Providing a good user experience strategy can also ensure a strong showing on Google’s search rankings. In this in-depth article, Nick Janaway, eCommerce and digital marketing specialist, offers 8 tips to get the most out of your website to boost visibility online.
A smooth and satisfying user experience (UX) is crucial to retaining visitors on your website and converting them into loyal customers. What might not be as well known is that a satisfying UX can also help with generating organic traffic to your site. In fact, there’s evidence UX may be one of the most important ranking signals that Google, Bing and other search engines use.
Don’t just rely on keywords!
A quick search on Google will result in thousands of articles and how-to guides about keywords and content, and how getting it right improves your search ranking. Actually, the current consensus shows that this may not be completely accurate. Keywords are important of course, primarily because they constitute the search terms that your potential visitors use to look for businesses like yours, but its not keywords alone that search engines use to rank your website.
Think of it this way. Google’s main product is Internet search, and its customers are the users who search for a massive variety of different queries using its search platform. Google uses these queries to determine the user intent. Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines define user intent as follows:
“When a user types a query, he is trying to accomplish something, such as finding information or purchasing an item online. We refer to this goal as the user intent.”
For Google (and other search engines), the sole purpose of ranking sites is to satisfy the user intent. Why? Imagine, if you were searching for UI (as in user interface) on Google, and all the results you got were about a company named United International, your intent is not satisfied.
After a failing a few attempts, you might go to Bing to find see if you can find what you are actually looking for there. Google obviously doesn’t want that to happen. Less searches = less revenue.
That’s why search engines have to display the most satisfying result near the top. This should make User satisfaction is the mother of all ranking criteria.
How Google Measures Satisfaction
Its often suggested that Google uses more than 200 ranking signals to track just one thing—how easily and quickly the information on your page solves the user’s problem. In other words, Google doesn’t just award search rankings based on keywords, link juice/authority/trust (or any other term the industry might use), or page-rank. It ranks sites based on user experience and for the want of a better phrase, user engagement.
In his insightful 2013 article, AJ Kohn describes how Google determines user experience. He introduces the concepts of long click and short click, two of the most important factors that measure satisfaction.
Time to Long and Short Click
Let’s say you search for a query, click on one of the results, and find what you were looking for. You’ll probably stay on that website and wouldn’t return straight to Google, looking to click on more of that websites pages. Google interprets this behavior as a long click, which indicates a good user experience. The user is satisfied, so Google is pleased with that site and is likely to rank it high when next time a similar search is made.
However, if the user comes back to the search results immediately (bounces) and clicks on a different result, this behavior is known as Pogo-sticking and the original click is perceived as a short click. It makes Google think that the customer has not been able to accomplish what he was looking to do. Therefore, there must be something wrong with the page for that particular keyword.
The key to gathering this data is the correct use of analytics. There are plenty of custom variables for Google Analytics to try out which should help collate more data.
Apart from measuring the time to long and short clicks, Google also uses the “Panda” algorithm to predict the level of satisfaction that a user will have at a particular page. Prior to 2012, Google search results depended on Search Quality Raters, real people who determined the usefulness of search results by considering factors such as relevance, quality, authoritativeness, currency, and the potential to satisfy users. Panda gave Google the capability of predicting the user experience rather than evaluating it after the search had already taken place.
Panda hits each page to forecast the level of satisfaction offered by that page, based on actual human behavior. More satisfying pages are ranked higher in the search results, and the search index is updated with new data frequently. Think of it as removing poor content from the serps. In addition, Panda specifically targets webpages with thin, bad quality and duplicated content.
Designing the Perfect UI
“Stop thinking about optimizing your page and think about optimizing the search experience instead,” says AJ Kohn.
Content may still be king, but the actual user experience depends heavily on the user interface (UI) through which people interact with your content. An intuitive UI draws in users and make it easier for them to accomplish their intended actions on your site. Designing a great UI requires measuring your customer’s experience, which may not be the easiest of things to quantify.
Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb model illustrates the seven constituents of user experience through the following depiction.
Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb – Searcher’s Edition from Search Patterns. (Source)
In order to design a killer UI, you need to work with several of the above attributes of UX.
Improving Usability, Accessibility, Findability, and Desirability
It should be noted that usability is not the same as UX, but only one of its parts. Usability measured by analyzing and testing the UI along the following criteria.
• Effectiveness: Can users satisfy their intent in your site?
• Efficiency: How quickly can users accomplish their goals?
• Use-ability: How easy the UI is to use for someone a first-time user?
• Ease of use: How easy is the UI to remember for repeat users?
• Error prevention/handling: Does the UI prevent errors? How does it help users recover when errors are made?
• Satisfaction: Do users like the UI and are likely to recommend your site to others?
Apart from use-ability, the UI should also improve accessibility of all content as well as being themed appropriately to improve the desirability of the content and increase the users intention to return.
Designing the perfect UI is not a matter of personal choice. In her Marketingland article, SEO Director Shari Thurow says, “user experience should never mean, ‘I think this is cool!'”. Instead, extensive testing has to be conducted including card-sort and tree tests to measure findability, formative and summative usability tests to determine usability, and human surveys and technology tests to gauge accessibility.
Tips for Optimizing Your UI for UX
Here are a few basics for designing a UI that optimizes UX, and hence, SEO.
1. Understand User Intent
One of the tactics I use for SEO is that I try to visualize what I would be looking for had I been searching for a particular term myself. I provide the information and arrange everything in the way that I would like to see as a user. It’s simple, but it nearly always works. Looking at SEO from the UX perspective, it is clear why it is so important to empathize with your customers. In order to improve their experience, you must think like them.
2. Install Google’s Free Website Surveys
UX is too complicated to be determined by analyzing the answers to the four default questions that Google’s free survey asks. However, it’s better than nothing. You can always add custom questions if you are happy to pay $0.01 per response. The survey answers could help you test your UI and content with your actual visitors and improve their experience.
3. Improve Accessibility
Some websites have a subscription form pop up the moment a user lands on a page. The aim is to improve signup conversions. However this tactic, if not utilised and monitored correctly can damage your rankings by increasing bounce rates and Pogosticking. SEO’s should monitor and check to remove every possible barrier that might make pages in-accessible. They should also label, organize, format, and connect website content in order to improve the accessibility of the content.
4. Improve Loading Speed
A faster page speed improves user experience and satisfaction; hence Google considers speed as an important ranking factor. A NYT article reports users can flee your site and are less likely to visit again if it’s slower than your competitors’ by a mere quarter of a second. It’s the blink of an eye, really! Luckily Google provides a lot of helpful tips within the tool. One thing to try to ensure you don’t allow is a competitor with a faster website than yours.
5. Consistency is Key
It’s critical to have consistency between pages, functions and features on your website. If you are using a top toolbar on your homepage, make sure it stays on top and the order of the navigation remains unchanged throughout all of your pages. Also keep the color scheme and general layout consistent. The easier the site is to use the more likely customers will stick around and purchase.
6. Keep it Simple
In a site revamp carried out using Crazy Egg and Visual Website Optimizer, a trimmed down version of Underwater Audio converted almost four times better than the original, longer version. A minimalist, simple interface works better for most of the industries.
The simpler UI brought 4x more conversions for UnderWater Studio (Source)
7. Streamline Workflow
Construct the workflow of your visitors either by using actual data or at least by trying to think like them. Discover the habit patterns and predetermined ways that your customers follow while interacting with websites and apps. Use the icons and logos that are relevant and well-known. Use tabbed navigation and buttons for navigation, as your customers find them easier to follow. The overriding factor again is to make your customers do as little work as possible to achieve their goals
8. Online Marketing strategy
Its not an obvious factor, but other online marketing techniques can aid your organic rankings (and vice versa). Using properly optimised landing pages for relevant PPC terms can at the very least help increase the data capture in your analytics suite & allow you to monitor user intent further. Its critically important that you align keywords properly. Subtle changes in keywords can be the difference between the visitors research stage and conversion stage. Each will have a different impact on the page performance.
Planning your Online Marketing campaigns thoroughly can help SEO performance enormously. Virtually all marketing channels can help one each other improve, especially for delivering unique insights into the customer journey. Michal Leszchynski – The education expert from Get Response, an email marketing company – quotes “Email campaigns allow you to deliver quality traffic to new site templates and A/B test different layout and navigation options”. Take advantage of your current users and mailing lists for a quick win but make sure you setup and test your GA goals and events correctly to avoid frustration.
8. Find inspiration from all over the internet
The internet is your best tool. There are loads of great articles with examples of good content ideas which should help improve your own websites UX. A little research goes a long way. If you collate all your favourite ideas into a tool like Pocket, they become easily accessible from anywhere to peruse when you need to.
In his article titled SEO Ranking Factor #1 is Satisfaction, Cyrus Shepard makes the distinction between two kinds of SEOs—”those that try to satisfy robots, and those that satisfy users”. The paradox here is, that it is impossible to fully satisfy the bots unless you can satisfy users, as the bots are in fact measuring user satisfaction. You should most certainly go for the second kind of SEO that routes through UX. For an established site, designing a great UI can get you to the top of search engines more surely and quickly than any other type of SEO optimization.
By Nick Janaway
Nick Janaway is an eCommerce and digital marketing specialist who resides in the UK. He owned a chain of successful eCommerce stores before moving into directing an in-house team of web marketers, web designers and content curators at a leading global company. In his spare time he tries to help other webmasters on website issues.