It’s no secret that Google’s algorithm takes into account user experience and good usability as part of a site’s ranking, but what does this actually mean in practical terms?
How does UX impact SEO?
Broadly speaking, good user experience for a real person also equates to good user experience for Google’s bots
SEO has always been impacted by basic (and largely technical) UX elements:
- Site load speed, primarily the measurable metrics from Google’s Core Web Vitals:
- Page load speed
- Responsiveness and interactivity
- Visual stability (i.e. how quickly everything loads on a page that might push other elements around)
- Mobile responsiveness
- Pretty much a given these days!
- High quality, unique, useful content
- The SEO classic – content has always been king
- Updates in the Google algorithm over the last few years mean that it is no-longer sufficient to write content purely for SEO purposes – content has to answer real user questions and be genuinely useful to achieve a high rank
However, it is now becoming clear that other traditional ‘UX’ elements are also important for good SEO, including:
- Clear navigation and logical structure (information architecture)
- Having a logical page structure and content hierarchy makes it easier for people to quickly find what they are looking for on a website
- Coincidentally, it also makes it easier for Google’s bots to find content on a website!
- Clear CTAs
- Clear and obvious calls to action support a pain-free user journey, and (if done correctly!) provide users with an immediate answer to the ‘what next?’ question
- Internal links within the site are also good for SEO, and support the information architecture to simplify user journeys
- Consistent visual style
- Maintaining a clear and consistent visual style and branding across a website reduces cognitive load on users (trying to work out if they’ve been sent to a different website, or if the same website just looks different)
What does this mean in practical terms?
Sadly, there are no quick UX ‘tricks’ that you can use to improve SEO! However, a true organisational focus on user experience (i.e. optimising the site for your users, rather than with an internal focus) will inherently improve SEO as well.
This obviously means addressing the technical requirements (load speed, mobile responsiveness etc.), and writing good content. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that just ticking these basic boxes is not sufficient – even if your content is amazing, if it is poorly presented, visually confusing and difficult to find on your website, you will not rank highly. It is also important to ensure that you write content for users, not for SEO keywords – answering user questions more effectively will give better SEO results than ‘keyword stuffing’ or trying to write content for Google.
How can you measure these non-technical elements?
The short answer is, it’s not straightforward. Content relevancy is a subjective measure. Yes, there is certain analytics data that can be (and usually is!) used to infer relevancy – for example, a high bounce rate could suggest a user couldn’t find what they were looking for. Conversely, it could mean they found exactly what they were looking for so didn’t need to look further than the page they had landed on.
Equally, site dwell time may be an indication that users are really engaged by your content. On the other hand, it could suggest users are spending ages trying to find the information they need in a poorly laid out, word-dense page.
The only way to know for sure is to ask your users.
To ensure your content is relevant, you must first understand what your users want.
Discovery user research is the best way to find this out. This can take many forms: 1-to-1 interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, online surveys, diary studies. Whatever the method, the important thing is that by surfacing what your users want you can build your website on a foundation of user evidence and provide a service that actually meets their needs (rather than one that pushes the internal priorities of a business).
Once you’ve established what your user needs are, it is important to test how well your website meets these needs.
Can they get to the information they want and, once they do, does the content answer their questions? I.e. how effective is your navigation and how relevant is your content? Conducted face-to-face or remotely, on laptops or mobile devices, testing should be standard practice for any new digital development (although sadly this is often not the case).
As Google’s algorithm becomes more sophisticated and sensitive to the user experience offered by a website, it will no longer be good enough to just exploit good SEO tactics. Your website will have to be genuinely user friendly and the only way to guarantee this is by involving your users in its development.