Why SEO needs UX now
When it comes to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), optimisation is the critical word. We don’t work in “Search Engine Visibility” or “Search Engine Ranking Improvement” or “Search Engine Trickery”. It’s all about optimisation.
Optimisation is defined as:
the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource
This optimisation used to be a lot easier: stuff your page with as many keywords as you could, and you’d likely come out on top! But things have moved on since those days.
That’s because Google is constantly updating their algorithm to prevent sites using such manipulative practices (also known as black hat SEO) in order to overrun the search engine results page (SERP). This means the days of longtail keyword research, pages for every keyword variant, link directories and low-quality content are no more.
Instead successful SEO has evolved into a multi-discipline approach. It’s very common for technical SEO to work hand-in-hand with outreach, social, and content teams. But, to ensure ultimate success, you need a user experience team too.
What is UX?
User experience, commonly referred to as ‘UX’, is defined as
the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.
Effectively, the main goal of user experience is to ensure users are able to easily use, navigate and find the information they need within a product (commonly a website) without any frustrations.
There are a number of different disciplines within the realm of user experience, covering everything from interaction design, information architecture and content strategy to user research, usability evaluation and visual design. Looking at these areas, there are some clear overlaps between these and SEO.
How does Google track user experience?
Google can’t ask people how easy it is to use your website, but they can do the next best thing: measure their behaviour. There are a number of metrics that Google can track to understand the user experience of a site, including:
- Click through rate (CTR)
- Return visits
- Dwell time
- Time on site (long clicks)
These elements, when they come together within its advanced algorithm and machine learning, help Google to position sites amongst the crowded streets of the world wide web.
Those metrics are available for you to measure too. So while Google is evaluating whether your site is well optimised for UX, you have the same wealth of data within your Google Analytics. But data in isolation isn’t enough: you need to know how to look at it.
The HEART framework designed by Kerry Rodden, Hilary Hutchinson and Xin Fu, from Google’s research team is a great way to measure user experience of a website on a large scale.
The framework is split into 5 key areas:
- Happiness: How do users feel about the site?
- Engagement: How often are people coming back to use the site?
- Adoption: How many new users has the site had?
- Retention: What percentage of users are returning to the site?
- Task success: Can users achieve their goal quickly and easily?
Using the above table is a great tool for companies to focus on specific aspects of the user experience they want to improve, as well as identify goals and user experience metrics to gauge success.
How does UX affect SEO?
User experience is a design principle, and for a very long time there was an element of friction between the design and marketing teams. SEOs wanted more content for search engines to see, and UX designers wanted a clean clutter-free experience for the end user. Unfortunately for an SEO’s pride, the UX team were right - well partially.
This isn’t to say that everything SEO should be stripped back in favour of UX. In fact, it’s a combination of the two that will have the strongest impact. There are a lot of important areas of SEO that can work in harmony with UX, such as strong technical SEO underpinning, quality content (in the age of E.A.T), high-quality relevant backlinks and a great structure (to name only a few).
However, it’s becoming clear that the lines are blurring more and more each day, so working closely with your UX focused team members is becoming vital to successful SEO in 2020.
After all, teamwork makes the dream work…
Some of the key crossovers with user experience and SEO:
Ensuring your webpage is relevant to the search query is important for improving user engagement.
A fast loading site is an essential component for a great user experience, and since 2018 Google has used site speed as a key ranking factor.
Users spend longer on sites that are easy to use, so streamlining your site’s navigation is key.
Utilising both SEO and UX principles in your copy and microcopy is important for improving engagement and guiding the user through the site in an intuitive manner.
User experience and user intent
Another way in which SEO and UX are tied together is their focus on user intent. Ensuring that your page is relevant to a searcher's wants and needs is essential for a great experience and great rankings.
For example, if a user is searching for the answer to a question and you’re trying to sell them your product, their experience on-site is going to be poor, which in turn means your page will drop in the search rankings.
Search intent can be viewed as a matter of semantics, and can be broken into the following areas based on the keywords used to search:
- Commercial intent - buy, purchase, cheap, pricing, etc.
- Informational intent - what, when, where, how, restaurant, hotel, flight, news, etc.
- Location intent - near, nearby, from, directions, airport, route, maps, etc.
- Specific intent - sums up the keywords with all three intents described above.
Understanding the intent of each of your pages can influence your keyword research and mapping, making sure that the right pages appear for the right searches.
How to ensure your users are having the best experience
We all know the saying “to assume makes an ass of you and me”. This is especially true with your own website. Chances are you’ve spent a lot more time on your website than your users have - you know the ins and the outs, the quirks and workarounds for website foibles.
Your users, on the other hand, do not and they do not have the loyalty to your product to stick around with these frustrations (unless you’re really lucky). So it’s vital to the success of your site that you remove the foibles that you might understand but your users don’t.
There are solutions to guarantee your website visitors have the very best experience. Our SEO and UX teams work closely on the following processes to improve site experience:
Making website changes is not a decision to be taken lightly. A/B testing is key for deciding on new web design, content and usability updates. Testing changes with real users is a necessary step to verify the best approach (no matter how other sites are doing it).
Getting real time feedback about your site is a powerful way of understanding the sticking points of your current site. Hearing in real time how a user feels about your product can highlight issues you are unaware of.
Session recordings and heatmaps
Watching is understanding. Seeing how your everyday customer is using your site, how far they scroll and where they’re clicking can help inform design and content placement that helps make the site nicer for the user.
Finally, you need to understand who your users are. This step is an often-overlooked but much-needed step in improving your site experience for search visibility. Understanding your users will help to make sure your content is aligned with their wants and needs.
How your SEO & design teams can work together
Moving forward SEO professionals aren’t going to have to be fully-fledged UX experts, and user experience designers won’t need to spend their days carrying out redirects and keyword research. However, for the very best results they should have a strong understanding of each other's disciplines.
These two once distinct specialities need to become more and more entwined as Google continues to perfect its ranking algorithm. Linking these two approaches comes down to a company’s overall approach rather than trying to tie these two areas together in isolation, however. It’s more important now for companies to evolve from being product-focused to becoming customer-focused.
If you have any questions about how to integrate UX with your SEO efforts, or just want to know more, get in touch and we can help you dominate the search rankings in 2020!