Traditionally, SEO and UX didn’t really see eye to eye, especially in the very early days of SEO. You have to remember that, once upon a time, search engines didn’t play such a huge role in people’s online behavior. And once they started to, the algorithms were so poor that they were easy to exploit.
Unfortunately, this exploitation came at the expense of user experience.
Today, as search engines are becoming more sophisticated and as they continue to put more emphasis on how people actually use websites they reach through said search engines, SEO and UX have become friends.
If you wish to have a successful website, you need to combine the two and the good news is that they’ve never worked better as a combination.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the ways UX can influence your SEO, and vice versa:
Speed is Essential
Loading speed has been one of the most important factors for UX since the dawn of the internet. The expectations that online visitors have of the sites they visit are getting greater and greater as time goes by, and websites that don’t load within two seconds are immediately flagged as not user-friendly in the minds of visitors.
You can find some most interesting findings from a number of page loading speed studies here, if you want to learn more about the dwindling attention spans and reducing load times we have to work with today.
And while Google’s algorithm always did factor in loading speed in determining how good websites were, in the last couple of years, this issue has been pushed to the forefront. Google’s own SEO guidelines say that they favor websites that load quickly and don’t leave visitors waiting.
In other words, the loading speed of your website is both a UX and an SEO thing, and you should do everything in your power to ensure that your website (and all its pages) load as quickly as possible.
Mobile. Mobile. Mobile
When we are talking UX and SEO that keeps up with the times, we simply have to point out the importance of optimizing for mobile users, for a number of reasons.
For one, mobile users have long surpassed desktop users, which means that (unless your industry is quite specific), the majority of your visitors will access your website from their mobile devices.
In essence, your default user experience has become a mobile user experience and you need to optimize your website for such.
As for the SEO side of the coin, there is only one piece of information you need to illustrate the importance of your mobile website – starting in 2018, Google started considering your mobile-accessible website as the default one for the purposes of indexing. In other words, if your desktop version is better than your mobile version, it will not matter one bit, as it will not even be considered.
Hierarchy and Navigation
Your website’s hierarchy and navigation will play a crucial role in your site’s user experience. A clearly defined and logically organized hierarchy of your website’s pages will go a long way towards getting you satisfied visitors who will gladly come back.
While this may seem like nothing more than common sense, there is much more to it than meets the eye.
For one, this can be more complicated to do than it seems. Do you add different subcategories to your blog depending on the content you will be serving? How do you handle ecommerce categories that overlap? How do you minimize the depth of the different pages on your website?
These are just a few of the questions you have to answer. And these are just purely UX questions.
Throw SEO in the mix, and things get even more complicated.
Namely, when SEO enters the picture, it can have a tendency to break up the user journey into a number of pages that might have worked better (UX-wise) as single pages. The reason for this is to try and make them more competitive by optimizing them for certain keywords.
This is where you will have to make a balance between UX and SEO, never losing sight of how people would prefer to use your website, but also keeping one eye on how your website’s hierarchy and navigation affect your SEO efforts.
Getting the Most out of your Copy
Back in the bad old days, one of the most glaring discrepancies between SEO and UX used to be website copy, including any and all content produced for the website.
In the search of quick SEO wins, websites published all kinds of spammy, keyword-abusing copy, complete with hidden text that was meant to manipulate the then-very rudimentary algorithms. People spun articles to oblivion and produced abominations that featured 45 keywords in 50 words of copy.
It goes without saying that people who knew anything about UX had to fight down a perpetual gag reflex at the sight of that. It is hard to imagine it if you hadn’t been around at the time.
The good news is that times have changed and website copy and content have moved forward in more ways than one.
Namely, while most smart people will still use SEO to inform their website copy, this is now done in a much more natural way that considers user experience the primary guideline. Website copy is (or at least should be) written in a way that answers the visitors’ needs and guides them along their journey.
Google emphasizes this constantly – the need to serve the visitors what they expect to find on your website.
Another big change that the evolving Google algorithms and the increasingly saturated web have introduced is the need for truly insightful content that goes beyond the old school 500-word articles of the same, rehashed content.
In addition to this, we must also acknowledge the fact that keywords, the very staple of SEO, have also been veering away from strict exact matches to more natural, domain-wide terms and concepts. Read here some prooven way to produce quality content in your budget.
In a sense, the very cornerstone of SEO is moving towards UX and you need to be aware of this.
The Rise of the Chatbots
One of the biggest additions to classic user experience in the last decade have been chatbots that are both becoming more advanced and more ubiquitous. This is especially true for websites where customer service is important and where visitors have the tendency to look for specific answers and solutions to their problems.
In such situations, the addition of chatbots has become integral with the pursuit for better customer service, as they can be used to speed up the finding of pertinent information and enhance the user experience.
From the SEO standpoint, chatbots have not yet started to play a major role and people from Google themselves point out that they shouldn’t be used just for the sake of it.
The best thing here is to listen to your common sense – if you truly believe that chatbots will help your visitors find what they need and have a better website experience, by all means, do give them a go.
It takes a lot to put out a website that will be the perfect combination of SEO and UX. Sometimes, their “ambitions” will coincide and it will be a walk in the park. At other times, you will have to choose whether to favor UX or SEO.
The important thing is never to lose the sight of the fact that they are both important – and that one does not have to exclude the other.
About Michael Deane
Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.