Conventionally, SEOs work most closely with written content. Their job is to lead users to the answers they need - and you can go a long way as an SEO without thinking about UX design.
The thing is, for years, aspects of UX have contributed to your ranking in search results. This means that SEOs need to pay attention to UX, at the risk of spoiling their great work around content.
This adds an extra challenge to the work of an SEO. But working on UX and SEO together makes sense. After all, both these elements of digital marketing focus on helping your audience find what they want.
So, the time is right to consider how UX can impact your SERP ranking!
Aren’t SEO and UX completely different things?
It’s pretty rare to find one person with high-level SEO skills and expertise in UX to boot.
On one hand, the life of SEO is all about driving traffic to your webpage.
You’ll know about their most common tools. Keyword research. High-quality content that matches user intent. The ability to earn backlinks to improve the domain authority.
On the other hand, online UX is about what happens when a user decides to come to your website. Load time. Layout. Hierarchy.
The best UX comes out of intensive research and testing - and usually has relatively little to do with the written content that goes on.
Although SEO and UX are usually delegated to different people, the fact is, they have a similar goal: bringing the best online experience to the audience.
It doesn’t really matter if your site has the best content out there. If your target audience is hounded by banners, pop-ups, and an unstable layout, they’re likely to hit the ‘back’ button and spend less time on your page.
Chances are, you’ll be losing potential clients: and that’s a problem.
So what’s UX got to do with SEO?
A good SEO tries to influence our online searches positively.
It may look simple: you type a query, get some results, and (fingers crossed) find the information you need.
However, there’s a lot going on behind the schemes, with search engines gathering buckets of data about your web page - especially about the words and content.
Search engines update their methods continually to provide users with the best experience. So these days, you don’t see so much of the keyword-stuffed garbage content like you once did. That’s the result of careful decision-making at the highest level.
In some ways, UX is always a part of SEO: since the beginning of search engines in the 90s, their owners have tried to ensure providing great results.
Nonetheless, aspects of UX have only been a stated part of Google searches since 2016 (when it surprised some SEO experts). What google calls ‘Page Experience’ has then been a feature of major updates in their algorithm ever since.
Top priorities for UX in 2022/23
Alongside the conventional forms of SEO, Google uses a variety of UX data to help rank pages. (We’ll focus on Google in this article, as they set the agenda for most other search engines).
The core web vitals: fundamentals of UX for SEO
Since 2020, the central aspects of UX for Google are the so-called ‘core web vitals’. These are:
- Page Speed
- Visual Stability
These are important parts of any site’s development and design - whether you want to rank on Google or not.
But it’s useful to know that search engines look at these metrics very precisely. As web vitals are hard to measure, Google defines them in very specific ways.
Page speed is measured by the loading time of the largest single element within the visible page - known as ‘largest contentful paint’. In Google’s view, this load should take under 2.5 seconds. It makes sense, as research suggests that a load time of 3 seconds or longer will make people leave a site.
So it doesn’t matter if your overall page loads efficiently. If there’s a single image, video, or animation making your page go slowly, it will negatively impact your ranking.
Google’s current method of measuring interactivity focusses on the first input made by a user.
Think about your experiences of landing on a webpage. It loads. You quickly see something you want. You don’t need to wait to see the whole of the page, so you click away.
Sometimes there’s a lag between that click, and the moment that the page starts doing what you asked. That’s called ‘first input delay’, or the amount of time it takes for a page to recognise that you’re trying to do something. Your page needs to start responding in 100 milliseconds - a tiny time-frame!
Finally, there’s visual stability. We’ve all had the experience of visually unstable websites. After a few seconds, the page looks complete, and you go to click on the link you want. But it moves out of the way at the last second, leaving you clicking on thin air or an unwanted ad.
Google gives a score to every unpredicted layout shift, like a text box moving from one place to another, or a ‘click here’ box appearing out of nowhere. The result is your ‘cumulative layout shift’.
There’s more to UX than core web vitals
The core web vitals are clearly important: and if you’re an SEO with a background in content writing, you’ll need to bring in some help to fix these problems.
But they aren’t the only aspects of UX that will make a difference to your ranking. You also need to pay attention to:
- Site security. Site security has been used to rank websites since 2014. The measure is simple. You just need to acquire an SSL certificate for your site from a third-party agent. Your site will then start with ‘https’ (not ‘http’). Browsers will recognise your page as secure, and it won’t take a hit in the rankings.
- Mobile responsiveness. Since 2017, Google has hosted a site to test your website’s performance on mobile devices. That’s helpful, as problems with the display on mobile devices will hurt your rankings. The best bet is to design your site with mobile as a priority. After all, a large proportion of your visits will be from mobile, anyway.
- Site navigation. A clear sitemap has two benefits. First and foremost, it helps users identify the key content for their enquiries. But secondly, easy navigation will help Google’s crawl bots to ‘see’ all of your site.
These three areas have been part of search engine rankings for a long time. They help users find the information they need on your site. What’s more, they prove to ‘the algorithm’ that you are doing everything you can to help your users.
It’s important that businesses and their SEOs know about all the ways UX can change your ranking.
You might have a serious business offer. And you might be backing it up with an absolutely solid content marketing strategy. But if you don’t address these aspects of UX - your time and energy will be wasted.
Five ways to help your UX with SEO
For some aspects of UX, we have to turn to designers and developers. But providing great user experiences is fundamental to the work of any SEO.
Here are a few more strategies you can use to make sure that you’re getting UX right.
Don’t go cheap on web development
On any web page, there is plenty going on below the surface.
Cheap designers will be able to make you a beautiful-looking design. However, an elegant appearance can disguise poor functionality.
You want a smooth-loading page - this job can be easily accomplished by a good web designer, who can ensure that your site is only using as much electricity as it needs to.
Great web design doesn’t always mean you’ll get a page that’s completely unique to you. In fact, UX can be better when users feel familiar with what they’re looking at. An experienced developer will help you understand what you need.
Make your page layout work for your users
Page layout is important for any page your users might land on from a search engine.
Simplicity is absolutely key. The writing on your landing page should help your users identify what they’re looking for. That means clearly separated blocks of text, bullet point lists, and appropriate font sizes for headings.
Getting this setup will help with every visit to your page.
Give clear directions
Whatever page your users land on, they should find it easy to continue their journey through your website.
For static content, this might include a very clear header and footer, providing navigation to the most significant and attractive parts of your site.
Blog posts can include useful links and CTAs for further reading.
Great writing is still at the core of SEO and UX
Writing skills are still fundamental to SEO success.
Any written words on your page should be easy to scan over, with clear subheadings: after all, your users will be searching for the most relevant information.
Your choice of words and vocabulary should match your intended audience. Usually, SEO writers aim for an 8th-grade level of reading comprehension. This may vary, according to the specific vocabulary and knowledge you expect from your audience
When you introduce keywords, make sure they are a natural part of your page. Nothing puts users off like keyword-stuffing.
Keep an eye on broken links
All good websites need maintenance. And when a page’s hyperlinks don’t work, it tells your users that you’re not keeping your site up-to-date.
If your internal links aren’t working, users are unable to carry on with their journey through your site. Unless they’re persistent, they’re lucky to just head back to the results page to find another option.
When external links don’t work, it just looks like you’re not keeping up with your topic.
Broken links will not contribute directly to your search engine ranking. But they will provide a poor UX, which indirectly hurts your SEO efforts.
What about bounce rates?
So far, most of what we’ve talked about are surefire ways to improve your SEO ranking.
But the Google update in July-August 2022 raised some unanswered questions for SEO and UX.
Their ‘helpful content’ update reinforced guidelines that online content should be made for humans to read - not just for search engines to discover.
They don’t mention bounce rates - that’s the amount of time someone spends on your page. So even though bounce rates give you useful information about your site, they aren’t used as a metric for Google.
Does that mean pogo-sticking doesn’t matter either?
However, users ‘pogo-sticking’ to your page may now impact your ranking.
Pogo-sticking is when a user rapidly moves between their SERP and several of the suggested results. They spend only moments on your site, jumping back to find one that instantly answers their questions.
In the past, it’s been assumed that pogo-sticking is not part of Google’s ranking algorithm. However, Google’s August/September 2022 update poses an important question - “Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?”.
In other words, this complex metric may be one aspect of your site that’s measured by search engines. Solving the problem is not only a UX issue: but you’d best make sure that UX is part of it.
SEOs recognise that pogo-sticking can be caused by poor UX (among other things). From a business point of view, it’s certainly not ideal if browsers are coming to your page, only to quickly leave again for your competitor.
Finding the right people to help
So if you’re trying to improve your website’s performance on SERPs (and who isn’t), you’ll want to make sure that your UX is in order.
The challenge is finding someone who can support the whole picture. Oftentimes, an SEO will be focussed on the conventional aspects - on-page, off-page, and technical. They’ll know what good UX looks like, but they won’t have the skills to make a difference.
Manage My Marketing is the kind of web developer you can trust to maximise ranking with UX. With web design packages that focus on functionality, usable design, and mobile responsiveness, the core of a perfect user experience is written into our work.
Our up-to-date skills and experience mean your site won’t be left behind. Get in touch to arrange an audit of your website.