Back in the old days of SEO (i.e. mere months ago), SEO was often undertaken without regard for user experience. However, the world of SEO is ever-changing, and today user experience should have a prominent place in every SEO playbook.
In this article, we provide you with a handy checklist of Basic UX factors that every SEO should consider. In many cases, correcting items on this checklist can result in organic rankings increase within as little as three to seven days.
What is UX?
The term “user experience” (commonly abbreviated as UX) refers to every aspect of a visitor’s interaction with a website. Optimizing for the user experience seems like a no-brainer, but the reality is that SEO and UX have historically often been executed with little regard for each other. UX design decisions are often made based solely on aesthetics or industry trends, while SEO is frequently driven by analytics with little regard to the impact it has on UX.
Google’s Obsession with UX
If you read my previous article on the Google Fred update, you already have an idea of the importance Google places on user experience.
In fact, Google has been preoccupied with Mobile UX for quite a while now. Previous updates have addressed the “mobile friendliness” of a website, and with the Fred update, Google has firmly and clearly demonstrated that the user experience is a major focus of their algorithm across both desktop and mobile.
UX Checklist For SEOs
Now that we know for certain that UX plays a major role in Google search, what do we do about it? Fear not! You don’t need to be a UX design guru to provide a better overall experience to your visitors. The following checklist will provide an easy-to-follow overview of some basic, yet crucial, UX best practices. Address these issues and we’re confident you’ll see major improvements in your site’s rankings.
1. User-Friendly Content
If there is one thing that should be clear by now, it’s that content should be the focus of any page. More specifically, be sure to keep your users in mind as you create your content.
Some factors to take into consideration when creating your content:
- Original, high-quality content that educates or entertains your users
- Break up content into small paragraphs
- Use descriptive subheadings for easy scanning
- Avoid over-monetization (easy on the ads!)
- No keyword stuffing
2. Mobile Friendliness
Google’s attention to “mobile friendliness” is old news at this point. With mobile devices now dominating the total time spent online , mobile readiness is more important than ever.
What does this mean?
- Responsive design: optimize for the mobile user experience (get more details on responsive web design here)
- Parallel mobile: An alternate option to responsive design is to provide a second parallel site for mobile users
- Watch the pop-ups (see #9 below)
- Touch screen friendly: make sure buttons and links are big enough to allow for easy touch navigation
- Cross platform compatibility: always test your site across multiple devices and browsers
Web site navigation is more than just a bunch of drop-down menus. In fact, your site’s navigation can be a key UX factor, making it easy for a visitor to find valuable content and spend more time on your site.
Well thought-out navigation can improve your users’ overall experience and improve your site’s conversion rate.
Some examples of navigation elements to keep in mind:
- Above the fold navigation (usually a “main menu” in the header area of the site)
- Take full advantage of internal linking
- Sidebar navigation
- Keep it simple – limit your navigation options to the most important and valuable content for your visitors
Also, avoid image-based navigation (if you must use image-based navigation, make sure your image alt tags are correctly implemented).
4. Broken Site Structure/Links
This might seem obvious, but too often sites contain broken links or other inconsistencies in the user experience.
Some things to look for:
- Broken links (404 errors or needless 301 redirects)
- Non-uniform mobile experience (e.g. redirecting a mobile user to a desktop version of a page)
- Needless clutter on key “money” pages
All this attention to your content is great, but if your content is not reader-friendly then you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage.
In addition to relevance and engagement, you want to make sure that your content is easily readable to your users. By optimizing your content’s readability, you should see increased engagement and time on site. The result? You will likely find this to boost your SEO.
Some factors that affect readability:
- Font selection: make sure your site’s fonts are easy to read
- Font size: find the right approach for both desktop and mobile (fixed height vs. percentages)
- Contrast between text and background: the better the contrast, the easier it will be to read your content
- Don’t be afraid of whitespace: Most users will scan your content. Make it easy for them to get what they need from your content by using short paragraphs and utilizing headers and subheadings
When examining your website from a UX perspective, it’s not enough to look at just the design. Usability also plays a big role in overall user experience.
Usability and SEO often go hand in hand. However, sometimes usability and traditional SEO can conflict with each other. For example, creating content with specific keywords in mind can result in awkward text that diminishes the overall experience.
Optimizing for usability should ultimately allow your visitors to easily navigate your site and find what they are looking for. This, in turn, will increase their engagement on your site and result in higher conversion rates.
7. Site Search
Site search is often an afterthought on numerous sites, yet in many instances, this is how a user will find the product or information that they need. Therefore, it makes sense to spend some time to make sure you deliver the best search experience possible.
- Search box: Design and placement of your site’s search box can be a critical component of your overall UX. Make sure the search box is easy to find and intuitive to use
- Search results: There are many ways to present search results on your site, and what is best depends on many factors. For instance, an e-commerce site should present search results differently than a news site.
Site search optimization is one area where testing and analytics data can be your best friends!
8. Site Speed
Site speed (the time it takes to load a web page) has long had a big SEO impact, and it is also a major factor in user experience. Not only can a slow page speed have a negative impact in organic search results, it has a negative impact on UX.
Need more convincing? Here are some sobering stats from Radware:
- Ideally, pages should be interactive in 3 seconds or less.
- Separate studies have found that 57% of consumers will abandon a page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
- A site that loads in 3 seconds experiences 22% fewer page views, a 50% higher bounce rate, and a 22% fewer conversions than a site that loads in 1 second
- A site that loads in 5 seconds experiences 35% fewer page views, a 105% higher bounce rate, and 38% fewer conversions.
- Only 14% of the top 100 retail sites rendered feature content in 3 seconds or less.
9. Mobile Opt-Ins/Pop ups/Pop Outs
This August 2016 post on Google’s Webmaster Central blog addressed how Google would be optimizing mobile search to help mobile users find the content they’re looking for.
One major factor that has a negative impact are mobile “interstitials”, also known as opt-ins, pop-ups, and pop-outs. You know, those tried and true methods to grow your email list, offer coupon codes, or otherwise engage with your website visitors.
While these methods can still be extremely effective, they can also be deadly when it comes to mobile UX. To quote the aforementioned blog post:
“To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”
So, what’s the takeaway? Lose the mobile interstitials!
10. Data Driven Decisions
All the above items are straight-forward general examples of what to do (and not to do) when it comes to UX optimization, and they make a great starting point if you want to dive right in and take immediate action.
However, if you want to get into more detail into what YOUR user experience is like, turn to your analytics. Those cold, hard numbers can reveal a wealth of information. Here are few to get you started:
Bounce Rate & Exit Rate: Bounce Rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page, while Exit Rate is the percentage of visitors to a site who actively click away to a different site from a specific page. When you see high bounce/exit rates, it’s a clear indication that users are not finding what they expected to see.
Average Time on Page: If a page has a low average time on page, it could mean the page is not holding your users’ attention.
Average Visit Duration: This number can provide some insight into your users’ overall experience with your site. A longer average visit duration generally means more engagement (especially if it is combined with a high number of pages per visit). A shorter average visit duration could be an indication that your content is not compelling to your users.
If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to define the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that matter most to your business, and start tracking these KPIs. Once you have meaningful data, you can then make informed decisions about your optimization processes.
It’s All About the User
The subject of UX is, of course, too big to cover in one blog post. However, we hope that this checklist can serve as a starting point for you to begin incorporating some of these basic action items into your regular SEO process.
This shift to a more holistic approach of including UX design considerations at the SEO level makes a lot of sense. After all, SEO is all about optimization. Blindly looking at numbers and analytics does not tell the whole story. When SEO also focuses on the user experience, the results will include increased user engagement, customer acquisition, and customer retention. At the end of the day, everyone benefits from a UX-centric approach to SEO.
Image credit: Borys Kozielski