GOOGLE SEO UX

Matthew Carter
Hello friends, my name is Matthew Carter. I’m a professional link builder for a large SEO agency in New York City.

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This isn’t an actual genuine quote, but there is evidence that points to this change of tack…

It’s an easy concept for everyone to grasp, but for an algorithm how the heck do you quantify the nebulous and emotionally driven concept of user experience?

According to Kissmetrics, if a webpage takes 4 seconds to load then 25% of visitors will abandon it. This percentage increases the longer the wait – with Google claiming you could lose half your potential audience as your website loads.

Why the hot panic?

Yes the technical on-page techniques to keep your site crawable and discoverable by search engines will likely always be an important factor – but at some point in the recent past, Google drew a line in the sand and said, “NO, ranking in search is no longer just about shoving links where they don’t belong and keyword stuffing your meta descriptions. Ranking will be about providing the highest quality content and experience to real-life users.”

I’ll level with you. There was a substantial period of time where I was only writing about SEO. But now look at me! I’m a cool UX guy and my focus is on the human at the end of the experience rather than the fickle whims of a merciless, cruel algorithm.

Then in 2016 general mobile web browsing overtook desktop browsing (51.3% for mobile vs. 48.7% for desktop). You’ll know this because you haven’t walked more than 20 yards down the street without someone accidentally bumping into you for a couple of years.

BUT WAIT! Maybe I’ve got that wrong. Maybe this is an old-fashioned, out-moded view of SEO.

How does UX affect SEO? What usability signals does Google use to rank your website? How do two disciplines alike in user-friendliness, avoid becoming star-crossed lovers? Other baffling Romeo and Juliet references to follow…

As mentioned above, mobile optimisation is a good example of a practical ranking signal that’s officially used by the search engine. Googlebots can crawl a website and check quickly whether it’s optimised for mobile – and you can run the same crawl on your own site using Google’s own mobile friendly testing tool.

Quality content.

Other UX signals used by Google include…

Because in 2015, mobile searches on Google overtook desktop searches (Google doesn’t provide the hard figures, so you can assume that the percentage of mobile traffic is somewhere between 50.1 – 99.9%).

This is also why Google has launched the Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative (AMP), where stripped-down, super-fast versions of web-pages are served direct from search results. However having AMP enabled on your own site isn’t a ranking signal… for now.

Mobilegeddon, for those who tend not to pay attention to SEO news panic, was the moment in April 2015 Google added ‘mobile friendliness’ to its list of ranking factors. Basically if your desktop website isn’t optimised for a smaller mobile screen (either via responsive or adaptive design, or by a standalone mobile site) then your site may not rank as highly as your mobile friendly competition.

Page speed.

Senior Digital Content Manager, UserZoom.

A stock photo of someone using a mobile phone. You’ll just have to assume they are enjoying a mobile optimised website.

“I think the mobile-majority moment was the catalyst. That moment focused their attention on the quality of their mobile results (as part of the so-called ‘mobilegeddon’update), the importance of delivering the best result, the best mobile result, and therefore the best experience.”

Therefore Google includes page-loading time in its ranking factor for desktop websites. Mobile will follow at the end of the year, along with its separate mobile index.

Yes this is a nebulous, intangible concept too. One person’s quality content is another person’s pointless Wuzzles episode guide, but there are solid pointers to remember to improve the readability of your content, all of which are considered by Google when indexing.

So how does all this SEO data involve UX design? Another example that dovetails on the latter ecommerce context is the new website we’re designing for this SEO agency, featuring a page that we’re optimizing for those keywords. This new page, as shown below, leverages many of the UX design principles mentioned above that help support both usability and SEO. This framework also enables us to properly capture the different keyword variations also mentioned above under “Having same terms” in Header 2 tags.

But what if UX design could find a happy marriage with on-page SEO and layout formatting? This would be the ideal companionship that would help support both usability and generating organic traffic, which as we now know, complement each other’s success.

Unlike a decade ago when you could rank a site purely based on keywords and backlinks, nowadays, user engagement variables like bounce rate, time on site, and pages visited have all become critical ranking factors.

Site speed is now an important ranking signal, as Google’s overarching mission has been (and will always continue to be) serving users with the best possible experience. In turn, Google rewards fast-loading websites in both Search and Google Ads.

Back to our point about simplicity and optimizing pages based on larger themes versus granular keywords, gone are the days of building hundreds of SEO landing pages for precise queries. Instead, it’s important to take a decluttered approach that focuses on quality over quantity.

5. Ensure Mobile Responsiveness.

This keyword gets about 2.3k searches per month globally. If we’re going to optimize a page for “ecommerce SEO,” it’s important to consider what variations and long-tails that we’ll want to include as part of our keyword targeting strategy.

Here are a few principles in utilizing UX design to support SEO-friendly page layouts:

Debunking previous SEO practices of creating very granular pages focused on tight-knit keyword groupings, a study by Ahrefs supports new SEO best practices in ranking just one page for many related keywords. In essence, having one very content-rich and user-friendly page can be a powerful asset for SEO across many different search queries.

This abbreviated example underscores the importance of organizing both on-page content and site architectures in such a way that creates harmony between both UX and SEO. In fact, rare are the situations when these two departments need to compete with each other.

For an SEO agency, “ecommerce SEO services” is likely a primary keyword phrase. But instead of creating different pages for variations around “ecommerce SEO company” or “SEO for ecommerce,” (which we may have done 10-15 years ago), we will want to incorporate these keywords on the same page.

Ultimately, you want users to navigate your site with ease. Complicated navigation structures, although debatably more SEO-friendly, can disrupt a user’s experience, thereby causing them to leave sooner. Instead of traditional SEO thinking of making all pages accessible to search engines, thinking about how accessible pages are to users. Oftentimes, a stripped-back navigation with less pages is an SEO-friendly navigation.

There are countless cases in which layout design and how content is formatted can disrupt SEO. The simple reason is that aesthetics, like having the perfectly sized headers and right amount of text, can get in the way of SEO.

We all know keyword research and search data is important for SEO. But it’s how that data is used that makes all the difference. As an example, let’s look at the keyword data below for “ecommerce SEO.”

In addition to GTmetrix, other tools worth exploring to test and improve your site’s speed and performance are Google PageSpeed Insights and Web.Dev. Both of these handy website optimization tools provide actionable analysis and guidance across a number of components. The recommendations these tools offer can vary from simple image compression to altering how the server interacts with requests. For UX designers, they can offer insight into ways a site can better perform for both SEO and users.

3. Harness Search Data to Inform Site Architecture.

By now, most savvy UX designers prioritize mobile-responsive design in all projects they’re engaged in. But if your website is not responsive across mobile (including tablets and different web browsers), you’ll likely see your user engagement metrics performing very poorly for these devices.

Below we go into more detail about how to harness search data to inform site architecture (based on the point above); however the point here emphasizes having a very focused website that offers a simplified navigation. This especially holds true for mobile users.

For more ideas on how to leverage UX design to create highly SEO-friendly pages, see this introduction on interaction design, specifically the author’s points on Dimension 2: Visual Representations and Dimension 5: Behavior , as well as the tips below those points.

Mobile-responsive design has become mandatory for both usability and SEO. Because over 50% of all traffic is now driven by mobile search, sites that are not mobile-responsive will compromise the experience of more than half their visitors.

To help shed light on where to prioritize your efforts, below we highlight five practices on how to effectively leverage UX design and usability variables to support your site’s SEO performance.

One common conflict between UX design and SEO is that the latter often encourages robust site architectures that often lend to complex navigations. The more pages the better, right? Not so much.

1. Simplify Your Site’s Navigation.

One of the most powerful yet oftentimes overlooked tools for technical UX purposes is GTmetrix. Also an asset for any SEO toolbox, GTmetrix provides vital technical insights about a site’s performance, namely load speed. This allows UX designers and technical SEO’s alike to extract actionable insights like minifying HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as well as optimizing for caching, images, and redirects.

Google recognizes real human behavior when it comes to determining quality sites worthy of top search rankings. In turn, usability and UX design have become integral components to SEO. Not only does a site require fundamental on-page SEO, but simple UX design considerations can go a long way in supporting engagement, and therefore, rankings.

Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!

You can check a site’s mobile responsiveness by using the Google Mobile-friendly Testing tool. Also scope out this related post on mobile-friendly web design for more insights on this topic.

Despite departmental differences between marketing and design teams, clear website objectives combined with cohesive project management has helped immensely in creating harmony between UX design and SEO strategy. It’s now becoming more common to see balanced integration between roles, as more and more agencies (including vendors, partners and consultants) are realizing the importance of prioritizing SEO, but without compromising usability and design.

Since 2009, Tyler Tafelsky has served many roles in the search marketing profession, including copywriter, analytics specialist, outreach strategist, and PPC advertiser. Now serving as the lead content strategist for Captivate Search Marketing, Tyler helps clients expand their online footprint with purposeful, audience driven content marketing strategies that help build awareness, trust, and results.

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