The very essence of Google is all about user centricity: it ranks websites by which provide the most valuable resource to the end user. SEO aims to achieve relevancy and become the most valuable resource. Likewise, UX (User Experience) is all about ensuring the user is presented with relevant information at the right time.
However, those that focus purely on either SEO or UX run the risk of limited gains, whereas those who consider both Google and the end user’s experience will be the ultimate winners.
In this article we explore the relationship between SEO and UX and what you can do to help these two worlds work together, rather than collide.
A little schooling…
Since the advent of Google in 1998, businesses and webmasters have been working tirelessly to optimise and manipulate websites to improve their visibility based on certain search phrases. The higher you rank, the more that people see your website when they search. This is the whole premise of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
There’s no question about it: being in the top positions for your chosen keyword is brilliant. The top spots can deliver you a 20%-35% CTR (Click-Through Rate). But as your website ranks further down the page, this click-through rate deteriorates significantly.
UX (User Experience) on the other hand, is a fairly new concept – only around a decade old. But it’s just as important as ranking in a good position on search engine results pages, if not more important.
Providing a great digital experience for users helps ensure that all of the traffic you generate, SEO or otherwise, has higher engagement and consequently higher conversion.
UX vs SEO
The problem we often find in digital marketing, whether it’s an internal marketing team or external agency, is that those who sit firmly in the SEO camp rarely consider the UX. Equally, those who sit on the UX side of the fence rarely consider the SEO.
Ok, so maybe that’s a bold statement to make – but Rand Fishkin draws on this point exceptionally well in his UX vs SEO Whiteboard Friday post.
So why can’t we all just get along?
The problem is that both UXers and SEOers think of the other as an add-on, and not part of the same process.
There’s a lot of content out there suggesting that “UX designers need not worry too much about SEO and instead focus on producing great experiences and create content in the user’s language”. In principle this sounds great, but what happens when you get to the end of the project and SEO becomes an after-thought?
Well, this not only produces poor SEO which impedes the opportunity to actually acquire eyeballs to even read your fabulous UX-friendly content, but it actually hinders the overall user experience.
It seems there is a constant battle between UX-ers and SEOers (Men and Machines) – on the one hand the website needs optimising for computer based algorithms whereas the other guys will optimise the site for the best user experience.
The exceptions to the rule
Sometimes there is a need for a little compromise. Particularly when considering the user journey.
For example; let’s say you wanted to rank a local business for a specific term, i.e. ‘Home Cinema Bournemouth’. An SEOer would advise creating content clusters and splitting pages to ensure the phrase and the modifier were targeted.
In simple terms: “Create a product page and location page and link them together as a content group”.
Someone with UX experience, however, would argue that the user’s journey through the website should be simplified into just one page to keep the user engaged and improve the website’s conversion.
In this example perhaps there needs to be a compromise; could the geo-location content sit within the product page? Is there a unique widget that could be used to pick up on the user’s location and determine how close the user physically is to the store?
There are alternative ways to look at things when you start considering what the user wants/ needs vs what will help Google to rank the website higher.
Google is all about good UX
As we know, Google as a search engine has evolved significantly over the years with various algorithm changes and adjustments to the way websites are crawled.
When optimising a website for SEO, it’s important to bear in mind the UX. Marrying the two disciplines, considering both sides, your solution becomes even more meaningful.
Good UX is basically good SEO.
Think it like this, both SEO and UX have the same underlying objective: ‘Identify the problem a user is having and solve it’.
Splitting it down further, for optimisation experts it’s about how to attract the relevant audience through search, for the user experience folk it’s about how to keep those users engaged with the website.
The search funnel
When considering the search funnel, we need to think about the intent of the user and the stages of research they go through.
Initially the user may well use a very broad search such as ‘iPhone screen repair’ – which will bring up a whole host of results. But at this point, intent is low: the customer is exploring and the most likely results to be clicked will be those with either a compelling incentive or the Google local listings.
The next search may well then be a location-based modifier, i.e. ‘iPhone screen repair Bournemouth’. Here the intent has increased and subsequently the likelihood of the result being clicked by the user increases (assuming the user does indeed live near Bournemouth).
Now the user has landed on a web page, we need to ensure that they are engaged with the site. The page should feature that key search term used (in this case, “iPhone screen repair”). This could even include the location and applicable imagery i.e. specific geo-targeted landing pages.
The user is looking to validate the content and feel of the site against their original search query and ensure that they’ve landed in the right place.
The user journey should be short and concise to help educate the user through well laid out content, good positioning of call to actions and a clear process for the user. This will help reduce bounce rates and improve dwell times.
The user journey is great but to understand it’s performance in the search funnel we need to be able to measure it. Fortunately, there are tools out there such as Google Analytics and SessionCam to analyse the user flow within the website.
It is measurement that enables marketeers to understand ‘what’ is currently happening and how the user experience can be improved to draw the user through the flow.
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the user has decided that the product is right for them, price is right and the website is credible – they now have the confidence to convert by either submitting an enquiry form or buying a product!
But what happens afterwards? Following a purchase, does the website enable the user to leave a Google Review? If so, this can also help improve SEO performance with online reviews. Whilst it may not directly improve positioning in the search engine results page, it can improve the real estate and click-through rate of a listing because of the little 5-star rating that’s now next to your link on Google.
Key metrics UX can help with SEO:
Some of Google’s metrics for positioning now uses key variables such as engagement, time on site, page load speeds and pages visited.
These are all areas UX-ers focus on when optimising digital user journeys.
1. Bounce rates
If a page takes too long to load or content is missing, the branding doesn’t instantly resonate with the user they will hit the back button and exit the journey without ever really giving it a chance – this is known as a bounce. High bounce rates are not only a poor user experience but can also impact Google search results as only sites that engage users will rank highly.
2. Dwell time
Otherwise known as time on-site. It’s another metric Google users to validate the authenticity and value of a website. The longer a user stays on site, the more likely they are to engage with the content. Though there is also something to be said for high dwell times due to users not being able to find the resource they are looking for – so measure this appropriately.
3. Heading tags
Having well structured content with clear heading tags has long been known to improve SEO due to the architecture of the content. H1s, H2s and H3s are all important in the content structure to dissect into readable blocks and add credibility to the theme of the content to ensure Google and the users know what the site is all about.
Equally important is the navigation of the site. It’s the user flow and the way a user can browse the site from one page to the next. Ultimately, it’s a slimmed down version of the sitemap, something that Google uses to crawl the pages within the site.
5. Mobile experience
Finally, a mobile experience is imperative. It is well documented that Google prefers sites which are mobile optimised. In fact, in 2018 52% of all search occurs on a mobile device. From a UX perspective, a poor mobile experience can significantly impact the likelihood of a user engaging with the brand and pursuing with the user journey.
Content is king
Producing great content is the foundation of good SEO practice. Why? Because people will want to link to you and visitors will want to read it. The links acquired from a robust content strategy are not only organic but also typically higher value.
Links are essentially digital votes of confidence from other resources around the web. More quality links acquired and the more likely your site will rank higher in Google.
Content though comes in many shapes and forms. We’re not just talking about blogs but also video, infographics, whitepapers, guides and FAQ’s. These are all useful resources for the readers and of course for Google.
To summarise, regardless of which camp you sit in, neither can ignore the other party. There is clear cross over between the two disciplines and having a site which is well optimised for the robots and the users will have a better overall competitive advantage.
UX and SEO are like rivalling siblings, they bicker and fight until the cows come home but, deep down, they love each other dearly and can’t bear to be without each other.
So if you’ve focussed all your marketing efforts into SEO and forgotten about the user, I suggest you take a step back and start considering their needs and perceptions of your website and content. Likewise, if your user experience is validated but you’re not ranking in the SERPs there are lots of resources available and specialists who can help guide the right strategy.
No idea where to start with all of this SEO and UX stuff? Have no fear – the good guys at Insightful UX are here to help. Get in touch with us today and see how we can help.