Does Your Site’s User Experience Affect Its SEO Ranking?
Everyone prefers user-friendly websites. It’s nice to visit a page, take what you need, then be on your way with minimal fuss.
Even Google’s a fan of usability. (It said so.)
But when it comes to SEO, how much do Google and the other search engines really value user experience? And can a site’s usability actually affect its ranking position?
To find out the answer to these questions, we first need to take a quick look at the situation through Google’s eyes.
Google’s on a Quest to be the Best
Google’s job is simple. It wants to keep people using its search engine.
How does it go about achieving this? By making sure the search results it provides are fast, and more importantly, accurate.
Google is no different from any other business: It wants to satisfy its customers. The more people that use Google, the more adverts and services it can sell.
Like most search engines, Google has spent heaps of time and energy on optimizing its own service. You can probably guess already that it expects you to do the same.
Moving On From Traditional SEO
One of the ways Google has optimized its service is through the refining of its search algorithms.
The Penguin and Panda updates of 2012 and ’13 were a clear indication Google was on a mission to provide quality to its users.
Previously, SEO was more about cheating the system than it was providing value. Stuffing keywords into content and header tags, link farming, and other blackhat methods were all viable ways of making quick money on the web.
But the user was the loser.
Articles that were made up solely of keywords were of no value to anybody. Sites made up entirely of ads did nothing but eat up precious bandwidth.
So, Google changed.
The New Quality Signals Google Now Looks For
In order to spot valuable websites, Google began looking at other website statistics. It was easy to stuff keywords into an article and purchase low quality backlinks, so Google needed to take a more holistic approach to ranking websites: It needed to start looking at sites as a whole.
Nowadays, page layout, content quality, link quality, and social media shares give Google a good indication as to which sites are valuable.
These metrics are categorized by the search engines as “user experience signals.”
Why User Experience Signals are so Important
While user experience signals can be a little complicated to understand at first, especially if you were schooled in the old methods of SEO, you’ll soon see that analyzing them is a great way for Google to determine which sites deserve its highest rankings.
Let’s look at the bounce rate metric as an example. If a Google user clicks on a site in the search rankings, but then promptly hits the “back” button to return to the search results page, what does that tell Google? It says the site was unsuitable for that person. If this happens enough times, Google will realize a site really isn’t that useful to people and will reduce the frequency it suggests it to users searching for a particular term.
While bounce rate is one important user experience signal to consider, there are others that Google analyzes, too. Key ones include…
- Page load time
- Link validity
- Usefulness of content
- Mobile experience
- Ease of navigation
You need to discover what it is your users want from your site and make sure you provide it for them. They’ll then take care of the hard part which is communicating to the search engines you deserve to rank highly.
Run a cookery website? Include high-quality images, maybe even videos for people to enjoy. Run a service website? Make sure your contact details are clearly visible so a customer calls you rather than returns to Google.
Final Thoughts on User Experience
In a nutshell, your goal as a website owner is to have users stay on your website for as long as possible.
To do this, you need to make sure your website contains the valuable information these users came for. You also need to make sure that the user’s experience on your site is as pleasant as possible. If somebody feels your site is difficult to use, poorly designed, even offensive when it comes to ads, colors and design, he or she will click back to Google, and you’ll have failed to do your job.
When web users stay on your site and get what they’re looking for, Google will register the fact that your site is a good match for a certain keyword term and will continue to promote you to its own users. Going forward, working on your website to make it as user-friendly as possible will ensure you send the right signals to Google.
You better believe your ranking will thank you for it.