that there are ways that our usage and site visits are tracked, and Google happens to be the main culprit. If the search engine finds that a user, whose IP address is tracked, frequents a site, then webmasters can expect a rating increase.


When we find an interesting website that we visit frequently, it’s easier to add it to bookmarks to avoid typing it into the address bar. Some of us may be oblivious to the fact that Google also sees what sites you have bookmarked, which also garners these sites more SEO points.

Social Signals

Social media user signals (social signals) usually entail the number of likes and shares received on social media sites. There is not much evidence on how effective they are; therefore, they shouldn’t be considered vital factors for increasing SEO.


Why User Signals Are Important for Search Engines

Although it is claimed that user signals only indirectly determine your ranking, experimental studies prove otherwise. SparkToro co-founder and SEO expert Rand Fishkin ran an experiment involving his Twitter followers. They were instructed to search for the “best-grilled steak,” clicking on the first result to only immediately return to the SERP. Then they were to click on the fourth-ranking URL and spend some time on the site. In the end, site number four replaced site number one, proving that user signal data does determine SEO.

They have a significant impact on how a site is ranked. This impact makes user signals essential in helping Google improve its searches. After all, as a search engine, the goal is to make searches relevant and concise. The wealth of information needs to be organised, all-inclusive and consistent so that it’s easy to interpret in an age of fast-paced information exchange.

Because a wide range of users densely populates web traffic throughout the world with over 300 million new domains being registered yearly and almost 4 billion users worldwide, 40,000 searches per second–that’s a plethora of user signals to be analysed. Also, the wealth of data increases the likelihood for accurate analysis. Search engines need this data to diagnose website deficiencies, which in turn influences their rankings.

How to Influence User Signals

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to improve SEO, and we have included a few tips to promote as many positive user signals as possible:

Technology optimisation:

We have all experienced a slow loading website caused by a poor network connection. This cause has nothing to do with the site itself. Other times, however, the issue lies within the website. For one, the website host may be of low quality; This often occurs when a host site is free. Moving to a faster server could solve this issue. Paid hosting services are very inexpensive and easy to find. Another reason could be the website’s database, which slows down as more content accumulates. Performing a site speed test will help webmasters diagnose technical problems that slow loading speed. More so, there is a long list of technology optimisation tips that can be found on the web; the list is too long for this article. Remember that the more time visitors spend on a site without technical glitches, the better the user signal.

asos website speed testPingdom

Improve Content:

There is a likelihood that visitors will remain on a site that was created with quality in mind. Factors such as good readability, thoroughness, up-to-date content and posts and accuracy give users a reason to stick around and explore, increasing the TOS.

Mobile Friendliness:

The Google Mobile-Friendly algorithm 2015 update launched the process of rewarding websites that were visible on mobile devices. Performing a simple mobile-friendly test can instantly show whether a site is mobile-friendly. This feature has the potential to boost to a site’s SEO.

Meta Data Optimisation:

Snippet meta descriptions should remain updated to ensure that they are relevant to the search words and website content. If not, there is a higher increase in the return-to-SERP rate.

How to Track User Signals

User signal data is becoming more important each day. Therefore, SEO tracking and measurements should be implemented. Search engines offer webmaster tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Over 50 million websites use Google Analytics, and it provides user-friendly data to help webmasters analyse traffic to their websites. It’s especially useful for SEO and ad campaigns and focuses more on how your site performs on search engines. Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools are similar, but they focus more on how users and visitors are interacting with a website.

Knowing specific website data fosters improvement and eventually positive user signals. For example, if users are more prone to visit one page, but they rarely browse other pages of the site, perhaps the initial page content should be assessed for depth, relevance, and other content issues.

These tools provide various types of data that will help site operators improve factors like content aesthetics, SERP displays, metadata and technological glitches such as slow loading speed. They provide the following services:

Google Analytics

  • Lets webmasters see the number of sessions as well as users, or those who visit the site frequently
  • Shows how visitors found the site
  • Displays what visitors are doing on the site
  • Tells what website content is the most popular
  • Shows the number of visitors to the site

Google Webmaster/Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

  • Shows if your pages are “crawled” and the types of crawl errors
  • Shows the number of website clicks and searches
  • Allows configuration of a website to select geographical locations, niches, and how your URL is displayed
  • Indicates the number of links to the site
  • Tells what search words are leading visitors to the site
  • Shows how the site appears in search engines

For anyone who is serious about a website’s success, the term user signal should be common knowledge. With more than 300 million new sites created every year, the web has become an ocean of competition. Not considering the quality of a site’s content and technology can easily send it crashing into a rock or never gaining the notoriety it deserves.

Setting up and growing a website, whether for promoting a business, affiliate marketing, photo-sharing, blogging or some other purpose, requires SEO knowledge because of the vastness of the internet.

User signal development isn’t rocket science; it just takes fine-tuning, patience and thoughtfulness. Following the tips for optimisation and improvement, along with using available webmaster tools, can secure a top-ranking spot in the competitive world wide web.