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Usability, User Experience, and how they affect SEO

Difficulty: Beginner

Understanding SEO and how Search Engines behave is greatly enhanced by knowing a little about User Experience (UX)

In this short tip I plan to define Usability and User Experience; describe how they are related, and how they affect each other with respect to the Search Engines and their ranking algorithms.

What is usability?

Usability is a term used to describe how user-friendly a particular website or web page is.

If people are unable to complete simple relevant tasks, they will leaving your page, or even the entire site. We'd assume that your goal is to get them to navigate between pages and make an enquiry, a step we'd call a conversion. If you're website cannot achieve this then the usability of the site would be considered poor.

Measure and improve: Investigating how easily a first-time user can perform tasks on your website gives you gain valuable insights into how usable the site is. Typical UX tasks could be:-

    • Can they work out whether the service is paid-for one-off, or as an ongoing arrangement?
    • Can they find the contact number?
    • Can they find and complete the contact form?

What is user experience?

User experience is often simply known as “UX”.

The term was first coined by cognitive science researcher Dr Donald Norman. UX tracks how a user responds while interacting with a website, program, software or app. There are several factors within UX, which include:

  • Usability
  • Design
  • Accessibility
  • System performance
  • Marketing

While the two terms are closely associated, they are not interchangeable. Usability makes up just one of the factors of UX. Because of this, if there is good usability, it does not mean there is necessarily a good UX because they may each have different goals.

Usability is more about the interaction between the user and the website. Meanwhile, user experience is the perception of this interaction. If you have a good UX, you will have created a positive emotional connection between the user and the website.

What does this have to do with SEO?

Google has started to place more emphasis on creating a good user experience.

In order for websites to rank, businesses need to ensure they have both a good user experience and usability.

There is a strong correlation between SEO, usability and user experience. There have been debates in the SEO communities about this for years, but the long and short of it is that Google is tracking and it is clearly using this as a strong ranking signal.

Imagine a scenario where someone cheats their way to the top with spammy (bad) link building. Their website may be terrible and ugly. To learn this Google can measure how its visitors interact with this website in comparison with competing websites. If the visitors to this hypothetical website have a terrible user experience (UX) then they're very like to return to google and search again, right? When google detects this it can demote this hypothetical website in the rankings.

Want to improve your SEO? A good place to start is by also improving your UX and usability.

How exactly can you improve these factors? Some tips include:

  • Heat-map: installing a heat-map system on your website will allow you to record the clicking activity of your visitors. We often use hotjar.
  • Design + Layout Optimisation: look at the design of your website and optimise where necessary. Consider putting your most important information above the fold, as this is where most people spend their time looking for information. Use this prominent information to encourage visitors to read more, and more. Ensure you choose colours that are appealing, but also make it easy to read.
  • Content Optimisation: When copywriting you have to make assumptions about what people are looking for and what they want. Change these assumptions and see if your visitors enjoy the page more.
  • Speed: check the loading speed of your website, as this can often be a cause of a high bounce rate, and lowers the user experience and usability levels.
  • Mobile user-friendly: ensure your website is also mobile user-friendly. This will increase the UX and therefore your rankings.

Next time you’re looking to improve your SEO efforts, consider the importance of both usability and user experience. Just make sure you know the difference between the two, and don’t get them mixed up.

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