There was a time when SEO was weighted towards factors such as keyword density, meta data and links - and while that's still important, the evolution of Rankbrain as a ranking factor - and the subsequent Panda updates - means that User Experience (UX) has become one of the most important ranking factors.
Making seemingly small changes to your landing pages can have significant impact on engagement, and therefore – a significant impact on your rankings.
SEO vs UX
Over the years online customers have gained higher and higher expectations, and whilst the internet has matured, so have we. Customers now know exactly what they want and search engines have adapted their algorithms based on the user’s intent and preferences. It’s critical for businesses to combine user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies, as doing so will ensure more conversions and help you maintain a competitive advantage. Use SEO and UX together to drive more conversions for your business. But what’s the difference between the two?
SEO is focused on external elements and the architecture of a website. The goal of SEO is to drive traffic to your website through search engines.
UX is all about how you engage customers once they’ve reached your website. UX mainly involves design tactics as well as content to improve engagement, increase dwell time, maximize conversions and keep customers coming back for more.
People reaching your website are there because they have a specific problem. They’ve probably done a search and your website has seemed like their best option. With the time investment they’ve made already, when they arrive at your website, they’re expecting a great experience and for you to solve their problem. This is why SEO and UX need to work together.
SEO = UX
Now that Google is measuring everything you do (and don’t deny it – if you use Chrome, you can expect that Google is spying on everything you do and feeding it into the algorithm), UX is SEO. Improving the way people navigate through your website to their chosen objective is what’s going to help you rank in 2018 and beyond. Here are five considerations:
It’s official, more searches and internet browsing are now conducted on mobile devices rather than on desktops. With this shift in how the majority of searchers are accessing information, Google has started indexing “mobile-first”.
The new index sees Google creating and ranking search listings based on the mobile version of content rather than desktop versions, even for listings that are shown to desktop users. It’s recommended that your website is responsive, so that the experience is optimised for each device.
As well as responsive design, there are a few other factors to consider when thinking about the mobile experience of your website. Speed of course is a major consideration, as well as your mobile website as a whole — the look, feel, navigation, text and images are equally important.
Headings & Content
Nobody wants to read a block of uninterrupted text, whether it’s a newspaper, book or, in our case, a website. Headings help readers to be more efficient by pointing them to the information that they’re looking for.
It’s been shown that 55% of all pageviews get less than 15 seconds of attention.
This shows that people don’t read on the internet, they skim. To optimise for this user behaviour, you need to break up your content with headings.
When you use headings on your website, remember that they’re also helpful for search engines too! Using the correct html tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3> etc.) makes it easier for search engine crawlers to understand and parse your content. Headings should tell the readers and search engines what the paragraphs/sections are about.
Adding keywords towards the front of your heading can still (after all these years) influence your rankings – but this isn’t always a major UX consideration, so you have to balance out the influence of keywords over user experience.
Content blocks should always be well-designed and easy to read. We see more and more publishers turning to AMP and creating AMP stories so that mobile users are more engaged with the content being produced – this is another example of how UX is a major consideration for content creators.
Easy website navigation has been a cornerstone of good SEO for almost as long as search engine optimisation tactics have been around, but some website owners still haven’t heard the message.
Site structure is not only useful for search engines, it’s also one of the biggest factors in your user’s experience. Site navigation needs to be simple, because when a user finds your website, they won’t always arrive at your home page first. For this reason, it should be very easy for a new user to find their way around your website.
You may want to use a burger menu, for instance, to reduce clutter and present a more comprehensive menu to users – or you may want to use drop-downs. You may even want to use multi-layered dropdowns (against all advice from the UX community). Whatever you choose to do, test it on your audience and measure constantly – how many pages per visit are you getting? How are people engaging with the menu? Use heatmaps and screen recordings to get a better understanding of how your navigation is performing.
Clear site structure also gives you an advantage in Google’s search results. Websites that Google can read easily, get the benefit of ‘sitelinks.’ This is where several of your pages are shown side by side in the search results, taking up valuable real estate which encourages more clicks.
I’m sure you’ve experienced a slow-loading website before. How many times have you simply closed the tab and gone back to Google for a different source. Google knows the answer to this, by the way. It’s called “pogo-sticking” and it’s more than likely integrated into the Panda algorithm.
Website speed is a crucial factor in the eyes of your users, and not to mention your search result ranking.
Mobile has increased the emphasis on speed. Speed is a ranking factor, so not only is it important to have a fast loading desktop website, you need to make sure your website is loading at an optimal speed on mobile devices too.
If you’re looking to speed up your website, the Google Pagespeed Insight tool is perhaps the best out there – as it gives you a list of priority items to correct on your site in order to improve site speed, but it also tells you what’s important and what’s not.
Google’s official mission is to “Organize the world’s’ information and make it universally accessible and useful” . So there’s no doubt that Google wants to show users the best result that fit their search query.
User signals are quite simply the behavioural patterns of users, these signals help Google achieve their mission by ranking your website appropriately. Bounce rate, Exit rate, Time on page, Time on site… these are all signals that Google is actively using (we believe) in ranking sites. In other words – if a user likes what they see, Google knows.
For instance, if a user goes to your website, looks at it, goes back to the search results and goes to the next search result – what does that imply? That your search result was irrelevant to them, and you shouldn’t deserve to rank for it.
It’s not just about the format of your menu or the design of your content – it’s about the relevance to the search query. Measure your search queries through Webmaster Tools to see what’s really being searched for – this will give you a depth of information about your traffic that will help explain those user signals, and give you a chance of improving them.
In the current web environment, SEO and UX go hand-in-hand to create a successful website experience for both your human visitors and search engine crawlers.
An optimised website experience means that users will ultimately spend more time engaging with the site. Great UX design is vital to the personal experience on a website, and great SEO is needed to get those people there. By seeing SEO and UX as one and the same thing, you’ll see a real improvement in engagement with your website.