SEO and live chat: Does live chat for websites hurt Google rankings?

Your website’s search engine ranking is precious – we completely understand. We take the same approach to our own presence in the search results. And, consequently, if you’re considering chat you probably have one pressing question: Can adding live chat to your website affect SEO results?

Marketing managers will go to great lengths to climb a few spots in the search engine rankings. Content marketing campers probably tell stories about the writer who sold his soul to the devil for a “0 position” ranking. Optimizing for search is just that important to marketers these days. Attaining a top Google ranking in a crowded space is a badge of honor.

But something else is becoming increasingly crucial to connecting with consumers: Identifying and leveraging the correct communication channels. And it’s increasingly clear that the best way to engage with people is by messaging with them.

Whether you’re using live chat for lead generation or customer service it presents a potential conflict. Chat itself isn’t a ranking factor, but how does it affect other search signals?

What affects your Google ranking?

Google’s search engine algorithms depend on a variety of factors. We know live chat and SEO don’t affect each other. However, some of the ingredients in this mysterious recipe go sour when mixed with a dash of chat.

Live chat software that slows down your website or use interstitial pop ups will probably hurt your ranking. A masked, pop-up invitation may seem like a good way to grab invitation but it could be one of the more harmful live chat features. Google’s partnership with the Better Ads Coalition has led the search engine to work to penalize websites that use annoying ads. Interstitial pop ups that mask most of a page could end up hurting your website.

But that’s not the only way these pop ups may affect your ranking. If they’re large enough to slow your website’s load page, that may also factor into your position on the search engine results page. Page speed is an important ranking signal. Basically, it’s best to stay away from chat vendors that ask you use this sort of technology. However, some chat services help your website work with Google’s SEO algorithm; optimizing traffic directed to your website. But first, let’s take a closer look at the potential SEO issues:

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Can adding live chat to your website affect SEO results?

If your chat provider isn’t actively trying to play nice with Google’s algorithm, chances are the service will hurt your website’s ranking. The two most likely factors a chat solution may affect are your website’s load time and interstitial pop ups. Google doesn’t like slow websites and it’s not a fan of annoying pop ups. Here’s how each of these may affect your website’s search engine ranking:

Interstitial pop ups

An interstitial advertisement or pop up are web pages that display before or after the destination page is loaded. The two primary reasons they’re used are to check visitors’ ages and to advertise products or services. Something else people universally agree on is that interstitial pop ups are annoying. And in January 2017 Google did something about that fact. The search engine announced that page content hidden behind most interstitial pop ups may not rank as high.

Google’s ranking algorithm tends to favor websites that offer a better user experience. The more intrusive your chat’s pop-up invitation is, the more likely it is to hurt your ability to maintain the top ranking.

Some interstitials that use a “reasonable” amount of space and can easily be dismissed may not affect websites’ rankings. But, if possible, it’s best to avoid these pop ups. If you choose a chat provider that does leverage interstitial pop ups to capture visitor information, make sure they offer the option to turn those pop ups off. Ultimately, you should always look for a chat solution that allows for customization to ensure it fits your brand aesthetic and can evolve with Google’s algorithm.

Keep interstitials away from the mobile website too

The mobile version of your website is extremely important. Google recognizes that the majority of internet traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. For this reason, it priorities mobile friendly websites. Mobile pages that use interstitial pop ups could be negatively affected just like the desktop versions of the sites. It’s best to avoid these bothersome pop ups altogether.

Slow load times can hurt your search engine ranking.

Slow load times can hurt your search engine ranking.

Page speed

Any time you add a significant element to your website you should consider how load time is affected. If an addition such as a chat solution weighs down your website’s load time, it’s probably not worth having. Luckily, just because you add chat to your website doesn’t mean your visitors will automatically experience substantially slower load times. It’s possible to have the best of both worlds: An engagement channel people like to use and a website that loads fast enough to hold visitors’ attention.

Once again it all comes down to finding a chat provider that is flexible. If your vendor is willing to work with you to produce a chat invitation that doesn’t affect your website load time, then you’ve found a chat partner that’s worth keeping around long term. Website invitations can definitely slow down your website’s load time if they’re too complex or large. Big pictures, unnecessary forms and links or flashy features can all impact your site’s load time negatively.

So live chat for websites can help my ranking?

If you have the right chat provider your search engine ranking is probably safe. In fact, sometimes chat may even help your ranking. While that’s not something we can definitely affirm, it is a logical conclusion when you look at certain factors. Specifically, chat can come into play regarding how Google’s algorithm considers visitors’ engagement with your website. The search engine ranks websites that can hold visitors’ attention higher than sites that suffer from high bounce rates and lack of engagement.

The purpose of live chat is to drive visitor engagement and capture lead information. And because of that, this communication channel can have a positive effect on a mysterious but important metric: dwell time.

What is dwell time and what does it have to do with chat?

Dwell time isn’t a metric that’s publicly available, but it is thought to be a substantial piece of the Google algorithm pie. Dwell time isn’t exactly your average session duration, nor is it your website’s bounce rate. As a Google ranking factor, it combines a variety of signals. The hybrid metric blends the aforementioned data with other website statistics to determine how engaged visitors are with your site. Search Engine Journal explained dwell time is a mix of three elements:

  1. Bounce Rate
  2. Click-through rate
  3. Session duration
Dwell time is a hybrid of several well-known metrics.

Dwell time is a hybrid of several well-known metrics.

By determining how frequently people are clicking through to a page and whether that page is holding visitors’ attention, Google can estimate the content’s value. It’s not exactly something you can measure. But it is a metric you can keep track of from a distance. And it’s something that chat can affect in a positive way.

What does chat have to do with this?

Chat doesn’t have anything to do with your CTR. So the first step to improving your dwell time is ensuring people are tempted to click through from the search engine results pages to view your content. A strong CTR is the foundation of an enviable dwell time.

Now here’s where chat comes in.

Chat can help you keep your website’s bounce rate low and average session duration high by keeping people engaged with your website. However, the way to make this happen is to ensure you have the right sort of chat solution. A chat invite that opens up a new window probably won’t help you improve dwell time.

Often that new window will represent a new domain, meaning your visitor essentially just bounced. However, chat interactions that occur within the window keep website visitors contained within your domain. The longer the chat last, the more engaged the individual is and the longer the session duration lasts. And guess what that means: a better dwell time for your website.

So, does adding live chat to your website affect SEO? It all depends…

Adding chat to your website may affect your SEO, and it may not. If it does change your ranking, the end result may be positive … or it may be negative. Just like many other factors that determine your website’s ranking, chat will only hurt your website if you allow it to hurt your site.

However, if you’re on top of Google’s algorithm and you’re working with a flexible chat provider, chances are you’ll be able to work with your vendor to find a chat solution that doesn’t affect your website’s search engine results ranking.

When you’re shopping for a chat vendor, make sure to ask the provider how customizable its chat invitations and windows are. An inflexible chat solution may end up hurting your SEO efforts. However, a provider that works with you to ensure your website’s ranking is safe is definitely a keeper.