How website user experience factors affect your search engine rankings
Friday, October 17, 2014/
A search engine’s job is to find the most relevant resource in answer to the question that any user asks of it. It wants to provide you, “the searcher”, with the best possible answer to your query.
Hence, in an effort to think like a human, Google (and all other search engines) is trying to do two things:
- Understand what you mean when you search (searcher’s intent)
- Best serve the content that meets your intent.
When you think about ‘user intent’ behind a search, it can be roughly broken down into the following categories:
Informational – Doing research (presumably with no commercial intent) in order to answer a question. For example, “Capital of Sweden”.
Transactional/commercial – Searching in order to make a purchase online or complete a commercial task. This can be anything from sourcing the cheapest model of a Sony LED TV to making an enquiry with a local pest control company.
Destination/navigational – The intent of this search is to arrive at a specific website. They may not know the URL, so have resorted to a search engine for a guiding hand.
The ‘algorithmic maths’ behind Google’s selection process is always aimed at understanding the intention of any given search query. Thus it is always trying to model its algorithm to process information just like a human being would.
Understand your customer
This yields the core reason for crafting an ideal user experience for search engine users: Despite which keyword you are targeting, take time to understand the intention of the user – and position your content accordingly!
In other words, adopting a mindset of ‘thinking like a human’ is best.
To give an example…
Meet Frank. Frank is doing renovations on his property and has a DIY query in regards to sanding and polishing his timber floor.
Let’s say Frank types “how to sand and polish timber floors” into Google. This is an informational search, as Frank is seeking educational content to help him accomplish his task. A forward thinking hardware store (aka Bunnings in this case) is proactive enough to provide Frank with content that matches his question.
If satisfied with the content provided, Frank might decide to purchase a ‘floor finish’ product that is recommended for his type of job.
In the above example, there was a very positive search and user experience for Frank that led to him making a purchase. Whilst creating a strong user experience may not lead to an immediate commercial transaction, it will enable a positive brand experience, as well as increased likelihood of sustaining front page rankings.
What makes for a good user experience?
How do you evaluate your user experience (UX) from search? Though there are qualitative measures (good design, unique content, etc), I would suggest to consult the data. Considering some of the following data points in Google Analytics can give you a strong indication as to whether your website UX is up to snuff:
- How long are visitors staying on my website?
- What is my bounce rate?
- How many pages are visitors clicking through to?
- How many conversions am I getting (web form completions, online sales, etc)?
- Do any of these metrics change when a user is on a mobile phone?
If a website is ranked on the front page of Google yet has a high bounce, low time on site or any other low user engagement factors, this bodes negatively for the overall quality of the ‘resource’.
If the above mentioned factors aren’t satisfactory, it is becoming increasingly likely that said site will be demoted in the SERPs (search engine rank positons) for not providing relevant content to the user’s original need.
Although some of the aforementioned elements have previously been considered ‘secondary’ to on-page content optimisation and a robust link profile, Google’s algorithm is continuously evolving to incorporate UX (user experience) elements in its ranking consideration – and we are all for it!
So what are some ways to ‘bake in’ a better user experience into your site for search engine users? Whilst the topic of website user experience is deep, here are five tips to get you started.
1. Tailor landing page content according to keyword traffic
Understanding which keywords your site gets its search traffic from is important. Once you know which keywords your site ranks for, you can determine the user intent behind the keyword as mentioned above, and then tailor your content accordingly. Speak their language. Use headlines and imagery that will speak right to the heart of what the user wants to ensure they get what they need from visiting your site.
2. Position important content above the fold of your site
‘Above the fold’ refers to the part of your website that is visible to your users without them having to scroll. Ensure the headline or image content that is most relevant to the user’s questions is positioned above the fold. The last thing you want to do is force your users to scroll, or worse yet, click to another page to find an immediate answer to their question.
3. Visual prominence is used sparingly
This is akin to the old adage, ‘less is more’. Your site should use visually prominent elements (contrasting colours, images, etc) only in areas where you are trying to draw attention to. We have all been to that site that hurts your eyes because you have no idea where to look due to the hash of colours and images used.
4. Use clear navigation
Be aware of what content the user will want to see after consuming the content on the landing page. Make sure you provide clear links to the next piece of content your user wants. Make sure it is clear to the user what a link looks like on your site so they know how to move around freely. Humans associate blue underline text to be a link, so this is a safe option. If you are going to use buttons, make sure they are visually distinguishable as navigational elements and contrast in look to the other elements on your site.
5. Be mobile-friendly
What content do your users want whilst on their small screens? The real estate is obviously smaller, so providing the relevant content becomes even more imperative than on a tablet or desktop. Having a look over your analytics to see how mobile users move through your site will provide some clues to this.
The final thought that I want to leave you with is that just like search engine optimisation is not a ‘set and forget’ process, nor should your website’s user experience be.
At our agency, we adopt the Japanese philosophy of ‘Kaizen’. It means ‘continuous improvement’. No matter what the state of your organic search rankings and website are today, this can always improve going forward.
We believe this is the single biggest advantage your company can have over your competitors who remain static.
Nick Grinberg is the co-founder of GMG Search Engine Optimisation, a Melbourne-based, performance-based search agency.