The ever-expanding criteria taken into account by search engines has provided SEO experts with regular headaches. Search engines now look at hundreds of factors to determine the most relevant results, and user experience (UX) has become an important area for companies in terms of ranking highly on search engines. This addition of UX as a ranking factor has created a strong link with SEO, changing the role of an SEO expert and improving many website experiences for customers.
So, what exactly is UX? It’s the UX that should make a visit to a website a seamless one. The job of a UX designer is to consider why a user is visiting a particular website, and how to make their visit easy and fruitful. A good design solution would have the user arrive at where they want to be quickly. If this process is an enjoyable one for the user, then it’s also likely they will return in the future.
SEO has changed drastically and quickly. The days of stuffing a website with keywords and then easily achieving a high ranking are long gone. Search engines now provide the most relevant results, not just in terms of content, but also in terms of UX.
A website’s UX now needs to be much more flexible in terms of how it guides users through the conversion funnel. This has also changed the role of SEO experts; they will now have to develop an understanding of UX and be able to make meaningful recommendations in order to stay relevant. Working together, UX and SEO can be a powerful and effective tool.
Agencies and marketers will have to broaden their SEO approach and focus more on UX across all their assets. Many UX teams want to develop a linear journey on their websites which always starts from their homepage. However, this should not be the starting point, as few customers actually begin their journey on the homepage. The majority of customers will join the website on a random page that relates more to what they are specifically looking for. If the UX of a website is only designed in a linear form, then most of those customers will not be able to easily move from the initial landing page to wherever they want to go.
The link now created between SEO and UX means that this poor design could affect the website’s ranking on search engines. Websites and those designing them would, therefore, benefit from and need to consider multiple entry points. This can be achieved by clearly showing the customer where they are on the site and providing obvious signposts to other useful areas of the site.
It’s important that companies do not concentrate on just improving the UX on their computer website and ignore the mobile version, especially when you take into consideration that in 2018, 58% of sites were visited from a mobile phone. This is a rate that is only going to grow.
It's also worth bearing in mind that, this year, Google adopted its mobile-first index. This means that, to Google, a company’s main website is their mobile one. Mobile websites are ranked against hundreds of factors, meaning companies need to prioritize developing sophisticated UX for both versions of their website.
Headings are at the centre of the link between SEO and UX. Main page headings are used by search engines to determine what a particular page is about, and customers obviously do this as well. What’s more, the first two subheadings are also used by both search engines and customers to determine subtopics. This crossover of search engine and customer shows that Google and its competitors are on the right track.
In this sense, Google is doing companies a favour by forcing them to study their UX and try to improve it. Not only will a more fluid UX raise their ranking on search engines, but creating a better experience for the user will also keep them browsing the websites longer.
UX should not be undervalued. We’ve all left websites due to slow loading pages, navigation that is not clear, content that just isn’t relevant or just a poor page layout, all of which contributes to overall UX. Good UX will leave the user feeling that your website is credible, which in turn will create a feeling of trust and value.
It is absolutely worth having a website that meets the search engine guidelines, but more so for a website that is satisfying to use on various devices. Enhance a user's experience and you’ll likely gain returning customers, and happy ones at that.
About the Author
Marc Woodhead is founder and CEO of cutting-edge software development business Holograph. With 25 years’ experience in graphic design, computer system design, human-computer interaction and psychology, he is recognized as one of the UK’s most inventive creatives.