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7 Ways to Use Heatmaps to Improve Your SEO

by Today's Eggspert

Using heatmaps is like being Jason Bourne.

You get to spy on your visitors and see exactly what they’re doing. And, like Jason Bourne, you’re not trying to be evil; you’re just trying to understand what they want.

The same is true with SEO. You’re trying to understand what keywords people are searching for to find your business. You need to know what content you can create to drive links and keyword rankings.

Do you see the overlap?

Heatmaps and SEO are a match made in heaven. Learn what content visitors are reacting to positively, and then create more of that content for them. Rinse and repeat.

I love the intersection of two digital marketing practices. It gives us the opportunity to get out of a one-track mind and encourage the flywheel effect. In this instance, we’ll learn how heatmaps can help us improve our SEO. Plus, we’ll learn that content built with SEO in mind will show better engagement in our heatmaps.

It seems like a stretch, but they are natural companions.

What Google is trying to do with their constant search algorithm tweaks is serve the best possible results to users. If Google users are not satisfied with the search results they are served, they’ll go elsewhere.

All the metrics that go into their algorithm are data points that quantify the quality of a page to serve a user. Backlinks, keywords, site speed, HTTPS, and 200+ other factors represent how likely a human will find a page useful. So how do you stop playing catch-up with all the algorithm changes?

You go where Google is going – to an understanding of user satisfaction with every search query and page.

You can beat Google to the punch by evaluating exactly how much users on your site love what you’re giving them.

Heatmaps, scrollmaps, website video recordings, and other technologies give you an instant look into exactly how visitors are using your site, and how engaged they are.

So how exactly do you use heatmaps to improve your SEO?

1. Determine Ideal Content Length with Scrollmaps

Content – the word is so overused and so vague that it’s almost lost its meaning. But content really is the crux of all digital marketing. It makes the core of your website.

If you haven’t heard the news already, longer content ranks higher in SERPs.

content length chart

Source: Backlinko

And study after study has shown this to be true.

serp iq length

Source: serpIQ

Neil Patel is a huge advocate of longer posts.

longer neil patel

Is long content always the answer?

No.

Every industry, audience, and customer base is different. We can’t apply broad directives to every website in the world at once.

Sometimes super long content is the answer. Sometimes short, concise pages that get to the point are what the user wants.

You’ll never know for sure without taking a good hard look at your analytics. Only after analyzing dozens to hundreds of pages on your site will you be able to determine the ideal content length. You’ll want to look at bounce rate, time on site, exit pages, and pages per visit in your Google Analytics to get a good idea.

How do you take this further?

Scrollmaps.

Using Crazy Egg or your favorite heatmapping software, take a look at exactly where on the page users are bouncing.

crazyegg scrollmap

Perhaps they were with you until the 4,000th word in the article, and then they bookmarked it for later.

Maybe you started off strong in your post and then faded after that.

Or maybe they were expecting some visuals and videos, but they were hit with a wall of text. By the way, content with multiple types of media gets linked to more often.

You can use scrollmaps to determine what your visitors want, and then deliver it to them, again and again.

The Connection to SEO

SEO is all about content. Without great content, there’s just meta tags and backlinks. Knowing what content engages your visitors will help you create better content that earns more shares, links, and eventually better rankings.

By using scrollmaps to analyze and adjust your content, you’ll be improving the very substance that Google uses to rank your site, earning you more traffic, leads, and sales.

2. Use Heatmaps to Improve Internal Links

Internal links can do wonders for your website.

If you’ve ever read an article on Wikipedia, I’m sure you’ve gotten lost for hours hopping from one page to another. They connect their whole website together like a spider web.

internal linking sitemap with links GFD

Source: Green Flag Digital

Everyone knows the navigation, footer, and sidebar links are important for navigational purposes, but using internal links is often referred to as an SEO tactic.

By linking with anchor text to other pages throughout your site, you’re showing Google what the target page is about. The anchor text signals aren’t as strong a factor as they used to be, but they are still a signal nonetheless.

For certain sites, implementing internal links correctly can be a quick SEO win.

You want to use internal links in a helpful, non-spammy way. If you link the same word over and over again in the same article, you’ll turn the user off and they’ll most likely bounce.

If you use internal links properly, the way Wikipedia does, you’ll make the page more helpful and engaging.

wikipedia internal links

So how do you know which internal links are helpful, and which are just useless?

That’s where heatmaps come in.

Heatmaps, or a more detailed tool like Crazy Egg’s Confetti, will visually show you where users are clicking throughout your site. Specifically in this context, they’ll show you the exact links they click on, and the ones they don’t.

heatmap report thumb

Unlike Google Analytics’ in-page analytics, which groups all links going to the same page together, heatmaps show you precisely where the user clicks.

If you see a trend of some types of links being clicked much more often than others, you’ll know they are helpful. Do more of those.

The Connection to SEO

Keeping users engaged is definitely an SEO win. Internal links are one way to keep users engaged because they will more likely visit your site more deeply instead of bouncing back to the search results.

An intelligent use of internal links throughout your site helps you get more links and traffic to deep internal pages throughout your site. This helps those pages buried deep in your site rank better for their targeted keywords in the search results.

In a recent post, Neil Patel recommends going back and adding more internal links to old posts:

“Interlinking pages within your website aren’t considered external links, but they do improve your site’s structure and optimization.

Besides, there’s the freshness factor to consider. When a page acquires new links, it instantly signals relevance to the algorithm, improving its potential in the SERPs.

It might take extra work, but the effort is worth it.

3. Optimize Image Placement with Scrollmaps

You probably love images.

I know I do, and I want to see them on almost every page I visit.

Google loves images too – mostly because users find pages with images more engaging and trustworthy. According to one study, images boost credibility 75%.

image content credibility

Source: Backlinko

Back in the early years of the web, images used to be rare and of low quality. Now we see high quality images bringing websites to life across every industry.

In fact, BuzzFeed has built their brand on using images extensively.

At almost any point in time, BuzzFeed’s most viral posts will be nothing but cleverly crafted listicles with great titles.

trending on buzzfeed

Source: BuzzFeed

Using images in the most optimal way is not always straightforward, however.

We ask questions such as:

  • Where are the best places to include images?
  • How many images should we use throughout the post?
  • Do we always need images?
  • What styles of images resonate most with visitors?
  • How can we learn the optimal number of images for our content and audience?

We used to be flying blind when trying to answer questions like these.

Thankfully, now there are scrollmaps.

Scrollmaps help us use real data from visitors to help determine the optimal number of images and their placement.  Brian Dean found that you should use images every 200 words for the best results.

If you’re not using enough photos, scrollmaps will show people bouncing after hitting your walls of text. And, if you’re showing too many photos, scrollmaps will also reveal people bouncing.

The important thing to remember is you need to have a decent sample size when you test your own site. You can’t just look at a few of your pages and reach a conclusion from those. You need to base your findings on as many of your website pages as possible.

There is also a more advanced strategy if you have the traffic numbers to support it: split-test your pages and review the scrollmaps.

In addition to scrollmaps, you can use heatmaps if your images are clickable. That takes it one step further.

The Connection to SEO

One secret link-building tactic in the advanced SEO’s toolbox is to use images. If you continuously publish engaging and useful images, your visitors will want to share and embed the images on their own properties, which will lead to both more links and referral traffic.

As you can see, user engagement and content virality go hand in hand with SEO tactics.

4. Use Heatmaps for External Link Engagement

Linking to other websites is good for you, even though it can seem extremely counter-intuitive: won’t users leave my site and never come back?

It’s actually quite the opposite, since referencing and citing is a sign of quality, both in the user’s eyes and in Google’s.

The debate about linking out versus hoarding the entire link juice to your site has raged on the web for years. Cyrus Shepard does a great job explaining both sides of the debate in this Whiteboard Friday.

external links wbf

By referencing other quality sources in your pages, you’re seen as more trustworthy than someone spewing opinions with no third-party sources. In fact, Google’s original PageRank algorithm relied on websites linking to each other to crawl the entire web.

If websites never linked to any other websites, the Google crawler as we know it wouldn’t exist.

Heatmaps help you further understand which external links visitors are clicking on, and which they are ignoring. You can see if there’s a theme in your best-performing pieces and how external linking helps support those.

The Connection to SEO

Although it’s not one of the top correlated metrics, independent tests show a positive benefit from linking to other websites. This recent study showed positive effects from external linking. If you want to be seen as authoritative in your field, you should reference trustworthy sites.

Two computer science students from Stanford University actually developed their own Anti-Trust Rank algorithm that detected spammy pages based on the fact that they tended to link out to other spammy pages:

“The Trust Rank algorithm started with a seed set of trustworthy pages and propagated Trust along the outgoing links. Likewise, in our Anti-Trust Rank algorithm, Anti-Trust is propagated in the reverse direction along incoming links, starting from a seed set of spam pages.”

web spam study antitrust rank

Source: Lehigh.edu

Heatmaps allow you to measure down to the exact link to see what users are clicking on and where. By using this data along with other tools, you can optimize your external linking practice to improve SEO and user engagement.

5. Use Heatmaps for Related Posts Engagement

When a reader gets to the end of an article, they have two choices: leave or read another one.

If you run a WordPress website, chances are you’ve seen dozens of plugins that make adding related articles easy.

related posts plugins

Source: WordPress

That’s because they’re ridiculously effective at driving more engagement and page views on your website.

Neil Patel witnessed a 14.4% increase in readers’ time on site during his tests.

Even better, these related articles are dynamically generated so you don’t have to manually add them to every page as you do for contextual internal links you choose to place.

But are readers actually clicking these?

Which posts are performing best?

How do you optimize user engagement?

By using a heatmaps tool or Crazy Egg’s Confetti tool, you can see for sure the best way to optimize these related articles for engagement.

Want to see which related posts are clicked on most?

Heatmaps will answer that.

Want to see how traffic sources differ in their click engagement?

Confetti has you covered.

confetti crazyegg

The great thing about Confetti for this analysis versus standard heatmaps is that Confetti lets you drill down even deeper. You can find out which type of traffic is most likely to keep browsing, and which type is bouncing.

The Connection to SEO

Related posts at the end of each of your blog posts serve two purposes. First, they are an easy way to dynamically insert relevant internal links throughout your site that improves SEO. Second, they improve user time on site and page views on site, which represent deeper user engagement.

If you’re seeing some poor-performing related posts, tweak the settings to make them more relevant. You want to choose posts that inspire the most action.

6. Match Title Tags with Page Content Message

Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and awkward pipes (Like | This) in title tags.

Optimizing your title tags is a killer opportunity to improve CTR from the search results.

moz best lip balm

Source: Moz

Brian Dean of Backlinko says it best, “If people stick to your site like superglue, Google may give you a significant rankings boost.”

You don’t want to mislead users in pursuing a higher CTR, however.

Users are likely to bounce if there’s a mismatch in expectations between your title tag and the content on your page.

It’s called pogosticking, and Rand Fishkin explains it well in this Whiteboard Friday:

“If people click through to your site only to click their back buttons and look for another result, the search engines are going to catch on, and you could fall in the rankings.”

pogosticking

Source: Moz

Those of you who manage AdWords ads know the drill: match the ad copy with the landing page to boost your Quality Score and conversions.

And while there’s no “SEO quality score,” the principles from AdWords ads still apply to the organic search listings.

Make sure your promise in the search results matches your landing page. You want to optimize the title tag for click-through rates, but you also want to deliver on expectations once the visitors land.

After you optimize title tags, use scrollmaps and heatmaps to see the impact those changes have on the usability and engagement of the page.

The Connection to SEO

It used to be that you could keyword stuff the title tags and it worked like magic. It’s not that simple anymore, as Google uses many engagement factors to determine page quality.

One of those is pogosticking, or bouncing back to the SERPs.

Prevent this from happening, and you’ll get great CTRs and great conversions.

7. Get Keyword Usage Feedback with Scrollmaps

There’s always the push and pull between SEOs and marketing managers.

SEOs want traffic to grow continuously, while marketing managers want a better conversion rate.

This is an oversimplification, but it illustrates our problem.

SEOs tend to want to use keywords as much as reasonable to get rankings.

Sometimes, it can be a little much.

moz keyword usage

Source: Moz

Keywords are an important part of optimizing your content, but it’s possible to overdo it. You don’t want to keyword stuff your pages, or your content will seem slightly spammy and not genuine.

Plus, we all know that keyword stuffing and keyword density is dead.

Is it possible to know what effect too many keywords are actually having on the user experience though?

If you’re overusing keywords, scrollmaps can show you exactly where your content is turning off users.

If you’re repeating the same phrase over and over again, eventually users will recognize the terrible writing, and they’ll go somewhere else.

There is a balance, and you can use these heatmapping tools to find what works best for your audience.

The Connection to SEO

Keywords are a critical part of creating amazing content. They help inform and guide your epic content pieces, but they shouldn’t take over. You want to utilize the best in heatmapping tools to create better content that resonates.

You don’t want to be a keyword-stuffer.

Keywords remain vitally important for discovery and rankings, but they need to harmonize with your content. Keep users at the forefront of everything you create.

Conclusion

As noted by Neil Patel on the CMI Blog, content engagement is a fuzzy thing. He defines it as “real people responding in measurable ways to your content.”

That’s an excellent definition, and it summarizes the connections among SEO, content, user engagement, and heatmaps.

They’re all tightly related.

By using the best tools to measure our best content, we can get better at serving the user every day, which is what Google is trying to do with its search results.

About the Author: Joe Robison is the founder of Green Flag Digital, an ecommerce SEO consultancy. He loves diving into hard SEO problems, integrating design and CRO, and becoming a t-shaped marketer. Connect with Joe on Twitter to continue the discussion.

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  1. Joe Robison says:
    September 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Happy to discuss any topics or new ideas related to heatmaps and SEO – thanks for reading!

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