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When we talk about UX and SEO, we’re really talking about the same thing. With Google and other search engines moving towards user-focused design, you can’t ignore the benefit of an almost frictionless experience for all users.
An SEO’s goal is to ensure robots and people are finding what they need in a timely manner, with a high level of accuracy.
Google is moving to a user-first model where the once classic search engine has become an answer machine. The emergence of the conversational nature of search and support of this nature through Speakable and Snippetable schema causes us to expect the answer machine to know what we’re talking about when we say “big bird looks like an emu and ostrich, but not” (It’s a rhea):
We expect our devices to remember our old searches and serve the most relevant content, we expect fast websites, we expect efficient, relevant results, fast.
So just how much UX optimization can we do from a search optimization perspective? We’ll be covering most of the things you should keep in mind when you’re looking at UX from an SEO perspective, and some tools you should be using as a search professional.
Here's what's in this handy-dandy guide:
Someone once explained links to me are like votes of confidence. I’ve always found that helpful, especially in thinking about internal linking as a UX play. A link should be used if the content on each page is going to supplement each other, and the reader will get a better understanding of the topic being covered.
Internal links connect different pages on the same website, showing relationships between pages. Internal linking is a huge element of UX, especially when your SEO strategy focuses on increasing blog and top of the funnel content. Think about it this way:
Visitors come to the blog
Visitors read the blog and find it compelling enough to click on a related piece of content
Visitors read the related content
Visitors move deeper down the funnel and to parts of the website that can’t be accessed through navigation.
Related content and contextual internal linking is a great way to help users move organically through your website, building up the authority of deeper pages.
There are 3 ways that internal linking can help drive user interaction:
1. Link to High Converting Pages to drive more conversions and shorten the funnel
If you’re trying to drive users to convert immediately, linking to pages with a higher conversion rate is the way to go!
My favorite way to find high converting pages is:
If you have Google Analytics installed, this should be pretty easy. We’re going to look for the Reverse goal path report -
Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path report.
Here you’ll find the pages where the most goals are being completed. For the client above, this includes their Products page, a video resource, and a Hub Integration page.
Export this report and create a spreadsheet with the pages in Column A, and Goal Completion metrics in column B. Write the next two column headings in as “Users” and “Conversion Rate”
Export the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report for the same time period.
Connect the two reports via URL and calculate the conversion rate, as below:
From here, use your internal linking prowess to find ways to link to the higher converting pages that you just identified.
2. Link from high authority pages
Some pages on your website have more authority than others. For most sites, the most authoritative page is the homepage, as there may be many links pointing to it. However, other pages on the website can also have high authority, and can transfer some of this to other, less authoritative pages.
My favorite tool to use for finding higher authority pages is the AHREFs Best By Links report:
This report will show you the URL’s rating (UR) and how many referring domains each page has. If I was building internal links for Uproer that were going to help with a user’s navigation, I would start by linking from these top 6 -10 pages to other relevant content.
3. Arguably the most important aspect of any link building activities - link to pages that are relevant
Search Engine Watch published this article from Dave Davies, which goes into detail about the value of a variety of different internal links. His main point is that “the simplest (and arguably most effective) first step is to think like a visitor. In the desire for search engines to provide as relevant a result as possible, they work hard to emulate as best they can a visitor experience.”
Relevant links are important to highlight that every piece of content on your website is relevant to one another, but also that all the content is helpful for a reader who is trying to find information quickly and effectively.
Accessible elements such as pop ups, mobile usability, and speed all contribute to the user’s experience of the site. They affect how users interact with certain elements or the site and can influence their perception of the brand as a whole.
Turns out, it’s not only Google that doesn’t like pop ups. Nielsen Norman Group’s research suggests that “whether modal or not, most overlays appear at the wrong time, interrupt users during critical tasks, use poor language, and contribute to user disorientation.”
However, pop ups are sometimes an essential part of design and pushing users through the conversion funnel, not to mention, they work - really well. According to a study by Sumo, the average pop up ad drove a 3.09% conversion rate, with the higher-performing pop ups showing a conversion rate of an average 9.28%.
So how can we utilize pop ups to help drive a positive user experience, rather than drive users away? There are a few key rules to follow.
- Do not load a pop up before the main content:
The trend of instant, intrusive pop ups is over. We recommend waiting for a section of the page that may be contextually relevant for the user to see a pop up. Hubspot’s study on personalized CTAs suggests that personalized calls to action perform 202% better than basic CTAs, meaning that timing is imperative.
To get you started, we recommend the following in this order: waiting 20 seconds, waiting until 50% scroll depth, waiting for a click - whichever action comes first should be your trigger.
- Do not overwhelm users with ads:
In a study by Survey Monkey, “if given an option to remove a website from future search results, 68 percent of the respondents said they would block a website because it had too many ads”.
So how many ads are too many ads? Well, according to a study by Ezoic, that’s probably not the best way to look at the overall experience of a user. A better way would be to “look at the pageviews per visit and bounce rate changes by landing page”. By averaging out the ad impressions per page, we can help guide the user to a better overall site experience. For example, if a user’s path is from category page to product to checkout, we have more real estate to have ads, and users can be more receptive to ads if they are accomplishing a goal. However, if the bounce rate on what should be a high converting page is high, the experience of ads may not play as well as we try to reduce friction.
When we start to dig into the number of ads that work per page, you’ll need to test that, looking at bounce rates, behavior flow and sessions per user as your KPIs.
I don’t think SEOs have said this enough in the last four years so here it is again - Design for mobile, adapt for desktop. UX design affects SEO performance in a variety of ways, and most of it starts up front, in the design phase.
Things to look for when hiring a UX designer + developer for your site:
- They optimize mobile sites for faster page-loading times.
In a 2018 study by SimilarWeb and collated by Perficient Digital, 58% of site visits were from mobile devices, and mobile devices made up 42% of total time spent online. According to a case study collection conducted by HubSpot, a one-second delay in page speed can cause a 7% decrease in conversions. Optimizing for faster load times can include:
- Caching resources
- Using lazy loading or a CDN for images
- They bring ideas to you like alternative page types (AMP or PWAs).
Alternative page types like AMP and PWAs help the user see content in the best format for their device/needs. AMP is a Google-led project to make the web faster. While this isn’t for every site, AMP results get their own carousel in Google search results and are favored by Google for displaying content on mobile. Read more about how to implement AMP for content-heavy sites here.
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a great way to move more into the app space. They’re relatively new with strong showings across multiple websites in multiple industries. Mozilla has a great guide to PWAs I would recommend checking out if you’re trying to decide if PWAs are good for your client.
- They try to keep the mobile site simple.
I think a common pet peeve for SEOs is a non-responsive design. Zooming in on a smartphone isn’t a good user experience, and can increase frustration and ultimately cause people to leave the site and find an easier experience.
When thinking about how to reduce clutter, less is more. Make every element count, especially content. Here are a few simple rules to follow when working with your designer to create content:
- Write content with a mobile user’s perspective in mind. Don’t try to add all the details.
- Make buttons and links easily accessible with clear navigation targets.
- Make content large enough to be legible on a small screen - we recommend 16pt font.
- As always, create pages with the user’s intent in mind.
Satisfying intent and creating entities should always be the aim of any digital marketer. A great example of this is a user typing in “italian food” into a search engine on their desktop is probably looking for Italian food recipes, Italian food examples, or news on Italian food (yes, news on Italian food is a very serious journalistic sub-type). A mobile user is more likely to be looking for the closest Italian restaurant for eat-in or delivery. Mobile designs and the amount of content on mobile can differ from desktop, and as long as you remember the golden rule of web-design - to start with mobile-first - you should be good as gold.
Information Architecture, Site Structure + Navigation
Information Architecture (IA) is how different content and pages are labeled and organized on a website. Good IA helps users achieve their goals on the website effectively and without friction. IA fails when it hinders the user’s experience. As much as 85% of users abandon a website due to poor design, and Nielsen Norman Group suggests that “bad information architecture causes most of the remaining user failures”. That doesn’t leave many people on-site buying product.
So what can SEOs do about improving IA?
Think about IA as a hierarchy, with your homepage at the top, followed underneath with sub-categories. It may help to physically map this out in a practice called card sorting - my favorite tool is the mighty post-it note. If e-commerce, you should end up with something that looks a little like this:
As SEOs, we should use internal linking practices to create a linear path from entrance to checkout for users and robots.
Structured data has long been thought of as a nice to have that doesn’t necessarily correlate to increased SEO success, but is a best practice. In 2020, I would hope no one still says that.
Google’s move to put users at the center of the search conversation has made structured data an imperative for any search campaign. Think about the last time you made a somewhat big purchase online and wanted to see reviews, price, and a really quick comparison. With structured data, users can do all of that inside the SERP. Those coveted trust signals help the user become motivated to click through to your website.
Giving Google a map to your page helps the search engine to understand, with minimal confusion, what you’re talking about, and whether that’s valuable to users.
Uproer published an article in 2017 on the 5 Best Free Schema Markup Generators that are really helpful in creating warning-free structured data for any site.
Images + Videos
People think I make up this story to make a point, but this it’s 100% true. I witnessed a user purchase a dining table just through image search. Image and more visual search is the future, and there are ways as SEOs and UX professionals that we can improve on our use and optimization of Images and Videos.
- Ensure all images have great filenames that accurately describe what the image is.
- Ensure all images are relevant to the content around. You should be able to see an image and tell what page it belongs to on the site.
- Ensure all images have descriptive alt text that help search engines and users with screen readers to understand the image.
- Ensure the content around the image is optimized with high-value keywords.
Tools are a great way to dig deeper into the conversion funnel to find where people are getting stuck and to find where further optimization is needed.
Hotjar is a great free* tool to get started with heat-mapping. Heatmaps are great tools to identify where people are experiencing frustration and what elements on a page can be moved for greater efficiency in completing user goals.
Why we like it for SEO:
Heatmaps give us a general idea of where users are interested, and what links should be prioritized on the page.
Google Analytics’s Behaviour flow report gives us an idea of how users navigate the website. It gives us information on landing pages, CTAs, conversions, and where they spent the most time.
Why we like it for SEO:
Behavior flow helps us understand which are essential in the mid-funnel by comparing the behavior flow to time on site. This helps us to identify what pages are essential information before purchase, resulting in a shift in internal linking, or a more streamlined conversion path.
GTM + Scroll Mapping
Scroll mapping helps us to identify how far down a page users scroll. You can now scroll map using GTM. Simo Ahava wrote a great piece back in 2017 on how to implement it so I won’t go that deep, but I will say that scroll mapping is an essential component of any SEO strategy, especially if you’re implementing or optimizing a content strategy.
Why we like it for SEO:
When optimizing category pages, it’s almost impossible to tell if users see all your products. The same with content optimization. Using scroll mapping enables us to understand what is working, when to stop adding content, and when to remove content altogether.
As we move more towards a user focused search experience, it’s going to be more important to create SEO strategies that integrate with UX strategy.
Read more from our Uproer blog: