User experience (UX) refers to the end-user’s emotions during the interaction with a product or service. UX design is the process of improving a website’s usability through user research, testing, and reiterating.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is also a process of improving a website, originally focusing on increasing visibility in search engines. It achieves this through on-page SEO, backlinks, and other methods. With Google’s algorithms getting smarter—RankBrain, I’m talking to you—the goal of SEO has shifted from satisfying Google bots to satisfying users.
It can be said that the focus on UX within the SEO community began when mobile devices became a popular way of accessing the Internet. As more users turned to their phones to do a Google search, Google needed to provide faster and more mobile-friendly results. Hence, the first mobile-related ranking factor in July 2013. What better way to get publishers to adopt your idea than to make it an SEO ranking factor, right? 😉
Aside from having a mobile responsive website, there are several traditional SEO factors that involve UX. In fact, UX impacts SEO more than you might think. Poor usability, mystery meat navigation, and lack of content can hinder a website’s SEO efforts. Let’s take a look at factors that affect both UX and SEO.
The time it takes for a page to load affects UX and SEO. Users’ attention spans have reduced from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, and 40% of users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
For the rest of the users waiting for websites to load, they’ll be frustrated in the moment, especially when feedback is nonexistent. When users get frustrated, they’ll likely not return. The next time they search for a website that offers similar products or services, they might click on a different website in the SERPs. Thus, negatively affecting the other websites’ SEO efforts.
There are several ways to improve a website’s page speed. One (free) tool to diagnose how Google views your page load time is PageSpeed Insights. It gives you a page speed score on both mobile and desktop along with recommendations to reduce page load time.
Minifying code bloat, enabling browser caching, and compressing images are all ways you can speed up your website. A note about images: Before you reduce their files, make sure they have optimized meta data. Fill out the title, description, and keyword fields of the image file. Save the file with a descriptive name that includes your keyword (e.g. cosmetic-dentistry.jpg). Filling out this data and saving the file with your keyword helps its discoverability in image search.
Site structure, or information architecture (IA), is an SEO ranking factor. A well-organized site structure with content arranged logically plus a clean global navigation to reflect that is beneficial for both users and Google.
Users depend on the navigation menu to discover and find their desired pages. Google uses the sections and sub-sections to determine the website’s theme. When organizing your pages into sections and sub-sections, use your keywords as the menu labels. If you use breadcrumbs, which you should, use your keywords as the labels as well.
Using keywords where appropriate and relevant in your navigation helps users understand the topic of a page without having to click on it. Links should explicitly describe their target pages. Having broad terms as navigation links or using “Click Here” are both examples of mystery meat navigation.
Lushusa.com has two menu items labeled “Christmas” and “Christmas Gifts.” If a user were searching for a Christmas gift, which would she choose? This is an example of mystery meat navigation.
Dwell time, or time spent on page, is one data-backed way to measure user engagement. Long dwell times usually indicate high engagement whereas short dwell times may mean user dissatisfaction. One way to keep users on your page is by ensuring your content is exactly what they need.
In SEO, content is king. Although content is sometimes neglected in the final product where large beautiful images are instead prioritized. Despite the rise of image-heavy web and mobile app experiences, there’s still tremendous value in having high-quality content. (I mean it is one of the three biggest SEO ranking factors.) Plus, images aren’t sufficient for those with disabilities.
When writing content, make sure you keep the scent. Write descriptive title tags and meta descriptions that include your keywords. Then, reiterate the topics of your pages by including your keywords in the page titles and/or H1 tags. Matching what users see in the SERPs to your actual page reassures users they’re on the correct page.
It’s not enough to have well written content though. Part of high-quality content is having the right typography to get the message across. Font choice, size, and color all play a critical role in the readability of content, especially on mobile screens. UX should enhance the reading experience for users.
No one likes using a website littered with links leading to 404 pages—not even Google. Broken links are a sure-fire way to lose users because 1) they’re not valuable to the user and 2) they can reflect negatively on your company because it shows disregard to the quality of your website.
From an SEO perspective, broken links prevent Google bots from crawling your pages. This is especially bad when your backlinks point to 404 pages. Imagine if all your hard work to get authoritative sites to link to you diminished because the wrong URL was used.
UX and SEO teams should work together to identify and resolve broken links. They should either write 301 redirects to alternative, but relevant pages, or provide a user-friendly 404 error page.
Bouncing off broken links, websites should be accessible to users who have disabilities and/or who depend on screen readers. Both UX and SEO teams can help those who use assistive technologies by writing descriptive title tags for links and images. They should also write descriptive alt text for images.
Title tags should describe the target pages of links and alt tags should describe images. You should include your keywords in these HTML attributes as long as they’re relevant and appropriate. Doing so provides context to screen reader users and serve as a relevancy signal to Google.
As you can see, UX and SEO are quite complementary to each other. UX depends on SEO to be visible in search engines while SEO depends on UX to retain users. Prioritizing UX and SEO in the early stages of web development can only benefit your final product. When executed flawlessly, you can have a high-performing website optimized for user satisfaction and ultimately conversions.