How UX can improve your SEO

Google advises website owners to “Focus on the user and all else will follow”. While there are many technical fixes that are important to improve SEO performance, Google continues to place increasing emphasis on the user’s experience.

As a search engine, Google aims to meet users’ needs quickly and easily. This encourages users to keep coming back to Google’s services, which is why ranking websites that also provide a positive user experience (UX) is vital.

So UX becomes a vital part of SEO, leaving website owners to find the best ways of creating both a streamlined experience for users while also increasing rankings in search engine results pages. This may sound like an intimidating prospect but making some simple improvements will benefit search rankings and customer satisfaction alike.

Here are 5 tips for creating an accessible user experience that’ll also boost your search rankings:

1. Optimise website navigation

A website’s navigation provides links that connect the pages of a website. Its ultimate purpose is to help users quickly find what they need from the website in question. A badly constructed navigation can create a frustrating experience for users, who will likely lose patience quickly and look for an alternative.

Search engine crawlers also use website navigations to find and index pages. The links in the navigation help search engines to frame information about the pages that will be visited, such as their purpose, expected content and how the pages are related. So, a poor navigation can make the process of indexing a website’s pages more difficult. If crawlers don’t find and index valuable pages then your rankings will be lower.

Your first priority should be simplifying your website’s navigation as much as possible. Offering too many choices and a sequence of cascading menus can be a confusing sight for users and make it more difficult for search engines and users to identify important pages. Instead, make careful choices about which pages should be added to the main navigation and whether these pages can be consolidated under fewer headings.

For SEO purposes, avoid using unnecessary JavaScript in a navigation if possible. Search engines struggle to parse out the mass of confusing code, which means it could take longer for pages in your navigation to be crawled and indexed. This means any changes made to benefit the website’s rankings could take longer for search engines to recognise, so a better option is to code with plain HTML instead.

Also, ensure that links in the navigation prioritise the pages with the highest traffic. This will increase the chances that they retain this strong traffic, and will also allow new users to easily find the pages that have proved to be most useful. Submenus should be arranged alphabetically so it can be easily scanned by a reader in the way most would be familiar with.

2. Include product reviews

Reviews for a product can reinforce a potential customer’s choice, or even remove any doubts they might have about this product. Some customers may only choose to purchase a product or service if they see a vote of confidence from other customers, particularly if the product is expensive or unfamiliar to them. Clearly, this could improve conversions on any website, but it also saves customers the trouble of looking for reviews elsewhere or abandoning a transaction prematurely.

The more reviews available for a product or service, the stronger this confirmation effect can be, as illustrated in a study by Bazaarvoice (see below).

There is also a distinct SEO benefit to including product/service reviews; it’s a type of user-generated content that search engines factor into rankings, strengthening the authority a website holds and increasing its chances of ranking above others for queries. What’s more, a steady stream of customer reviews can show a search engine that your site is still active, providing a steady stream of new content that acts as proof of consistent user engagement.

Also, when optimising for mobile, ensure the navigation only takes up 1/5 of the screen’s space at most. This makes sure there’s plenty of room for other content above the fold, which lets users see as much information as possible before scrolling and confirms they have come to the right place.

In a similar vein, making sure menus aren’t too big for the screen they’re viewed on is vital. It not only looks more professional and less cluttered, but also avoids valuable links going unseen by many users because they haven’t scrolled down.

3. Properly utilise search function

A website search function allows visitors to your website to quickly find information or products by entering queries into a search bar, the website then returns the closest matching pages to that query.

E-commerce websites are one of the best candidates for a search function, because they have a large number of pages, however a search function is also useful for information delivery websites such as news or blog sites as well. While there are many ways to optimise a search function, one that is often underutilised is an auto-suggest function.
Auto-suggest is an effective way to steer the user journey by helping potential customers control their search query and intuitively find what they need, particularly if they are looking for something with a complicated name.

Returning customers may also find the listing of previous and recommended search terms gives them more efficient experiences, which allows fewer opportunities for user journeys to be interrupted. This rewards the user for visiting the website more often and builds a bespoke experience for those customers each time they use the function.

A spelling correction function is also extremely useful for ensuring a clean path for the user to their desired product or service, keeping them from missing out on products because of a spelling error. Similarly, if searches fail to return any results, potential customers could quickly lose interest. However, if a recommended product based on that search could be presented, this may provide a good alternative for the customer. In short, if searches always return something for a user, there is always a chance they can convert, which is good for the user and positive for website metrics and profit.

If users consistently convert, this sends positive signals to search engines about the way a customer behaves on that website, resulting in higher rankings.

4. Use CTAs effectively

A call to action (CTA) is a valuable way to focus users on their journey to becoming a customer, encouraging them towards a transaction. Using a CTA above the fold on a website’s home and product pages can add a sense of urgency to that customer journey, giving users an immediate direction.

However, the difference between a good CTA and a great CTA could be a minor tweak. One way to make a CTA stand out is to make them original; some styles of CTAs are used across multiple industries, so finding one that’s less utilised while still being direct is far more noteworthy. To strengthen this even further, explicit benefits can be added to a CTA to make them more enticing, such as ‘purchase now to save…’, ‘sign up today and get the best daily tips’ or ‘buy now and get 15% off’.

CTAs are also one of the most versatile UX strategies that can be applied to websites serving almost any industry, from e-commerce to information. While they serve to direct a user forward in their customer journey they’ll also decrease bounce rate, which is something that search engines can be wary of when deciding a website’s ranking.

5. Think carefully before using a carousel

Carousels serve the purpose of saving space on a web page, allowing more than one piece of content to occupy the same area of the home page. They also allow a quick comparison of products and can be initially visually appealing.

However, they can also be a source of frustration among users, as many are unlikely to wait for the images to turn to one that meets their needs, causing them to click away and look for more interactive ways to engage with the website or to simply leave altogether.

An study reinforces this point, indicating that less than 1% of users click the feature, and, of those that did, 89% clicked the first item.

Unfortunately, carousels can also have a negative effect on SEO outside of user engagement. They could slow page load speed, they often don’t translate well to mobile users, and, if implemented via flash, the contents can’t be crawled by Google bots.

If you use a carousel, make it easy to interact with by ensuring its movement is user-initiated rather than automatic. This avoids situations where users cannot read the content fast enough before it moves on, or links are clicked incorrectly as the carousel is in motion. Text can also be kept short and clear, so that users don’t feel burdened with a lot to read on each slide, and the carousel stays visually appealing.

Overall, carousels do offer some advantages but they need to be well-optimised and positioned to make sure that their inherent downsides are mitigated for UX and SEO purposes.

UX and SEO should work hand in hand, with an improvement to one ultimately benefitting the other. As the boundaries between both disciplines become less defined it pays to focus on the user – a good experience for them will likely improve your website’s SEO too.

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