7 ways UX can improve your site’s SEO
Search engine algorithms are getting more sophisticated everyday.
But so are users.
Think about it: browsing and searching on the internet is an integral part of everyday life.
So what does this mean for SEO? Well, many believe that user signals play a greater role in search rankings.
What is UX (and why should I care)?
UX is a fancy way of saying user experience. How does a user ‘experience’ your website?
Don’t confuse it with UI (user interface). In layman's terms:
- UX = user flows, mobile and desktop layouts, and site structure.
- UI = fonts, colours and design styles.
And good UX is essential for a good website.
In fact, it doesn’t have to be a website. It could be an app, a web portal, a mobile interface or any product. The essence of UX is how does your thing make someone feel when using it?
Keeping this question in your head when designing is the first step towards better UX.
Think about it:
If your website is difficult to use, ignores navigation best practices or is just plain frustrating to use, how are users going to interact with your product?
UX + SEO strategy
Google wants to provide people with the very best result for search queries.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the best result doesn’t just mean the best answer. It also means the best experience.
And Google wants to give you the best answer quickly.
So if you’ve provided the best answer, but your site is slow or hard to use, Google’s not going to consider you the best answer.
In this case, poor UX has negatively affected your SEO. Ouch.
Yeah, but how does Google know this?
Google knows all. Mostly.
The Google algorithm is a complex beast. But we know it uses a couple of different factors (200+ to be exact) to evaluate a site and then make an educated guess about how users experience your site.
- Site speed - there’s nothing more annoying than a page that’s slow to load.
- Responsiveness - people browse on a number of devices, from mobiles to tablets to laptops. Does your site work well on all of them?
- Content structure - the way you’ve structured your content, specifically how users interact with a page.
- Internal links - how easy it is to move around your website.
- High-quality links - external sites linking to your web page are a strong indication that you’ve got a good page.
Also Google analyses user signals (behavioural patterns) to determine how visitors experience your website.
What does this mean?
If a bunch of users quickly leave your website (aka bounce), don’t spend long browsing or just don’t return to your site often, it probably means your website hasn’t given them an answer to their search query.
Or they’ve not found what they are looking for.
This poor user experience signals to Google that your site isn’t that helpful. So why would it rank you higher?
On the other side, if users don’t bounce, spend a while browsing and make frequent return visits, then it’s likely that visitors like your site or at least find it useful and worthy of a return visit.
At the end of the day, Google is a machine that is trying to learn how a human experiences a website.
Why? So it can better serve results. So in this sense, a positive experience is likely to be given a higher ranking.
7 UX tips to improve SEO
Achieving a good user experience doesn’t have to be hard. Here are 7 UX tips to help improve your SEO:
1. People > robots
The main purpose of your website (and any website) is to give users information.
Got a cooking blog? People are looking for recipes.
Got a menswear shop? People are looking for menswear.
Got a SAAS for bookkeeping? People are looking for bookkeeping.
You get the point.
A website's purpose is to connect with its intended users and provide them with the information they’re looking for.
Your users are people, not robots.
Take a look at your website in the eyes of a user. Does it look good? Is it easy to use? Are things logically laid out? If you’re struggling with these, there’s a strong chance others are too.
Sites that aren’t designed with users in mind generally have higher bounce rates and lower conversion rates. And no one wants that.
2. Optimise your content
‘Content is king’. How many times have you heard that about SEO?
It seems like everyone is banging on about content. But do you know why?
Because content is important. Like really important.
Ultimately, Google ranks pages because they have good or bad content. But don’t forget to optimise that content.
Optimising your content doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Just remember:
- Create content that visitors want to read and search engines want to crawl
- Use H1 and H2 titles to show what your page is about
- Use logical label names in menus
- Create a clear and easy-to-follow navigation path
- If you have products, provide names and descriptions
Poorly optimised pages with thin content rank poorly in Google. Don’t be that guy.
3. Optimise navigation
You want people to easily move around your website, right?
Of course you do. So make it easy to do so.
The navigation is one of the first elements users interact with, so having it easy to understand is a no-brainer.
Make sure your website follows navigation best practices like clear and descriptive navigation labels, prioritise key pages, order things logically and include elements such as breadcrumbs.
You want to direct people so they move effortlessly around your site.
Sites that have well designed navigations are easier to read (by both users and Google), so rank better.
And one more thing.
Easy-to-navigate websites convert more users as they provide a better user experience.
4. Clean up your website design
Good web design is one of the first things people think of when it comes to UX.
There’s a lot more to it, but good UX starts with a good design.
In fact, updating the design can actually lead to an uplift in impressions, traffic and conversions. I wrote a UX SEO case study about my results from doing a redesign of my personal website.
Some things you want your design to do:
- Be responsive (more on that later)
- Be inviting and targeted to your audience
- Clear instructions and CTAs for what you want users to do
A simple and straightforward design can go a long way in accomplishing all the above.
Just make sure your website loads quick enough for users to see.
5. Improve your site speed
When it comes to websites, fast is good. But faster is better.
Google likes pages that load quickly because people like pages that load quickly.
Think about it: you’ve found a website that answers what you were searching for, but it’s taking ages to load.
How likely are you to click off and go elsewhere for information?
Thankfully, there’s a couple of things you can do to make your site faster, like optimising and compressing images, minifying CSS and using a good host.
Slow sites = low dwell time because users don’t like to waste time on slow websites.
6. Create a clear user path
Ever scored a goal without knowing where the goal posts are?
So don’t expect users to magically know what you want them to do on your website.
You need to show them. A user needs to be aware of how they can reach their goal via your website.
Help them on their journey by planting user paths and action items that are clear and easy to understand.
Just don’t overdo it. Really question your CTAs:
Are they too obtrusive? Too big? Too small? Poorly positioned?
The more you can optimise your CTAs around user behaviour, the more functional your site becomes to a user.
7. Make it mobile-friendly
“Mobile commerce makes up 30% of all U.S. eCommerce.“
“78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases.”
“More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the U.S. and Japan.”
I could go on. There’s lots of stats about mobile searches. So make sure your site works across a range of devices.
Check your site works well on mobile by running it through Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool.
Google likes sites that work well on mobile. But more importantly, users like sites that work well on mobile.
SEO + UX = 👍
Google has become more and more focused on ranking sites around UX.
Things like: ‘did a user bounce right away?’, ‘did they complete their action?’, and ‘was a link shared on social?’ are all things that reflect a positive or negative experience of a site.
These factors indicate quality.
Good UX means a user did not bounce, they did complete their actions and they did share a link on social.
It’s no secret either. Google wants people to make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. (It says so in its Webmaster Guidelines).
Google is looking to understand a user’s search intent and if a page matches search intent.
If a user has a bad experience with your site, then there’s a strong chance your site isn’t meeting the searcher’s intent, resulting in lower rankings.
To sum up, UX is an essential part of your SEO tasks.
UX can help your website to be more accessible by humans and crawlable by robots, which is never a bad thing.
Creating a useful and credible user experience helps to encourage returning visits and gain authority.
Just make sure you’re working for your users and not just search engines.