SEO and User Experience: A Relationship to Nurture
August 8th 2019 | By Emma Grant
User experience, the way a website focuses on the visitor, has been considered a critical SEO factor for a while now. But since the March 2019 Google Core Algorithm Update, the spotlight on user experience (UX) has grown even more intense.
User experience however isn’t just all about SEO. In fact, the process of making a website user friendly should be all about the user. That’s the whole point! In other words, SEO and user experience need to work together. And when they do form a lasting relationship, you will find it easier to meet your goals of generating increased leads, and boosting those all-important conversions.
The growth in importance of user signals
User signals are signals a website user sends to search engines based on both positive and negative interactions. The most common user signals include time on site, pages browsed per visit, click through rate and bounce rate.
Following a study carried out by Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics, it has become apparent that the latest Google Core Algorithm Update has boosted its weighting of user signals when calculating rankings. The results reveal that sites with improved online visibility following the update now have greater values for time on site and page views per visit, together with reduced bounce rates, in comparison with their competitors.
For example, winners in the update are seeing an average time on site of 2:29 minutes, which is 26 per cent more than the losers in the update. Similar variations are apparent when looking at bounce rate and pages per visit.
Why are these findings of interest? Well these user signals are some of the most difficult achievements for a website. Keeping users on a site and encouraging them to spend time going deeper into its content is no mean feat.
So the question is then, how do you achieve these crucial user signals? What is it that makes the user experience a positive one? Let’s take a look at how to nurture the relationship between SEO and UX.
What makes a positive user experience?
Before we start, it is important to recognise that not every user will have or even want the same experience. Just because something works for one website, doesn’t mean it’s going to have the same effect on another. The good news however is that there are some core best practice strategies that will work for everyone. And those are the ones we’re going to focus on.
Fast loading sites
In our post looking at 10 of the best SEO tips for 2019, we talked about the importance of fast loading websites and how Google frowns on slowcoach pages. Here’s a quick recap of what can slow a site down:
- Large images and videos
- Certain plugins and extensions
- Image sliders
- Cheap website hosting
Last year’s Google Speed Update saw the search giant prioritising fast loading sites. Why not check your site speed? Try the free tool PageSpeed Insights. How do you rate? If your site comes back as slow then you’ll need to attend to whatever it is that’s keeping it from loading quickly, otherwise your user experience is going to be negatively impacted.
One of the website design trends for 2019 we looked at in our recent post was flat design. It’s the industry name for a clutter-free, minimalist look. What’s great about flat design is that it doesn’t just tick the positive user experience box. It’s also a plus point when it comes to site speed too.
The more simplistic the design, the less data involved, the faster the pages load. Take out the clutter and users can better focus on the bits that hold meaning for them. It means they can find their way around so much more easily.
Website navigation is one of the most important user experience factors. If it’s confusing for the visitor to find their way around, they are going to leave very quickly, and that bounce rate is going to suffer.
So keep it simple and make it intuitive so that users don’t have to think too much about their next step. A sitemap is an extremely helpful feature, and the micro interactions we talked about in our web design trends post really do help with the whole navigation experience. Things like sound effects and visual animations like colour changing buttons and expanding menus better help users understand what they need to do. They also confirm that the actions they’ve taken are correct.
Mobile friendly design
It’s another one of our web design trends for 2019 and it’s been important for quite a few years now. Mobile friendly design, also known as responsive design, is crucial because Google changed which sites it indexes first to those that are mobile friendly.
Websites that are designed ‘mobile first’ are focused on user experience on a mobile device first, and then after that on a desktop. With mobile the most popular method of search since the middle of the decade, this is an incredibly important user experience feature not to be ignored.
Website security, or rather a lack of it, can directly impact SEO. HTTPS is a confirmed ranking factor. Sites that are certified with SSL are given greater weighting by Google because the search engine is keen to promote the use of secure, encrypted connections so that the internet is a safer place to be for its users.
Many hosting providers offer free SSL certificates, so it is simply a case of applying the certificate to the website. Others may charge for the certificate. It’s a worthwhile and usually fairly low cost investment.
Interesting, readable content
In our recent blog about SEO-on page factors, we looked at content readability. With the average reading age in the UK 12-13, it’s important to take care when writing online content so that it’s easy to digest. A quick recap of what makes easily readable content:
- Short paragraphs
- Summary points
- Simple vocabulary
- Text blocks broken up with images
- Compelling subheadings
- Call-out statements
You’ll also want to make your content in-depth and engaging if it’s going to keep users hooked. We’ve talked before about how web pages with longer content (ideally 2,000 words plus) are known to achieve higher rankings compared to those with thin content. Our post on how to write great SEO content explores six writing strategies proven to net the top ranking spots.
SEO and User Experience – a Summary
Our key takeaway here is that SEO and user experience should go hand in hand. Focus on creating the best possible experience for your users, and great SEO results will follow naturally. A fast loading, secure site brimming with engaging content that’s easy to navigate is a site that users will love, and because they do, they’ll be sticking around for longer. And for the search engines, these user signals are what prompt them to reward a site with great rankings.
If you could use some expert help in marrying your SEO and user experience strategies, why not talk to Figment? Both are something we’ve had excellent results in for our clients, and we’d love to help you enjoy the amazing rewards too that come from increased online visibility.