Last updated: May 2019
What is user experience (UX)? How does it impact SEO? What do I need to know?
We have all the answers and explain why you need to focus on both SEO and UX if you want your website to be a success. We also provide a lot of actionable advice… so dive straight in!
With search engines getting smarter thanks to the increasing usage of machine learning, old SEO tactics are thankfully being rendered useless.
While before, a few keywords stuffed throughout the content was sufficient to get noticed by a search engine, it’s no longer the case. More relevant factors are now being taken into account to judge the quality of a website.
One of the main factors is the user experience or UX.
In other words, how well a website focuses on meeting the user’s needs in a clear, easy and enjoyable way.
Google and other search engines use various signals to understand how users feel about a website. In fact, user experience and SEO are now so deeply intertwined that you can no longer afford to ignore UX as a ranking factor.
Google has been telling us for years that we need to focus more on users and less on search engine optimisation (SEO): “Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant results and a great user experience.“
While you should still pay attention to the main foundation elements of great on-page SEO (e.g. keywords, metadata, images, etc.), you also need to pay attention to the user experience to drive engagement and achieve higher conversion rates.
The answers to these following questions form an important part of how search engines value your website – and how they assess the UX:
- Can visitors easily find the information they are looking for?
- Is what you offer obvious when users land on your site?
- Do you talk directly to your visitors, focusing on them and their needs?
- Does your website look professional and is it visually appealing?
- Are your images unique and do they accurately reflect what you offer?
- Is your website easy to navigate?
- Have you included a strong call to action so your visitors know what they need to do next?
- Is it easy to contact you?
- Does the site load quickly?
- Do you answer common customer questions?
- Does your content provide value and relevance?
- Can people read deeper into a topic if they want to?
As you can see from these questions, UX is distinct from usability. Google isn’t just concerned with how quickly your website loads up or how easy it is to navigate. Yes, those things are part of a great UX but Google cares about value and relevance too.
Why UX is Important for Google
The foundation of Google’s business stems from providing personalised and relevant search results in the fastest and simplest way. It wants to give its customers search results that directly answer their questions or address their immediate need.
User experience, therefore, is a critical component of how Google values your website.
According to Peter Morville a pioneer in the UX field, the following seven factors describe User Experience:
- Useful – Think about why someone would visit your website; what benefits does it offer to visitors?
- Usable – Can a visitor easily fulfil their end objective/their reason for visiting your site?
- Findable – Is the content of your website structured in a clear way so that people can find what they’re looking for?
- Credible – Does your website show that you are to be trusted?
- Desirable – Are you using branding, images, identity, design and language that make your website and business desirable to customers?
- Accessible – Would someone with a disability have as positive an experience of your website as someone without a disability? (This includes optimising the non-text elements of your site.)
- Valuable – Does your website deliver value to visitors?
Does your website have these UX characteristics?
SEO and UX is a partnership
To a degree, SEO targets search engines and UX targets website visitors. But both SEO and UX share the common goal of giving users the best experience. If you want your website to be successful you’ll need to pay attention to SEO and UX.
User Experience Metrics that Influence SEO
So, how do search engines determine whether a website offers a great UX?
Even though the exact algorithms aren’t known and some signals may not be direct ranking factors, we recommend paying attention to the following metrics to better understand your website’s user experience:
1. Bounce Rates
If a user visits your website and immediately leaves then this is a cause for concern. A very high bounce rate essentially signals to Google that users are dissatisfied with the first look at the website, and they don’t even bother sticking around to check out the content or other offerings.
If your bounce rate is high, you should take steps to find out the reasons and rectify it immediately. The problem could be anything from the layout, scripts, ads that irritate the visitors, poor design, improper colour combinations, long loading times, spelling mistakes that gives an amateurish feel and unkempt vibe.
For help on cutting your bounce rate, take a look at this handy guide: 10 Simple Ways To Cut Your Bounce Rate and Increase Conversion.
You might also like to read Neil Patel’s article, 13 Ways to Reduce Bounce Rate and Increase Your Conversions
2. Page-Views Per Visit
The page-views per visit metric is an indication of the quality of your website. It can be used to judge the usefulness of the published content. The higher this figure, the better your website will be perceived by Google and other search engines.
The reasoning behind this is simple – for a website to have higher page-views per visit, the visitor must have found the site easy to use and the content interesting, otherwise they would have left and gone elsewhere.
3. Time On Site
Time on site is also a good measure to ascertain whether a website is user-friendly or not. The longer a visitor spends on a website, the more it indicates that the content is valuable.
How to Improve User Experience and SEO
If you think that your site scores very low on UX, then you can take steps to remedy this situation. Below, we look at 14 tactics that can improve the user experience and SEO of your website:
1. Think About Searcher Language and Intent
Before you can create a good UX, you need to understand what searchers will be looking for when they come to your website and the kind of language they might use to make their search. Start the process of developing each web page with the questions, “How would a searcher look for this page?” and “What would they expect to see?”
The UX should show through every element that you understand the searchers’ need and that everything on the page exists for a logical, relevant reason.
2. Speed Up Load Times
Google stated a while back that site speed is a ranking factor, and had this to say: “Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”
Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure that your website loads fast, no matter which device is used to access it. Slow loading time is one of the main reasons why people leave quickly. The attention span of an average internet user has decreased considerably and the more they have to wait, the more they become restless and inclined to check other similar websites.
By improving loading speeds, you can avoid losing traffic within the first few seconds of a visitor checking in to your website, and therefore improve your bounce rates.
Use Google’s Page Speed Insights Tool to analyse and optimise your site following web best practices.
Another great tool we have come across is Batch Speed. This tool lets you bulk speed test multiple URLs using Google’s Page Speed checker, and the results are in a grid format so it’s really easy to spot where work needs to be done
3. Use a Clear Heading Structure
In our Complete Guide to On-Page SEO, we talked about giving your main heading an H1 tag because it identifies what the web page is about. This can influence the UX of your website. But to be truly effective, aim for a clear heading structure on every page that helps signpost what the content is about.
If we take this article as an example, the headings and sub-headings we’ve used pull out all of the key advice/action points in the article at a glance. Yes, the copy adds more depth but, for a visitor who’s short on time, they could just read the headings and they’d be able to take away usable advice about UX and SEO.
4. Make the Meta Data and URLs Relevant
Relevance is at the heart of a fantastic user experience. From your title tags and meta descriptions to your page URLs and breadcrumbs, you should aim to use language that reflects the search intent of visitors.
5. Add Interactive Content
If your website only has normal, static text content then consider adding some interactive elements. This can be anything from short quizzes and contests to interactive infographics.
Encouraging your visitors to participate with the information they’re consuming will increase the site’s popularity and since interactive content engages people considerably more, they will also stay on the website longer. As a result, the ‘time on site’ metric will increase.
6. Make Your Content Super Relevant
If searchers come to a website looking for something in particular, then it’s the job of your content to deliver what the user needs.
If the content you publish doesn’t provide users with what they’re looking for, they won’t stay on your site for long. This will signal search engines that your website publishes ineffective, irrelevant and low-quality content for the search term the visitor used.
Try to focus on creating highly useful content that is perfect for your target audience. Each page or article should have a single, primary focus with links to related content (see point 12 below).
A content audit can be an invaluable way of rediscovering rich past content and fine-tuning your website to meet the needs of your audience.
7. Give a Great Mobile Experience
Aim to ensure that your website is completely responsive and easily adapts to all resolutions and screen sizes. A user is far more likely to spend time on a responsive website that adjusts to the dimensions of his or her device than one which remains static and does not resize.
As stats show that more than 63% of web traffic now comes via mobile phones, a good UX pretty much equates to a good mobile experience these days. As well as responsive design, look at navigation, button sizes, image displays and font sizes when your website is viewed on a mobile device. Many website design themes now have the ability to display how your site should look on different devices but I still recommend doing a ‘snag’ test for potential issues when the site is live.
Is everything displaying correctly? Can you easily tap buttons and links? Is related content linked together logically?
Look at design elements on the mobile view such as the size of your logo (is it taking up a huge chunk of the screen?) or the position of the menu icon (is it in a prominent position or lost in the design?) – ideally, the most relevant information and actions should be visible in the small amount of screen space available.
8. Keep the navigation simple
Mobile web users are accustomed to seeing the three-line ‘Hamburger’ icon to signify where they can find the navigation menu.
Where some sites go wrong is that, when clicked, the navigation options are daunting, showing countless pages and sub-pages in drop-down menus. Again, for a great user experience, visitors need to see where to click for the content they want immediately.
An added bonus of having a simple, logical site structure and navigation is that Google may choose to show your site links in search engine results pages (SERPs).
9. Invest in Design
The design of your website should be fresh, interesting, attractive and fit for easy navigation. Design should never supersede functionality or overwhelm the user.
Colours should be eye-catching and comfortable. Avoid clutter and don’t be afraid of the white space. Adding subtitles, spaces between paragraphs and bullet points will help to break down the text to make it easy to skim read. Good quality photos and videos are other ‘must haves’.
The design of your website should make it easy to scan the content and identify the most important elements and information on the page at a glance. If you want more information on creating a website that provides a phenomenal user experience that’s perfect for SEO, we’ve got your back – here’s a guide to help you.
10. Use clear calls to action
People often drift away from a website because they’re not sure of their next course of action. Adding a clear call to action on every page can help with this. Tell visitors what they need to do next (i.e. click on the call to action) and what will happen when they do. This might be downloading an ebook, booking an appointment, signing up for a webinar and so on – your aim should be to have calls to action that tie into your business goals and that offer a reward to visitors for taking the requested action.
11. Add Customer Service Elements
Helpful, interactive elements like chatbots and easy email senders are good additions for UX. The chat box should be visibly present at all times to provide timely assistance but not intrusive. These common features are a standard of online customer service and can help customers to feel that you’re easy to contact and communicate with.
12. Include Relevant Links
Where appropriate, add links to related content on your website that will further help your visitors. This not only provides more value for your visitors but also naturally increases the ‘page-views per visit’ metric. Internal links have many benefits including:
- Minimising your bounce rate
- Prolonging the time visitors spend on your site
- Taking visitors deeper into your content
- Encouraging traffic to less visible pages
All of these are strong signals to the search engines that your website is providing high quality and engaging content. For further help on creating a strong internal linking strategy that will not only boost your SEO efforts but also make the journey through your website as easy as possible for visitors, we created this perfect guide: The Ultimate Internal Linking Cheat Sheet
13. Remember Your Off-Page SEO Too (Especially Stuff Google Can Monitor)
In all probability, Google uses Google My Business signals such as good reviews, links to recent posts, mobile click-to-call interactions and name, address and phone number (NAP) consistency to infer that your website offers a fantastic user experience. While this might not directly relate to your on-page SEO, it’s worth assuming that Google looks at everything it knows about your site and business when determining your rankings.
14. Keep Testing
With so many different elements to consider when creating a website and/or SEO strategy, it’s important to keep testing the UX. A method such as A/B split testing is a formal way of doing this. You could also try canvassing user opinions or keeping an eye on those all-important metrics we mentioned at the beginning.
UX and SEO: A winning combination
SEO and UX both deal with what a user sees and experiences on the web. If you want your website to be successful, it’s crucial to focus on providing a good experience for both your human visitors and the search engines.
SEO helps to determine whether a site ranks among the relevant results on a search engine results page (SERP), while UX is defined by whether people are clicking on and finding quality in those results. There is a very important connection between the two.
What do you think? What is your balance between SEO factors and UX factors? Do you consider your users when working on your SEO? Drop us a comment below – we’d love to know!
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Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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