How SEO and UX can Work Together
The goal of every website is to attract visitors and convert them into customers. While this seems like a simple enough goal, it has become increasingly difficult over the last few years as competition increases, user attention span decreases and new design and digital trends emerge. The big question every website owner should ask before building a website is: how do we design an online experience that captures and engages users?
The solution is to build a website that will combine UX principles with SEO principles. Together, these two unique specialties will create a website experience that not only attracts website visitors but also turn them into customers.
SEO and UX were once at odds against one another but as search engine algorithms evolve, the two have become more related. The simplest way to explain the connection is that SEO focuses on the customer’s journey before and after they arrive at a website and UX focuses on the customer’s journey while they are visiting a website. When SEO and UX work together, they can create a seamless and smooth experience for visitors from beginning to end. This article will explain how UX and SEO can work together, why it’s essential that they do so.
The New SEO
Search engine optimization has drastically changed over the last decade. What was once about filling a page with keywords has now become about providing quality content and a quality experience. Before we discuss how UX and SEO work together, let’s break down this new form of search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization is the process of getting traffic by ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs) by search engines. Many people continue to think SEO is the same as it was five to ten years ago and assume it only has to do with keywords and meta-tags. But search engine algorithms have become more focused on user behavior and the overall user experience of a website.
SEO has become so much more than getting the right keywords onto your page. According to a study done by Moz last year, the most important factors for SEO are mobile-friendliness, analysis of a site’s perceived value, quality of instant answers, usage data and readability/usability and design.
There are a multitude of factors that influence how search engines rank pages and place them in search results. Most recently BackLinko.com analyzed one million Google search results and learned some of the most influential factors of ranking high on search engine results page. Some of the most important ranking factors are the number of backlinks to a site, a site’s overall link authority, quality, depth and length of content, site speed and low bounce rate.
Clearly, SEO has grown from putting as many keywords into a page as necessary and has branched into the user experience of a website, which is why UX and SEO can complement each other to create a powerful website experience.
How SEO Impacts UX
As previously stated, UX focuses on the ease of customer’s journey once they arrive onto a website. 93% of online experiences begin with a search. A usable website is not worth much if no one visits the website. SEO can provide data to the UX team to help create a better user experience. SEO experts use keyword data to identify patterns in how people search and what they are searching for online. Keywords allow teams to learn what their audiences are searching for, the language they are using and what their intent is. This data becomes real-life user data of potential website visitors and can be provided to UX designers to help inform decisions.
Using SEO data will provide a larger sample size than a traditional focus group or previous design experience to help inform UX decisions. When it is clear how visitors search and what they are searching for, it is easier to make the necessary adjustments to a website so visitors can quickly find what they need from a website. SEO experts can also analyze data about what pages perform the best, how they rank against competition and that data can also be used to help UX teams determine which piece of the user experience needs to be enhanced.
SEO data allows teams to fix more technical issues at a faster rate and avoid them all together. SEO data tracks user behaviors and will inform a team when a link is broken, there is a page error or when people are dropping from a page. By understanding where these issues are, the UX team can fix them immediately which will not only improve the experience but also improve SEO.
How UX Impacts SEO
Search engines are not able to read text, view photos or watch videos as a human could determine the value of a site. Instead, they rely on meta information and how visitors interact with sites and pages. So while UX does not directly influence SEO with keywords or metatags, it does provide indirect benefits.
UX ensures that a user’s experience on the site is smooth and successful. The outcome of a smooth and successful website visit is that the user finds a website useful, they spend longer amounts of time on the site, share the site, link to the site or return to the site. Each of these outcomes of great UX design are powerful signs to Google that the website is credible and will impact its rankings.
One of the most important ways UX impacts SEO is in the navigation of the website. For example, sitemaps can help make a website easier to click through and will make it easier for Google to index content, therefore making it beneficial for ranking and for usability.
Another way UX can impact SEO is the use of and tagging of images. The Backlinko study showed that content with at least one image significantly outperformed content without any images in terms of rankings. When UX creates pages that feature images, the SEO team can use alt tags and descriptions in those images to help increase the page or websites rankings.
Other UX factors that impact rankings include site speed, easy to read text and responsive design. Responsive design has been a hot topic in the SEO world this year as Google has repeatedly made clear that to keep a good ranking, websites must be responsive on all devices. According to a recent study, 13% of adults access the internet on mobile only. UX designers must create a responsive experience that is quick and easy to read, to continue to meet Google’s standards for rankings. A site’s SEO ranking can improve by mastering these UX elements.
Combining UX and SEO
It is clear that UX and SEO need one another to provide an excellent website experience. SEO has the data that UX needs to create an excellent experience and UX has the website framework that SEO needs to make key decisions. When SEO teams and UX teams share this data and their findings, they can create solutions and strategies that benefit the user.
As an example, many UX design teams use heat maps and scroll depth data to determine what is important to a user and what content they are drawn to. For more on analysing SEO data see this great article on using Excel to understand your SEO data.
By looking at the big picture of user experience, it is evident that SEO and UX do not have opposing goals but actually have quite common goals. SEO will get people to the website and creating a good UX will get those people to stay and convert so both parties have an overall goal of an engaging, high-quality site and by working together, they will more effectively be able to build a website that attracts and converts.
Getting a user to a website or achieving a high ranking is only one step of the process. After all, 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive. It takes more than just having a user reach the website. The next step is to ensure visitors stay on the website, share the website and use the website. Google and other search engines are clearly taking more steps to understand user behavior and interaction with a website and its content. As their technology and strategies evolve, it will be even more pressing for UX and SEO to work together to create a dynamic experience.
To increase search rankings and create an excellent user experience, one option is to choose the best free website builder that will share SEO and UX data and consistently make decisions based on a user’s experience and needs. Combining two different perspectives will create powerful results that will benefit the user. Create user and buyer personas together so that each part of the process from keyword research to wireframes is based on user personas and decisions are made with the user in mind. Designing with SEO and UX principles will create a website that will satisfy search engines and users.
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