Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. When SEO first became popular, webmasters learned they could make their websites rank well by placing target keywords on their websites as many times as possible – a practice known as “keyword stuffing.”
This method distorted Google’s search rankings, as spammy websites were able to easily outrank relevant websites. Web users quickly became annoyed by this practice, and search engines were forced to react.
In response to this problem, Google introduced several updates which substantially altered their algorithm, changing the way in which websites were ranked. Today, Google uses hundreds of factors in their ranking algorithm, helping to ensure the best search results for their users.
While targeting keywords and acquiring backlinks are still important, today, they are only a small piece of the puzzle. Search engines now consider such factors as your web design and user metrics to determine how relevant your webpage is to a particular search query. UX plays a large part in determining your user metrics.
What is User Experience (UX)?
User experience is all about creating a user-centric web experience. User experience optimizes how users interact with your website while also looking out for possible “pain points.”
“Pain points” are places where the user might be confused by the interface.
Good UX design helps to engage your users, allowing them to easily locate what they are looking for. This positively influences various user engagement metrics that Google uses to rank websites. When you focus on creating good UX design, you’ll often see improvements in your search rankings, through a “trickle-down” effect.
In essence, if you can make the user happy, you’ll rank higher on Google.
User Engagement Metrics That Matter
There are a few very important metrics to improve SEO. The following metrics tell Google how well your webpage engages your audience, indicating how relevant your webpage is to a given search query.
1. Bounce Rate
Your website’s ‘bounce rate’ is the percentage of users who leave your website after viewing only one page – usually your homepage or a landing page. A high bounce rate can mean that your users did not find what they were looking for. Rather, they lost interest after only the first page and left.
There are many reasons you may be experiencing a high bounce rate, but some of the most common ones are poor web design, confusing UX design, irrelevant content, and slow page speed.
Having a high bounce rate can be a problem, since your bounce rate is such a weighted factor in Google’s search ranking algorithm.
2. Page Dwell Time
Another metric that Google considers is the amount of time users spend on a certain page, known as ‘dwell time.’
If users spend a long amount of time on your website, Google considers this a positive indication. Alternatively, if users spend only a short amount of time on your site, Google decides the page wasn’t useful or relevant to the search query.
When you focus on providing useful, relevant content, your users become engaged, spending more time on your website. Engaging users improves your metrics, which boosts your overall search rank.
UX Design Factors
Now that we’ve covered some of the primary user metrics that can affect SEO rankings, let’s look at how we can improve those metrics through a focus on improved UX design.
1. Page Speed / Load Time
There are few things more annoying than waiting for a slow website. As each second passes, it becomes increasingly likely that your audience will leave before they even access your page. If your audience exits the site before the page load, it still counts negatively towards your bounce rate.
All of these factors contribute to your page speed.
Below, we’ve provided a snapshot of our website’s speed test results from GTMetrics:
Artiiseo still needs to optimize its images. Optimizing images saves time since the server doesn’t have to return full-size images, and the browser doesn’t have to scale the images to the correct sizes quickly. Nevertheless, our page speed is considerably fast, given that the website is fully loaded in 1.9 seconds.
2. Mobile Friendliness
Mobile-responsive design has become a mandatory staple of modern web development, since more than 50% of all web traffic is now driven by mobile search. Websites that aren’t mobile-responsive are losing over 50% of their audience from the start. If your website isn’t responsive, you’ll see your user-engagement metrics “crash and burn.”
You can check your own mobile responsiveness, using the Google Mobile Responsiveness Test.
3. Create a User-Friendly URL Structure
Your URL structure is an extremely important aspect of your user experience. It helps to orient your users about where they are on your website. If you’ve seen URLs like the one below, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Can you guess what this URL is about?
Books? But which ones?
This is an example of a URL structure that both frustrates your users and confuses search engines. Like humans, search engines use keywords in the URL to understand what a page is about and subsequently index it. When these keywords are missing, it can be a massive blow to your SEO rankings.
Rather, implement URL structures that both users and search engines can decipher. For example, the link below shows an effective URL structure:
You can easily understand this URL is about creating better loyalty programs for app developers.
4. Headers / Menus
Have you ever been on a website where the menu design was so confusing that you literally didn’t know what to do? A confusing interface frustrates users who simply want to access your website without having to navigate a complex menu and header layout. The user will then exit your website without reaching the content they were looking for.
Streamline Your Menus
Menus are the main element of any website’s header and serve the primary function of guiding your users to the appropriate webpage. Good UX design includes streamlining your menu design.
Design your menu so it isn’t too complex. Make sure your audience can find what they’re looking for but don’t cram every page into the menu. Rather, use categories and subcategories to ensure that your users can locate what they’re looking for in the most efficient way.
As in the case of most websites, you only need to list the most important pages. Provide a drop-down menu for multiple pages in one category. An example of this simple design would be the ‘services’ or ‘locations’ drop-down menus in the image below:
Menus can quickly become cluttered with too many different menu items. Synthesize your menu and create categories to streamline your web design. If the menu bar is overcrowded, it’s difficult for your audience to find what they’re looking for and creates a poor user experience.
Make Your UX Design Improve Your SEO
User experience (UX) design should be an integral part of any SEO strategy. It directly affects your SEO rankings through the various user-engagement metrics that Google employs in its search algorithms. User experience design starts by understanding how users perceive and interact with your website. You should consider factors like page speed, menu design, mobile responsiveness, and URL structure. If you are unsure how to begin, hire an experienced user design agency to help with the process.
By implementing an effective UX design, you’ll see improved user-engagement metrics, which will influence your search rankings, brand credibility, and audience retention.
About the Author
Leighton Burley is the founder of ARTIISEO, a digital marketing agency in Winnipeg, Canada. With over 10 years of experience in digital marketing, Leighton has worked with some of the top agencies in North America and possesses a deep knowledge of the industry. He also writes extensively about marketing, entrepreneurial lifestyle, and business in general.