It wasn’t so long ago in the digital marketing world that the forces of SEO and UX were pulling in different (but not opposite) directions. One camp was focused on end users and the experience they have every time they visit a website, while the other was constantly trying to figure out the newest and most effective ways to please the search engines.
Now the reason I say “different” and not “opposite” directions is because the two fields weren’t battling against each other, but they did have predominantly divergent priorities.
On one hand you want to ensure people find your website, and that’s where SEO comes in. But then on the other, once they have found it, they need to be impressed and engaged, otherwise all your good SEO work will have been for nothing.
When you think about it, however, SEO and UX should complement one another. That’s because the number one focus of all the big search engines has always been about improving the user experience – ensuring only the most relevant search results appear; reducing the number of spam links and dangerous websites, etc.
So it stands to reason that if the search engines are all about improving the user experience, surely it should also be a major part of your web marketing and, therefore, SEO efforts too. In fact, SEO and UX are so intertwined that targeting one at the expense of the other would be detrimental to your overall efforts.
That’s why, when we think about SEO, we should absolutely consider UX as well as all of the other digital marketing components that augment it.
Factors That Lend Themselves to Improving UX and SEO
As I’ve already mentioned, SEO and UX are deeply intertwined. Here’s how:
Page Titles & Title tags
Title tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.) are a vital part of any SEO strategy. They tell the search engines what each page on your website is about and are displayed in the SERPs, your browser tabs and when you share a link on social networks.
But they are also important for people visiting your site too. Obviously, visitors don’t see the actual tags, but they do see the titles of each page clearly displayed and so that they know what the page contents are likely to be.
Sitemap & Site Navigation
A sitemap helps Google and the other search engines figure out how your site is constructed. It contains information about each page, how it links to other pages and the overall hierarchy of your website.
The navigation menu on your website works in the same way, but for people. It should be clear, logical and hierarchical, so that your visitors know exactly where they are at all times. Breadcrumbs help achieve this.
It was always a topic of much debate among SEOs: whether page speed influences search ranking. And while the big search engines didn’t really help settle the argument either way, it’s certainly no secret how Google views site speed when it comes to mobile Internet browsing.
In terms of site visitors, page loading speeds are equally crucial. Today, with lightning-fast mobile and broadband connections, Internet users expect pages to load almost instantly. Even a slight delay could see potential prospects click away from your site (bounce) and visit a competitor.
A Google study even found that 53% of mobile Internet users abandon a web page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.53% of #mobile Internet users abandon a web page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.Click To Tweet
The bottom line is that website speed is being more closely monitored by search engines and is a crucial factor in improving the user experience. Ignore it at your peril.
Staying on the theme of mobile, user-friendliness when accessed on a mobile device is also a defining factor for websites, both in terms of SEO and UX.
Google’s Mobile First index is a clear indication of the importance the search giant places on mobile browsing, which is why mobile loading speed and UX are both paramount for SEO today.
Everything from the size of your website’s buttons when displayed on a mobile device, to the navigation menu, has the ability to make or break your success with mobile Internet users.
In the same way Google (and the other search engines) look favorably at your mobile-friendly website, so too will your visitors if the UX is spot on.
Related reading: Why a Mobile-Friendly Website Is a Must for Businesses Today
Stop Keyword Stuffing!
Littering a webpage with keywords (keyword stuffing) is an old-school SEO trick used to fool the search engines that worked once upon a time. Fortunately, the search engines wised up to this technique and released algorithm updates to combat it. Now, keyword stuffing is severely penalized. And so it should be! Both in terms of SEO and UX.
What does keyword stuffing do for the user experience? It significantly undermines readability. People do not want to read content that has a keyword or phrase randomly thrown in here and there – especially if it doesn’t improve the content and instead makes it more difficult to digest.
Internet users love reading genuinely useful information and the search engines understand this. That’s why content always stands the test of time as a key part of any web marketing strategy.
Blog posts and articles that answer people’s questions and solve their problems get naturally shared, whether it be via email, instant message or on social media. Sharing is great for businesses as it means additional exposure, which can translate into new followers or even sales.
Equally, great content satisfies the search engines too. As well as the keywords it contains (not stuffed, of course), all the engagement that good content receives is positive for organic rankings. Search engines see the signals, where traffic to your site is coming from, how long it stays and where it goes next.
Interestingly, Google has said many times before that social shares do not impact ranking, but there’s still the undeniable fact that viral content with an immense amount of shares always ranks highly in the SERPs.
Larry Kim on the MOZ blog suggests that machine learning systems reward high engagement with higher visibility. So, if a Facebook post has a huge amount of likes, comments and shares, it is likely to be shown to more and more people because Facebook’s algorithm thinks it is relevant and useful.
Could Google be doing something similar?
Inbound & Outbound Links
When you create content, links to external sources are a great way to provide the reader with additional information – especially if you cite studies. This improves the UX by providing the reader with verifiable information that shows you are using reputable sources. You might even choose to link to another piece of content on your own website, or one somewhere else if it will add value to the user’s experience.
Then there’s inbound links to your web pages, which carry huge weight for SEO purposes if they come from credible sites. Legitimate inbound links suggest to the search engines that your content is a good source of information on a certain topic. An authority domain if you will.
The fact is, people want to link to great content, which is why it is significant for both UX and SEO.
That All Important Bounce Rate
All of the above leads search engines to the key trigger within any users experience. Bounce rate.
I mentioned the term ‘bounce’ earlier, but didn’t elaborate on it at the time because I knew I’d come to it again later, and here we are.
From a search engine’s perspective, when someone clicks on a link to a website in the SERPs and then immediately returns to the SERPs without spending any time at all on the site they visited, they are deemed to have bounced. This is actually pretty crucial as it’s one of the signals search engines use to determine the relevance and quality of a website.
For example, let’s say someone conducts an Internet search on how to repair a dripping faucet. One of the first results displayed looks promising and they click on it only to find it doesn’t really help them. They quickly bounce back to the SERPs and look for another link. The search engine notes this behavior and interprets it as meaning the website wasn’t really relevant to the person’s search query. As a result, said website may or may not appear going forward for that particular search term. It will certainly move down the SERPS if people keep bouncing out immediately.
So, while you don’t necessarily need to be a UX expert to make changes that complement your SEO efforts, some knowledge of what makes for a great UX is not only beneficial, but also has the potential to boost your organic search rankings too.