There was a time not so long ago when search engine optimization (SEO) was all about stuffing your website with important keywords. That’s no longer the case, and user experience (UX) now plays a huge role in creating successful SEO strategies.
In the early 2000s, I was writing content for an online real estate publication. I knew nothing about SEO at the time, and their only strategy was to add dozens of keywords to the bottom of a blog post and make the font color the same as the background. If you were in the content creation industry back then, this probably sounds familiar. SEO has come a long way, which is why it’s essential that good UX be a part of your strategy.
Put simply, SEO is for search engines, UX is for your users, and there is a ton of overlap. The online learning platform, Springboard, has a great diagram showing how SEO and UX work together.
A few areas where SEO and UX overlap include:
Your website must be easy to navigate if you want your users to have a great experience. Confusing navigation can lead to high bounce rates.
According to Google, “a bounce is calculated specifically as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.”
If you have a single-page website, then bounce rate may not be your greatest concern, but if you have multiple pages and valuable information for your users, then you need good UX design to ensure you get eyes on all your content.
One way to gauge the health of your site navigation is to run a tree test study. For this test, you create a branching diagram of categories and subcategories, and then create tasks that ask your users to find specific things. If they find what you want them to find, then your information architecture (IA) is safe and sound. If they have trouble, like it takes too long or they have to click too many times, then you need to change it up.
The tree test allows you to pinpoint areas of confusion and gives you insight into how you should organize your content.
Unlike tree testing, there is no established structure for a card sorting exercise. For a card sort, you create your cards based on categories and subcategories on your website and then ask your participants to group the cards in a way that makes sense to them. By doing this, you get to see how your users envision your website content being categorized (card sorts aren’t always for IA, they can be part of your affinity diagramming too).
Both the tree test and card sort exercises are great ways to nail down your IA and ensure your users can easily navigate your website, which leads to more clicks, more time on your pages and better SEO.
The content of your website pages is how search engines determine whether your website is relevant to potential users. But it’s not just about the content – it’s also about how you present your content.
Digestibility is key for search engines and user experience. Users should have the option to skim a page or dive into the nitty gritty.
For example, there’s a good chance people opened this blog post, saw the bullet points above about how UX and SEO overlap and felt that they found what they needed. Then there are people who made it down to this point because they wanted to understand each point in detail.
The headings function tells search engines what’s on the page. There’s typically one Heading 1 (H1), then subheadings are Heading 2 (H2) and if there’s content listed under an H2, they should be Heading 3 (H3).
For example, “Creating SEO-friendly content” is an H2 in this blog post, and “Use appropriate headings” is H3.
It’s important to note that font boldness or size do not determine headings. Yes, these things may change when you set the heading, but you have to actually make the text a ‘Heading’ in your content management system in order for search engines to recognize them.
Headings are super important for telling search engines what your page contains, and it also helps users easily navigate the page. For example, if you were already aware of tree testing and card sorts, maybe you skipped down to this section in order to learn more about headings.
As a project manager at a branding studio, I’m constantly stressing the importance of brand consistency. The way you present your business needs to be consistent across the board in order to establish a trustworthy identity and to build credibility. If your branding isn’t consistent across your website, it’s a reflection of your internal operations and perhaps demonstrates a lack of focus.
Branding isn’t just about how your business looks – it’s also about how you sound. Your brand’s tone and voice is the foundation of your communication with your users, so you can see why this is so applicable to your website.
Your users won’t spend a lot of time on your website if the language you use or the tone of your messaging is confusing. When these brand elements are consistent and represent your core values, then your users will stick around to hear what you have to say.
When it comes to branding, UX comes into play in the early stages and practiced throughout your branding journey (which never ends). One of the most effective ways to ensure your branding is making a meaningful impact on your users is to develop user personas, which is done with UX research (unless you’re starting out with a proto persona, but that’s a whole other blog post).
According to StatCounter, nearly 60 percent of global web traffic is on mobile. That’s why search engines prioritize mobile-friendly sites.
One of the best ways to determine whether your website is mobile-friendly is to run a mobile usability test. With the UXtweak mobile usability testing tool, you can test an existing app or website or use a prototype. This is an easy way to see how your users interact with your mobile pages; make your observations, synthesize your data, inform design changes, and then keep testing. When you improve your mobile-friendliness by conducting usability testing, you can create a more SEO-friendly design that will boost your traffic and visibility.
You can take all of the above into consideration, but if you have slow loading times on your website or app, you will lose users and potentially lose money. According to Portent, “a site that loads in 1 second has a conversion rate 3x higher than a site that loads in 5 seconds.” Make sure to reduce the file size of your images without compromising quality, for example, by using an image compressor.
When your site loads faster, people can view more pages, get the content they need quicker and complete transactions in the moment they feel like making a purchase.
Again, the usability test comes in handy for gauging how loading speeds impact your users. When setting up your tasks for the usability test, include activities that involve navigating to different pages. During the tests, you can gather quantitative data, like how long it takes for the page to load and also whether that loading time had an effect on your user’s experience.
As a UX designer or researcher, SEO may not be top of mind, but hopefully, the few points listed above demonstrate how they work hand in hand.
Good UX can equal good SEO, which is why it’s essential for multidisciplinary teams to work together to inform business and design decisions. If you discover during a usability test that slow loading times are negatively impacting user experience, tell your developers. If the information on your web pages is difficult to digest, tell your content creators.
SEO and UX only work together if you and your team are working together.