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Whilst it’s true that User Experience (UX) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) are two distinct practices, now more than ever they should be looked upon as a necessary partnership with a common goal: to give your website users the best possible experience.

Long gone are the days of relying purely on keywords to boost your SEO; Google’s algorithm has evolved to such an extent that your website must provide a rich, tailored user experience to your website visitors in order to be in with a chance of boosting your organic search rankings.

With Google’s own UX guidelines suggesting that a seamless UX is a critical ranking factor for organic search, and with recent studies showing development of your website’s user experience can boost customer conversion rates up to 400%, it’s clear to see why so many businesses are investing in UX as part of their SEO strategy.

To put it simply: investment in SEO makes your website optimised for search engines, and investment in UX makes your website optimised for site visitors. However, investment in both can successfully leverage each discipline to maximise their performance and boost results across the board.

What is SEO?  

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, aims to improve the performance of your website on search engine results pages (SERPs). It aims to boost your organic rankings and drive targeted traffic to your website. We’ve written a beginners guide to SEO here if you want to discover more about SEO and how it can help small businesses.

What is UX?  

User Experience (UX) is a pretty self descriptive term, and simply serves to describe the experience a site visitor has whilst interacting/using your website.

If your website provides a seamless, intuitive and targeted experience to your users then congratulations, you’re delivering a positive UX – however, if your website is slow, hard to navigate and provides little value through its content, you’re delivering a negative UX (and making 88% of your online customers leave with no intention of returning…)

Core elements of User Experience include:

  • Your website’s internal structure/architecture (43% of site visitors want websites to remain simple & nearly all negative user feedback relates to this) 
  • The journey, content & touchpoints of your site visitors (over half of all site visitors prefer content that is personalised to them & their needs). 
  • The responsiveness of your website across mobile/desktop (50% of site visitors will use a website less if it doesn’t work on mobile, even if they love your business…)

Stripped down to its basics, UX is about ensuring that a site visitor finds it easy to navigate through your website, its content and interactive elements, and feels like the experience has been tailored to them at every stage. 

So, How Does UX Impact SEO?

As Google’s algorithms have evolved, the weighting and prioritisation of ranking factors has differed wildly. You may have heard about the early days of SEO, where insane amounts of keyword stuffing could guarantee some degree of success in achieving rankings…

It’s safe to say we’ve come a long, long way from Google relying on signals that can be easily manipulated, like keyword stuffing, link spamming and other outdated practices.

Google is now “user-centric” and has developed its algorithms accordingly, wielding complex technology across the AI and machine learning space to deliver search users exactly what they need to feel satisfied with their search results.

The myriad ranking factors that Google “judges” your website with are now substantially aligned with providing a rich, positive user experience for your website visitors. 

This ranges from technical elements like site speed (slow site speeds lose site owners billions of £s across the e-commerce world each year) to measuring site visitor behaviour like bounce rate, whether or not your site is bookmarked by users, if users came across you through search or direct, and the list goes on and in (with over 200 more factors!)

If you are providing a positive UX through your website’s development and design, you will undoubtedly be supporting site visitors in behaving in ways Google deems to be positive – they’ll stay longer, interact more with your content, perhaps return more often, and are more likely to bookmark, share and promote your website across social media/word of mouth. 

All of these, inevitably, contribute to bettering your search position and send positive signals to Google’s algorithm.In order to better your SEO through UX, you need to ditch the SEO goggles and take the time to understand your audience, website and content from a user’s perspective. It’s time to step back, reposition yourself, and work through your website from the perspective of your target audience.

Image source: Ash Shah

What Web & Content Factors Influence SEO and UX?

As mentioned above, there are over 200 ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when ranking your website for search results. Here are a handful of critical factors that link UX and SEO together to boost your website’s performance across both areas…

1 – A Thorough Understanding of Your Audience

Both SEO and UX require you to thoroughly understand your audience as the first step in any strategy.

SEO requires you to know your audience so you know exactly who you’re targeting with keywords and content.

UX requires you to know your audience so you know exactly what they want to see, do and consume whilst on your website, and enable you to make your website perfectly tailored to these needs.

To discover your target audience, you need to be able to answer questions beyond demographic information of age, gender and occupation. Here are some example questions you might want to use to frame your research:

  • What is a site visitor wanting from your website?
  • What would a site visitor search for online?
  • How would a site visitor seek out/look for the information or content they desire?
  • What would they expect from tone/content?
  • How would they want to interact with your website? What forms, buttons, purchases, links, or downloads are they expecting to be able to engage with?

You might also want to look into current data if you have analytics at your disposal. 

This can provide vital information on how users journey through your website, how they behave, how long they stay for, and how often they interact with buttons, forms, purchases or any other conversion you’re monitoring.

You want to build up a clear picture of your audience – without this, you will have nothing to guide your UX and SEO strategies as they will not be directed toward a targeted group of users with shared interests, wants and needs.

I could sit here and tell you that 70% of users prefer to use companies that share their sense of humour or that over 70% of users judge how credible a website is based on its aesthetics…

But if you don’t know what humour your target audience would appreciate or what your target audience deem to be appropriate aesthetically, you are making it nearly impossible to meet their expectations, thus compromising any SEO or UX efforts before they’ve even begun!

2 – Have You Done Your Keyword Research?

Furthering on from the above point, successful keyword research will enable you to increase your understanding of your target audience.

This works for both SEO and UX. 

Keyword research is a fundamental building block of SEO – knowing what keywords to target and what content to produce is absolutely critical to any successful SEO strategy – without it, you will not achieve any significant results. 

For more information on how SEO works, click here.

In relation to UX, keyword research helps by providing further information on site visitors, for example their search intent.

Look at these two searches:

  1. “Good first cars” 
  2. “Used Ford Fiesta 1.5L 2005 blue for sale now Sheffield”

The first search is on the lookout for content/information that could help them answer their question and determine what cars to look into further. 

This is a broader search that indicates someone is in the exploratory/information seeking stage of the buying process.

The second search seems to have much more of a purchasing intent – they are seeking a specific product in a specific area with a somewhat defined specification. 

The presence of “now” indicates they are looking for the ability to complete a purchase immediately if they like what they see.

Both are searching in relation to cars, but at different stages of the buying process and with differing degrees of intent. 

What makes great content and UX for one may be a bad UX with poor content for the other…

3 – What Are You Pushing Your Audience Towards?

A well designed website will successfully push site visitors toward a particular action, event or conversion through elements like buttons, prominent calls to action (CTAs), chat-bots and more.

To facilitate a positive user experience, you need to balance your desire for site visitors to perform an action with their desire to navigate your site and content in an intuitive manner. 

Lean too far either way and you’ll be losing out on conversions or annoying site visitors by preventing them exploring your site in the way they want to.

If your SEO efforts are successful in bringing in more organic traffic, it can be tempting to try and capitalise immediately on this boosted audience.

However, you should be wary of compromising UX on purpose…

Sacrificing good UX with pop-ups, intrusive ads, or flooding every paragraph with “buy now” buttons may seem appealing for short term profits, but long-term you could be dissuading site visitors from ever returning and moving from “User Experience” into “User Exploitation”.

Here are two ways you can help improve the performance of clickable/interactive elements:

  • Place them in locations that users will be familiar with/expect – don’t try and be too tricky or “cool” with how you present interactive elements. 
  • Design interactive elements to be as visible as possible and ensure that site visitors will know immediately that they can engage with the element – that’s why hyperlinks are different colours! 
  • Ensure your content can be easily shared on popular social media channels. 
  • Make sure you’re using CTAs throughout your page content to encourage visitors to further explore other pages, content or convert.

You might be asking yourself how these UX elements contribute towards your website SEO? 

By optimising your webpages for site visitors and making it easier for them to spend more time on your website/explore different content on your website.

This means you’re reducing bounce rates and showing Google that your website is highly relevant and of a high enough quality for visitors to interact with it for longer. Optimal bounce rates are strongly correlated with achieving first page spots with. Google rankings

By encouraging social sharing and conversions, you’re further proving this point.

4 – Focus on Your Site’s Foundation & Navigation

How your website is structured has a tremendous impact on both SEO and UX. If you’re building a website, you have to take the time to consider the foundation of your website and ensure it is following best practices.

This is referred to as your website architecture. A website constructed with an optimised site architecture allows search engines to more easily discover your website, index its content and follow internal links to be able to journey through the entirety of your site. 

From a technical point of view, there are plenty of things to consider – ranging from optimising your URL structure to using H1 and H2 tags in your site content to ensure that the content hierarchy is being established.

However, a fundamental element of site architecture that is critically important to both SEO and User Experience is that of website navigation…

How to Optimise Website Navigation:

It’s important to remember that there’s a very high chance your site visitors will be landing on a different webpage to your homepage. 

In order to allow site visitors to easily explore and journey through the rest of your content, you need to ensure that your navigation is optimised:

  • Your top menu should be clear and prominent, with no silly page names that may confuse your visitors. 
  • Your pages need to be organised into appropriate and manageable sections/groups to ensure you’re not flooding your menus with too many options. 
  • Content needs to follow SEO best practices & prioritise clear formats with headers, lists, and appropriate imagery/site media. 
  • Internally link to relevant content and utilise CTAs to help your site visitors explore your web content further. 
  • Utilise categories and menus for your blog to keep posts organised and accessible. 
  • Consider using breadcrumbs to easily allow users to return to previous pages or menus.
  • Minimise the amount of clicks needed to get to any given webpage. 
  • Avoid any pop ups, ads or features that may hide important information or menus – this is a common criticism with poorly designed chatbot features. 
  • Don’t leave users with a dead end.

Cleaning up your navigation makes it easier for both users and search engines to explore your site – that means it’s equally as important for SEO and UX. 

Through optimising your website navigation and architecture, there’s a chance that Google will display other pages within your main result on a search page – these are called sitelinks and are fantastic as they enable you to take up more of the screen/results and attract more clicks and visitors. 

Take a look at Wilkes Wood when you search for us on Google:

5 – Make Your Website Optimised for Mobile

Here are 4 statistics that you need to know:

  1. 85% of your site visitors expect your mobile site to match or outperform the quality of your desktop site.
  2. Nearly 50% of users are actively annoyed by sites that aren’t optimised for mobile.
  3. Nearly 70% of users will choose to reward your website with a purchase if it’s optimised for mobile and your competitor’s websites aren’t.
  4. More than 50% of traffic is now from mobile search.

Mobile optimisation is no longer a cool thing for your website to do, it’s an absolute necessity. Those that do not invest in responsive websites are absolutely going to suffer – your site visitors are expecting content to display correctly no matter what device they’re using.

From a UX standpoint, it’s non-negotiable.

Unfortunately for those with clunky mobile sites, it’s also vital for SEO.

Google has repeatedly stressed how mobile-friendly websites are favoured in search results, and if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Google’s crawler now conducts mobile-first indexing – there’s no two ways about it, responsive design is an expectation of search engines and users alike.

Make sure that your website has accessible and clear fonts, has a seamless mobile navigation menu, loads fast on mobile devices and has functional CTAs – you can even make the latter mobile specific, with “Call Now” functionality!

6 – Is Your Website Speedy?

Page speed is another example of something that is equally important to real world site users and search engines alike.

The verdict is unanimous: if your site is slow, your visitors will leave.

In fact, if your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, you’ll have already lost more than half of your traffic and on the opposite side of things, even a 0.1 second site speed improvement has been shown to improve online sales.

If your site is loading too slowly and causing visitors to abandon ship, you’ll see a negative impact within your bounce rate and time on page analytics – this is why Google uses page speed as an important factor in deciding your rankings. 

Luckily, you can use Google’s free tool to determine how your site is performing and receive feedback on how you can take steps to improve your site speed. This should give you a pretty good idea of how much work you need to do and where you need to turn your attention to.

A common mistake that has a massive impact on site speed is to upload site media without optimisation/compression – here’s a quick guide if you need to revisit your photos/videos on your site.

Can You Help Me With Improving My Website SEO or UX?

Yes. If you think you need some help optimising your website for search engines and users, get in touch with us today and our experienced in-house team will take care of the rest.

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