The importance of user experience in SEO

María Navarro

Written by María Navarro

What is user experience and what role does it have?

User Experience, also known as simply UX, for short, is everything a person perceives throughout their interaction with a service or product at the time of consuming it, or at the time of browsing a website, app, or system. The goal is to make the user feel they are in control, and that everything is intuitive and recognisable for them.

The primary aspects of UX are:

  • Usability.
  • Accessibility.
  • Interaction.
  • Communication style.

SEO and UX share common goals

Although SEO and user experience sometimes appear to be rather distant concepts, the truth is, nowadays we could say these two disciplines share the same goal and they should go hand in hand.

A few years ago, websites used to rank exclusively based on keywords and backlinks. Nowadays, this has changed considerably, thanks to the continuous updates of the Google algorithm, aiming to guarantee that users receive the best possible results.

Every day users carry out 4 billion searches in this search engine. Google extracts a massive amount of data out of each of these queries, which are used to improve its algorithm in order to:

  • Provide the most accurate results possible with regard to the user’s search intent.
  • Provide the best possible experience to the users.
  • Display quality websites.

To accomplish this we cannot focus exclusively on the website’s content, instead we have to increasingly take into account other factors, such as user experience.

Over the past years, the ranking algorithms for websites have evolved, and user experience has been acquiring a growing importance, to the point of being taken into consideration more and more at the moment of page evaluation. Therefore, good user experience will help us with our SERP rankings, benefiting organic positions.

Good SEO will get us good positions in search engines, attracting users to the websites. And good UX will provide users with a pleasant experience while browsing hassle-free, finding the information they are looking for, and as a result, staying longer on our website. This generates a higher opportunity of conversion.

The evolution of the ranking factors

Occasionally, we are faced with this wrong assumption that SEO work only implies the inclusion of relevant keywords inside the content, link acquisition, or internal link optimisation.

Such mindset leads one into thinking:

Content with keywords + title + links = good rankings for the website.

This, however, is not the current reality. It’s true that all these aspects are important indeed, but as we’ve mentioned previously, search engines evolve, and start taking into account other ranking factors as well.

With Google continuously updating its algorithms, as SEO professionals we should also evolve and adapt to its new requirements, meaning we should assess and work on everything related to user experience.

When did user experience become important for SEO?

Everything started in 2015 with the arrival of RankBrain: Google made it clear that it was investing in user experience, and that it would be the third most important factor after content and links.

RankBrain is an algorithm based on behavioural metrics. It’s an artificial intelligence system that helps Google to know whether the user is “liking” the experience on the website, and to see this it takes various metrics into account: bounce rate, permanence time, pageviews, and organic CTR.

With the evolution of the ranking method, both Google and other search engines have introduced to their ranking systems elements such as:

Your website…

  • Is it safe?
  • Is it fast?
  • Is it responsive on mobile devices?
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Does the content displayed on it respond to the user’s search intent?
  • Does it have quality content that makes the user want to stay on the page?

User experience will become a stronger ranking factor in 2020

On Thursday, 28 May of 2020 Google announced that the search ranking algorithm was undergoing changes, with a renewed focus on the importance of user experience on web pages.

Together with this announcement, it introduced an initiative called Core Web Vitals – a set of metrics measuring key aspects of user experience, such as usability, loading time, content stability as it loads, and interactivity.

  • Loading – Largest Contenful Paint (LCP): this metric measures the loading performance of the content. It sets the moment in which the primary content is rendered, and thus available to be viewed by the user. It’s recommended to keep LCP under 2.5 seconds for a good user experience.
  • Interactivity – First Input Delay (FID): it analyses and measures the website’s ability for quick interaction, or in other words, the time it takes from the moment the user interacts with the website until the browser responds to this interaction. For a FID to be considered good it has to be below 100 milliseconds.
  • Visual Stability – Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): this metric measures visual stability. It helps to calculate the frequency with which users experience unexpected changes in design. For example, when elements of a page move as the content begins to appear on the screen, which is usually considered to be an annoyance. This metric doesn’t measure time, in this case it looks at the magnitude and frequency at which these unexpected design changes occur. To provide a good user experience in this respect, pages should have a CLS below 0.1.

UX factors for SEO: Core Web Vitals

All these factors are added to the already existing list, which includes other entries, such as mobile optimisation, safe browsing, HTTPS, and guidelines for intrusive interstitial pop-ups.

Google’s goal is to align with user expectations as much as possible, so that they have easier access to the information they are looking for.

To help developers understand how Core Web Vitals are going to be measured, as well as to detect and solve errors on their websites, certain tools like Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights have received the corresponding update. Additionally, Google Search Console will provide a data report to help website owners to quickly identify opportunities for improvement.

An important observation to keep in mind is that, even with these new Core Web Vitals for user experience, Google will continue to give higher priority to pages with better content.Click To Tweet

However, in cases where there are several landings, the content quality of which is similar, the page with the best user experience will get higher visibility in the SERPs.

According to Google’s claims, all these changes will not become effective until 2021, and these will be notified with at least 6 months in advance, which gives designers, developers and SEOs some leeway to start working on all the aspects that could improve user experience on our websites.

If user experience is a ranking factor for search engines, it’s something we must inevitably keep in mind when working on improving the SEO of a website.

María Navarro
Autor: María Navarro
Search Marketing consultant and web developer at Human Level.

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