Many people often see search engine optimization (SEO) and user experience (UX) as two separate things, however thankfully that viewpoint is gradually shifting. As search engines, such as Google, are leaning more towards satisfactory user experience on top of relevant search results, web industry is waking up to UX being an integral part of the package when it comes to SEO.
Customers’ needs and expectations have changed from the early days of the Internet. Search engines have evolved to display results according to the user intent and how customers interact with content. Regardless of how someone stumbles upon your website, there are certain customer needs that have to be met. This prompts website owners and businesses to adapt their strategies.
Practices that create an excellent user experience can also influence your SEO. Taking advantage of what others might overlook will bring you forward in the race for organic traffic and high conversion rates.
What Is User Experience?
In short, User Experience, often referred to as simply UX, is how the visitor sees and feels about a particular product, in our case a website. It encompasses such factors as usability, design, accessibility, general website performance like speed, and marketing efforts. UX is all about attracting visitors and turning them into loyal customers thanks to a positive experience interacting with a website.
These are the questions that user experience is concerned with:
- Is it easy to navigate the website?
- Is the website fast and mobile-friendly?
- Is the design attractive and easy on the eyes?
- Is the content original and relevant to the users?
How SEO And UX Affect Each Other?
SEO collects the data needed to improve user experience, to offer a more personalized experience for customers. Meanwhile, UX can help SEO by providing an insight into the website’s framework and content optimization.
The basic principle of SEO is using keywords and backlinks to increase a website’s authority and rank higher in SERP. Its main focus is to analyze, create and optimize content that would bring in more visitors and increase conversions. UX designers can take advantage of the keyword data, as it gives them an understanding of who their target audience is. Knowing what your customer’s needs and wants are, UX teams can utilize this information to modify a page accordingly, improving usability and navigation. The latter might be the most important for SEO, since if visitors are not able to quickly and easily find the information they were looking for they will simply leave and you will lose a potential loyal customer. Google is gradually switching to mobile first indexing, which means not only does your desktop website have to be easy to navigate, but especially the mobile version as well. UX can also be responsible for website’s speed as well as engagement rates.
With the advancement of technology, the way people consume content is drastically changing. Search engines collect an immense amount of data that doesn’t just help people find what they are looking for, the data also helps understand user behavior. The data is used to identify patterns in people’s behavior, how they search and what they are searching for online, subsequently providing more personalized results. This has been the target of Google and other search engines, to give people more of what they want and less of what they don’t. Businesses that make more effort towards satisfying the needs of users have a better chance of coming in top 10 SERP list.
SEO and UX Convergence
Headings tell search engine crawlers as well as visitors what your page is about and make it easier to scan through the content for information. Headings let both visitors and search engines understand the order in which the content is displayed and the main focus of each section.
Headings can also help readers navigate through the page. An optimized page will have keywords placed near the front of the heading. Subheadings such as < h2 > to < h6 > are used to indicate the general idea of the page. They can be used more than once, as long as it fits with the content’s structure. Usually, only < h1 > and < h2 > are used.
Quality content increases website’s search engine authority, trust and conversion rates. Other websites will link to you more and people will spend more time on your website. All of this matters to Google. SEOs can sometimes focus too much on optimizing the content for search engines they might fail to take into consideration the readers. This is where a UX team can step in to balance it all out by focusing on providing a more user centric content. Data that SEOs collect such as age, location, gender, profession etc., will help create unique content specifically for your targeted audience. From a UX standpoint, content has to be written in plain, easy to understand language, empathize with the users and be accessible to all user groups.
Speed matters. Everyone knows it. It matters even more now that the majority of people use their mobile devices to browse the Internet. It’s no secret that Google uses speed as one of their ranking factors. Additionally, research shows that nowadays users expect a website to load under 3 second, otherwise they’ll bounce. Google offers a number of tools to check your website’s speed as well as any underlying issues that might be causing it to be slow and it also provides you with suggestions on how to improve the performance.
It’s recommended that you use lazy load for images as this improves both SEO and UX. Another often suggested practice is deferring JS and CSS file load, this allows for the scripts to load only after your website has finished loading.
Website structure is equally important to both users as well as search engines.
The majority of visitors will not come straight to your homepage, you need to make sure they know exactly what page they landed on and how to get elsewhere on the website. In case you weren’t able to answer their initial question, point them in the right direction. They should be able to easily maneuver through the website, regardless of what page they are on.
You don’t want your visitors to just hit that back button because they could not find what they were looking for due to the page’s poor navigation. Users abandoning the website right after viewing a page and spending there no more than a couple of seconds is called a bounce rate, since users just “bounce” right back to where they came from. You want to prevent that as it negatively affects your search engine rankings, it tells Google that your website is not a good enough source for a particular search query.
Optimizing your website’s structure will help prevent a bounce. Avoid annoying pop-ups, long list of options, links to nowhere and dead-ends where users have no way of finding their way to other pages. Build a logical, hierarchical site structure: organize all the content into a limited amount of categories and balance the number of subcategories.
Good site structure will make it easier for search engine to crawl your website and will also provide you with sitelinks on Google results page. It’s a huge SEO advantage.
Google is gradually moving towards a mobile-first indexing. What that means is that if previously the algorithm ranked websites based on their desktop versions, now Google will rank websites based on mobile versions. Therefore, good mobile experience is key to improving SEO.
Besides having a fast loading website, quality user experience is even more crucial for mobile users. The website should have a well thought-out design and an easily accessible navigation bar. The menu ought to cover all the main sections of the website, but without being excessive. Both users and web crawlers should be able to quickly find what they are searching for. All it takes is one misplaced button or a button the wrong size to negatively impact mobile user experience and such directly influence SEO.
When it comes to mobile UX design, the simpler the better. A minimalistic straightforward design would be your best bet.
Google is constantly improving their algorithm to better understand human behavior and deliver personalized experience. You also ought to look at how your visitors interact with and engage the content on your website and align that knowledge with your business goals.
Striking a balance between SEO and UX will help your brand build its reputation and increase conversions. There are many areas where SEO and UX overlap, taking the best practices from both worlds can yield impeccable results.