A couple of weeks ago, Google announced a forthcoming update to its search algorithm. Although not coming into effect until 2021, there are some important aspects that digital teams should be considering now.
They begin the announcement with the following:
While this is not news to us, or anyone working in the field of UX, its nice to see the tech giants are getting on board!
Google have already gone some way to optimising for user experience, by prioritising sites with a fast load speed and proven mobile-friendliness.
However, now user experience will have a focus like never before. They continue:
“we plan to incorporate more page experience signals on a yearly basis to both further align with evolving user expectations and increase the aspects of user experience that we can measure”
Google relies on signals they can measure, derived from their Core Web Vital, which puts a lot of emphasis on the technical performance of a website.
However, they also point out:
“While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.”
Content relevancy is a more subjective measure. Yes, there are certain metrics that can be used to infer relevancy – high bounce rate could suggest 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.