When optimising a site to rank well across search engines, designers and webmasters often overlook an important consideration. User experience is a vital component of both SEO and conversion, with Google’s algorithm becoming more attuned to the value visitors’ behaviour places on design elements. This constant refinement of the factors behind the SERP rankings has led to the most successful sites becoming more focused on how their website is viewed, used and engaged with by humans, rather than what the search engine bots see.
A good user experience is often be defined by how quickly people can interact with your website. According to Steve Palmer from Showtime Digital, “nowadays people have the shortest attention spans. By the time a page has taken 4 seconds to load 25% of users will have bounced, and that figure is even higher for mobile traffic.”
To enhance your user experience, and encourage people to stay on your site the first approach is to improve your site speed. The second is streamlined navigation, which I will get to later.
Site speed is dependent on a range of different factors and is undeniably an important SEO signal. Slow sites experience a higher than normal bounce rate, lower conversion and TOS statistics, and fewer shares of content. There are several ways to improve site speed and these include:
- Reducing image size
- Using inline CSS
- Prioritising the content that relates to the immediate user action
- Optimising web fonts
“A really easy win to improve your site speed is to have your website hosted on a reputable platform. A site that runs on AWS, Google Cloud Platform, etc is going to perform well. Ensure you specifically request a local server to your business (if it’s location dependent) and activate a CDN to ensure your site loads quickly, globally.” – Paul Evans, Toro Digital
The second way to improve how fast users can make it around your website is by making sure your pages are as efficient and easy to navigate as possible. Web design around navigation is an entire blog post on its own, but essentially your menu system should be as logical as possible, without differentiating into too many categories. The definition of “too many” will depend on your site, but the idea is to allow users to get find what they want in as few clicks as possible.
Calls to action
The effectiveness of your calls to action depends on a wide range of factors, from the colours to the specific wording. The key is to test many variations and subtle changes to find what works best. As a guide, they should speak directly to the user by making it seem like the natural course of action. Substituting “your” for “my”, as in “Start your journey” vs. “Start my journey” can have a dramatic effect, with the shift in emphasis refocusing the action from the business to the customer.
Another aspect to consider is the placement of your call to action. Placing it front and centre before any content may seem like a great way to give your button or contact number exposure, but users aren’t likely to be convinced immediately. Your site’s content must draw them in and lead to the CTA. Whether you use images, video or text is entirely up to you, but it must be of the highest quality and aimed at improving the user’s experience and life, rather than simply sitting as content on a page. Google doesn’t care what colour your buttons are or the actual content of your writing, but your visitors do. Their behaviour goes a long way to shape how search engines rate your site in terms of importance, authority and relevance, which lead the decision on where your site sits on the SERP.
Mobile browsing is more popular than ever. Neglecting to optimise your site for the small screen can result in a high bounce rate, lost revenue and a loss of search engine rankings. Most popular CMSs, such as WordPress, come with responsiveness as standard, which makes it easy to ensure your site looks great on a wide range of devices and screen sizes. Even the best-looking site can suffer if its functionality is limited to desktop browsing. Whether you choose to design a separate mobile site or use a responsive design, by ensuring your site can be used and viewed everywhere will go a long way to improving its analytics metrics.
Content placement and presentation
Users love quality content, however if it is presented in a bland and unappealing way, your hard work won’t see the response you desire. Large blocks of text are hard to read on a screen of any size, and using images and white space to break up your content is the best way to keep visitors engaged and reading. More importantly, if your content hits a nerve then those visitors may share it among their friends, family and followers, but this won’t happen if it is badly presented. It doesn’t necessarily have to be multi-coloured and turned into a picture book, simply using headings to create sections will help users digest the information you are presenting and prevent them from leaving too soon.
SEO requires a completionist frame of mind
SEO is a long-term investment in organic search results. There are no quick fixes when you are doing it naturally and in accordance with Google’s guidelines. This means that there is no aspect that be neglected if you want to see top level results from your work. Your onsite and offsite factors must be as high quality as possible, with exceptional content, clean design and coding, and provide users with an experience that keeps them on your pages and engaging with your site. As Google’s algorithms continue to develop and attempt to remove sites they don’t see value in, it becomes more difficult to rank, especially for small businesses. The one thing that won’t change is that focusing on the people using your website will always be a better long term strategy that trying to game Google to get short term results.
Image Credit: UX