SEO and the User Experience: The Better the Experience, The Higher the Climb
August 23, 2015 • Scott Zeller
One does not climb to attain enlightenment, rather one climbs because he is enlightened.
~ Zen Master Futomaki
Often in my efforts to simplify SEO, I talk a lot about quality content. To the point where I’ve even told my clients that the best thing you can do to build your SEO is to hire a great storyteller; someone who can tell the story of your brand in a way that builds interest and engages with your target audience.
And while that is true, there’s another strategy that’s just as important in order to build an effective, sustainable SEO campaign. I am, of course, referring to the user experience. It’s critical to optimize the user experience both on the front-end and the back-end. And failure to implement the details in this important area can be the proverbial loose rock under your foot that sends you sliding back down the mountain.
One quick note before we get started: when I refer to back-end development, I’m referring to the actual website coding. This area is very technical and language-oriented, so I’m going to limit my discussion in this area based on the idea that most of my readers are small business owners and marketing professionals, and not the actual UI/UX developers. If, however, you are interested in a quick top-level review of technical best-practices with your coding, there is a great tool that Moz.com provides for web developers called the Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet. You can find it here.
Designing for Mobile
The obvious best place to start is by addressing the elephant in the room. To provide the best user experience on both the front and the back-end, your web design and development should all revolve around the mobile experience.
You want to have a website that provides a great mobile experience in terms of usability, speed, and responsiveness. According to a recent study released by Comscore, global mobile usage surpassed desktop usage last year (see chart below). And the gap is continuing to widen. And while there are certainly exceptions to the case, where desktop surpasses mobile within certain target markets, the general rule is to design for the mobile experience.
If you’re like me, and you want to know and research the latest statistics on mobile usage, click here.
But I digress. Let’s get back to designing for mobile, and how it relates to SEO and a better user experience.
First, we need to understand that the mobile experience doesn’t have to look exactly like or deliver the same experience as its desktop counterpart. It can be a stripped down or simplified version. As long as the necessary content is easily navigable and quickly accessible, you’ll be in good shape. Make sure your code and multimedia (photos, videos, graphics, etc.) are optimized so they load quickly. Make sure all of your website elements are responsive so they can be viewed on the various devices. In other words, they need to resize and adjust for phones, tablets, wearables, and other devices so you can quickly read, navigate, and view the content. Remember that the user has neither the time nor the patience to stick around if the site takes too long to load, or it’s too difficult to understand. They want the information quickly, or they’re going to leave, and likely go to your competitor.
In the coming months, I’ll devote an entire post to mobile site development, and how it relates to search engine marketing and optimization. It’s that important. And there is much to discuss.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in reading more, a great place to start is with this whitepaper, Google’s Principles of Mobile Site Design: Delight Users and Drive Conversions
Page Design Elements
When designing for SEO, it’s all about Google. Globally, they own nearly 90% of the market share. (65% in the U.S.) So what Google says, goes. And what Google says is that it’s all about the user. In fact, the first rule in their philosophy is to “focus on the user, and all else will follow.” Here’s the full list of Google philosophies, if interested in reading more.
So based on that idea, it makes complete sense that the search engine algorithms are designed to push the websites that have the better overall user experiences to the top of the rankings. Again, there are anomalies. But my advice is to design for the user first. SEO is a long-term strategy. And the algorithms are always changing. But one thing remains constant: the changes that Google makes to its algorithms are always to improve the user experience. That’s Google’s goal. It should be yours, too.
So what are the top design elements needed for a better user experience? To be honest, it’s not a clear cut, catch-all answer. It depends on your market and your audience. It depends on your objectives (conversions) and the type of website you’re designing. So the best answer is to A/B test your various elements, then study your data, and optimize to the benefit of both your user and your company objectives. I found a great site that really digs into the various elements in the user interface, providing over 70 design elements to test and optimize. Click here to get started.
Whatever you decide to test and implement, always make sure you have your contact information (at the very least, your phone number) on every page of your website. So the moment your user decides they are ready to act, they know exactly how to contact you. And I'll go a step further and recommend just one phone number and/or one email. Remember, clarity and easy-to-understand directives are the way to go. Keep it simple.
And speaking of directives, try to add directives to all of your pages to loop your users back into your website. Related products or sitelinks at the bottom of your pages are great examples of directives that will keep your user engaged longer with both your website and your brand.
Fresh, easily recognizable content is also recommended to improve the user experience. In other words, don’t let your content get stale. Always be adding quality content to your site, and make it easy to find on your homepage and in your navigation for your new and returning users.
Keep your content, code, and navigation clean. Don’t use hard-to-read fonts or graphics that are difficult to understand. Again, keep it clean and simple.
And finally, when brainstorming for ideas on what content to add, focus on how the features of your products and services provide benefits to your user. What challenges or frequent questions are you hearing from your customers in the market? For example, if you’re an ENT doctor, and people are always asking about specific allergies in the area, and how best to deal with them, then write a blog post or create a separate web page specifically addressing those allergies. At the very least, add a question to the FAQs area on your website. It provides a benefit to your user, plus you’ll have the added benefit of providing localized, personal content. Both of which enhance the user experience, and improve your local SEO.
To summarize, creating a better user experience is critical in building an effective, sustainable SEO campaign.
Develop and test the various elements on both the front-end and the back-end to optimize the experience. Adopt a mobile-first mentality with your website, and be critical of the various elements that affect its usability, speed, and responsiveness.Keep it clean, simple, and fast.Connect with your users, and soon you'll be scaling up the side of your mountain in no time. To the top of the rankings. And the view from the top will be the best experience of all.
Also feel free to submit questions and comments on the social networks, and I'll get to them as soon as I can. Have a great week, and we'll talk again soon.
May 10, 2015 - The Wisdom of Dora the Explorer: Mapping Your SEO
April 29, 2015 - The Slow Climb to the Top, and Other Key SEO Strategies
April 20, 2015 - Mobile Mania, and Things Yet to Come - Google's New Mobile Algorithm