Pogo Sticking: what it is and why it is an SEO issue
Open Google, launch a query, take a look at the SERP, click one result, and then, dissatisfied with the information found on the landing page, quickly go back to the results page and choose a second result, and eventually repeat the process. What we have described can occur frequently when we use Google, but we may not know that this phenomenon of jumping back and forth between results has a name, namely pogo sticking, and can be an SEO problem as it is a symptom of uninteresting content with little focus on the topic sought by users.
What is pogo sticking
In Anglo-Saxon culture, the pogo stick is the classic trampoline stick that kept kids entertained in decades past, and its traditional bouncing operation led to the baptism of this SEO phenomenon.
Pogo sticking is in fact the behavior of a user hopping between sites positioned in SERPs until he or she finds the content he or she actually wants, rapidly navigating back and forth between pages of Google search results. According to some theories, pogo sticking occurs when the user navigates back to search results within the first five seconds of viewing the page.
In SEO terms, pogo sticking is a symptom of a page on a site that ranks well on Google but generates poor quality traffic and is seen as unhelpful by users. In practice, the kind of hopping behavior of users is a direct result of immediate dissatisfaction in search results, and thus pogo sticking is always bad news for the site experiencing it, but also for Google itself (which in fact uses the search journey to improve the quality of the answers provided).
The attention of users and readers is a valuable commodity online, and indeed one of our primary goals is to capture and maintain it; to do so, we must first understand exactly how people interact with the content we offer online, and analysis of this phenomenon can provide us with some useful insights to direct our strategies toward more interesting and engaging resources.
Understanding pogo sticking, the hopping between SERPs and results
In the real world, an example of pogo sticking might be a customer who walks into a store, takes a quick look, and then leaves because they can’t find what they are looking for. The store might have a wide variety of products, but if it fails to meet his or her immediate needs, that single person will leave, probably never to return. Similarly, a website needs to be able to meet the user’s needs quickly, otherwise it risks missing the opportunity it had and (potentially) progressively losing visibility on Google.
Going back to online, there are several reasons why users might pogo sticking: the page might not be relevant to the search query, or worse it might not be user-friendly or have poorly written content, or it might simply be of little interest to the person.
A standard case of pogo sticking occurs if we are looking for a recipe for a chocolate cake: we click on the result that seems most “inviting” among those offered by Google, but instead of finding the recipe, we come across a long article on the history of chocolate. Disappointed, we go back and try the next link, which gives us what we were looking for. This is an example of pogo sticking. The original site did not meet our immediate expectations, so we went back to the search results to look elsewhere.
So pogo sticking is a phenomenon that affects us all, both as users and as marketers: understanding how it works and how to avoid it can make the difference between a successful website and one that is lost in the vastness of the web, because in the digital world, user satisfaction is one of the keys and levers to success.
The difference between pogo sticking and bounce rate
At first glance, pogo sticking would seem to resemble bounce rate, but in fact there are substantial differences.
As we know, the bounce rate represents “the percentage of visitors who visit a single page on a website” and then end their interaction with that site.Its ideal value depends on the type of site, and a high bounce rate is not always negative, as it can also mean that the visitor has completed his or her journey by getting full response to the question and need that were driving his or her online interest, without the need to go deeper into the site.
In contrast, pogo sticking is always negative, because it is a symptom of the user’s dissatisfaction with the results provided by Google and, more specifically, their correspondence to his initial question, the query he launched on the search engine.
The difference then lies in the fact that by analyzing the bounce rate we find out how many users arrive at the website, spend some time on the page, do not move on to other pages of the website and leave, not necessarily because they are dissatisfied with the content found; on the other hand, users who do Pogo Sticking are openly dissatisfied, are not satisfied and move on to another website.
Pogo sticking, a problem for SEO and beyond
The phrase “pogo sticking” might conjure up images of a child’s game, but it is actually a very serious concept in the world of search marketing.
As mentioned, it occurs when a user performs a Google search, clicks on a result, but then quickly returns to the search results because the site’s content did not meet his or her expectations or needs; this behavior, repeated by many users, can signal to Google that that particular site may not be relevant or useful, negatively affecting its ranking in search results.
The phenomenon of pogo sticking thus expresses first and foremost an issue experienced by users, but it also represents a problem for the sites concerned and for the search engines themselves.
From a strictly site, and therefore SEO, perspective, it suggests that the content does not respond to the search query the person typed in and the information they needed when they found that result among Google’s suggestions. In a nutshell, pogo sticking is two times bad for a site, which does not take advantage of its page rankings and comes to favor a competitor, the site on which the journey will later end and which will present the useful information.
Changing perspective, the goal of all search engines is in fact to provide useful results to users, enabling them to reach the content they want on the first try: it is clear, therefore, that widespread behavior of pogo sticking between SERPs and positioned pages can communicate a general dissatisfaction of people with the results processed by the algorithms, a symptom of a general misunderstanding of the query or lack of relevance between the original query and the positioned content.
Pogo sticking and Google: ranking factor or not?
For this reason, pogo sticking is in some ways a more relevant signal for Google than high bounce rates, because it testifies that that page-which is also well positioned for a given query-is not doing a good job of answering the questions people are asking, or that it was so bad that people didn’t even bother to read its content.
Over time, many SEO theories have arisen on the topic, which consider pogo sticking to be a negative ranking factor: if a positioned page receives a lot of traffic from people who, however, quickly bounce back to the SERPs, the algorithms will notice this and downgrade the page because it does not provide quality content relevant to the query.
In fact, Google has never officially confirmed that pogo sticking is a direct ranking signal – and, indeed, some time ago John Mueller denied this hypothesis, because “there can be a multitude of reasons why users may bounce back and forth between various pages and Web sites,” and therefore Google cannot determine the precise reason nor “punish” sites because of sometimes unpredictable and illogical behaviors of people. For example, as is now often the case with editorial sites, a piece of content is available only to registered or subscribed users, and thus the basic user cannot take advantage of the information that would also be optimal and must compulsorily return to the SERP.
However, it is clear that this phenomenon of bouncing back and forth between SERPs and unsatisfactory placed results cannot be completely ignored by algorithms, and the very appearance (and spread) in recent years of the People Also Ask box seems to respond precisely to the need to refine people’s search in advance, already directing them to useful content.
The causes of pogo sticking
If our pages are affected by this problem – and, therefore, users feel dissatisfaction with some of our content placed on Google search pages and to get the desired information they go back to the main page in a few seconds – and we notice poor engagement and very low user dwell time, it means that perhaps there is something to fine-tune in our SEO strategy.
Basically, the main problems that cause pogo sticking are poor content and poor user experience, but that’s not all, and the only way to effectively counter it is to try to provide a meaningful answer that solves a person’s problem or answers their question.
On-page content-related problems that can cause pogo sticking (and drive the audience to quickly leave the site) include:
- Content not relevant to the query. Google is quite accurate in ranking relevant pages, but it can happen that there are pages in SERPs that do not fully respond to the search intent and therefore do not offer useful answers to readers-a classic example is when optimizing content on vanity keywords, which by definition attracts unqualified traffic and risks not generating user interaction.
- Outdated or old content. Users prefer fresh, up-to-date information: not keeping up with trends (and perhaps showing articles with outdated dates) can lead users to abandon the page.
- Matching the title or meta description. If preview snippets such as the title and meta descriptions do not match the content, the audience may land on the page but quickly leave it as dissatisfied and negatively surprised.
- Using clickbait techniques to increase clicks. Clickbaiting is generally considered a bad practice because it induces users to click on links that may not provide them with useful information, and thus may encourage pogo-sticking.
- Spam-filled content. Users do not want to read spam-filled content, and a quick glance at the page is enough to convince them to click the back button.
- Language. If the content contains errors in facts, grammar, and spelling, the audience will quickly leave the page.
- Readability issues. Visitors may not want to waste any more time trying to read content with fonts that are too small or poorly visible.
On the other hand, not related to content, but to other problems are the following factors that as well can negatively affect user behavior and make the user skip:
- Excessive annoying ads. The excessive presence of pop-ups or interstitials can annoy the user, who then immediately turns back upon the appearance of these intrusive ads.
- Site not optimized for mobile devices. For mobile users (who are now clearly the majority), landing on a non-mobile-friendly page is frustrating, and often this content is not actually usable.
- Confusing design. Presenting a complicated layout can discourage users from interacting with the site.
- Slow page loading. We know, speed is a ranking factor, and users expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less: past this time, most people will not wait and hit the back button.
- Frequent redirects. Setting up multiple redirects is a major flaw for sites because it can prolong the connection time for users, and the most impatient will not wait long to see where this chain will lead.
- Starting video on autoplay. The presence of an auto-playing video overshadows the main goal of the website (or otherwise hides the content that the user was interested in and clicked for in SERPs), and if there is no option to block or turn off playback there is a high probability that people will not stay on the page.
How to avoid pogo sticking
Although it is not a penalizing ranking factor for Google, pogo sticking is therefore a symptom of the presence of some critical issues on our pages.Fortunately, it is not difficult to work to solve this problem and, more generally, to try to keep users on the site longer, making them interact with the content.
These are some of the tips that can help us make content more engaging and – not unimportant element – that can also give positive effects to SEO, helping to place our pages higher in SERPs.
- Create a better user experience
It has been proven that users stay longer on a website if their experience in the first 4 seconds is good, and some simple best practices allow us to improve the user experience. For example:
- Take care of the readability and font size of text. Users don’t want to squint to read the content on your site, especially from mobile, or despair because the font color doesn’t contrast enough with the background of the page: if they can’t read the content they will immediately hit the Back button. Also, the presence of a tiny font makes the user think that the information is not important.
- Choose images related to the content. Optimal management of images allows the user to get a visual idea of the topic covered by the content: relevant and reliable images convince them to proceed to the text part.
- Take care of the formatting of the text, following simple guidelines such as not overdoing it with too long sentences, using paragraphing, using bulleted lists to subdivide blocks of text, and so on.
- Use summaries and indexes. Immediately presenting the contents of the page allows the user to take a peek at the information on the page, especially if the text is particularly long: in this way, the reader is not overwhelmed by the data and tends to stay on the site instead of returning to the search page, also because he or she has the opportunity to go directly to the content he or she needs instead of having to scroll through the entire page looking for the information he or she is looking for.
- Matching the search intent
We say this often: search intent explains the main reason why a user uses Google and chooses to visit a particular site. If we do not offer an answer to this need, there is no reason for the user to stay on the page.
- Update content
Users know when a page’s content is old-there may be an outdated date, outdated information, or an outdated visual format-and this can be one of the factors that drives them away to other sites. Updating and improving older content can help avoid pogo sticking and show the user the ability to stay on top of recent trends.
- Taking care of internal linking
Effective management of internal linking is a simple and effective way to keep users on the page for a longer time, but more importantly to increase their stay on the site: providing a path to useful in-depth content moves people deeper into the Web site and thus makes them less likely to want to return to Google.
- Adding FAQs
Another way to meet user intent and needs within a single page is to add the answer to frequently asked questions at the bottom of the content: this way, the interested person does not have to go to another page to look for the answers, but stays on our site in an interested way.
- Demonstrating EEAT
The last aspect is also the most complicated, or at least the most “undefined”: as we know, Google’s E-E-A-T paradigm is synonymous with Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness and is a key parameter used to evaluate the quality of search results by both quality raters and the algorithms themselves. Translating what it means to improve E-A-T into concrete actions is not easy (but there are some approaches we can try), and in the case of content revolving around YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) topics, such as money, health, and safety, the factors of Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness are key to convincing Google, but also to gaining the user’s attention.
Featured image credit: source Flickr, user Cindy Shebley, link https://www.flickr.com/photos/25636851@N03/26791938233