UX and SEO: Does UX Design Affect SEO?

UX and SEO affect each other more than you might realise. Optimising for search is much more than just keyword research, quality content, and link building, just like user experience is more than just a beautiful design.

User experience matters

If you work in SEO, you’re probably aware that Google is placing higher importance on user experience aspects of a website as a ranking factor.

When Google’s Panda update rolled through the web in 2018, it obliterated rankings for sites with low quality and thin content. This update sheds some light on Google’s algorithm focus, and how it will continue moving forward. While it was already obvious that Google was placing more emphasis on user experience, this was the first significant step in that direction.

Now, elements of SEO and UX best practices are rolled into one. Site speed, engaging content, and site security all have an impact on both your visitor’s experience and your ability to rank. To get a better understanding of how the two very different aspects work, read on to see the impact of UX elements on SEO.

What Effect Does UX Design Have on SEO?

Google’s algorithm has changed significantly over the years, and with every update, we’ve seen changes to results pages. Changes like the knowledge panel, People Also Ask, rich snippets, and algorithm updates that have shown just how critical UX aspects have become to Google.

To separate the poor content from the gold star content, Google has developed several improvements, including the introduction of RankBrain.

Google’s RankBrain

RankBrain is a machine-learning algorithm introduced by Google that helps process and understand search queries, and deliver the most relevant results. Before this AI improvement, 100% of Google’s algorithm was hand-coded. All updates, tweaks and experiments to the algorithm had to be done by a team of engineers.

With the introduction of RankBrain, engineers still work on the algorithm, but RankBrain does its own thing in the background. Based on the search query, RankBrain will increase or decrease the importance of domain authority, content length, freshness, backlinks, etc. Then, it will run tests to see how searchers interact with the updated results and will either keep the update or roll it back, depending on the improvements.

For example, if RankBrain finds that user satisfaction for a particular keyword is low, it may test a new algorithm that increases the importance of backlinks by 2%. Then if user satisfaction increases (through factors like click-through rate, bounce rates, dwell times), the page stays.

UX and SEO share Common Goals

User experience and SEO go together so well because they share common goals, both aiming to provide their users with relevant and engaging content. SEO will get them there, and UX will keep them there.

Your website is the first link between your brand and your target audience. It tells visitors what your business is about, and how reliable and trustworthy you are. Elements of UX design can help create an engaging experience that tells a story and makes your brand relatable. Photos of staff, customer reviews, and testimonials show you’re legitimate and reliable, and can also give an added boost to your local SEO strategy.

On the other hand, bad poor UX design hurts SEO, and spammy SEO practices can ruin user experience. Creating only self-serving, promotional content with lots of irrelevant links may drive people away. So, it’s important to keep search optimisation elements in mind when designing a user-friendly website.

Elements of UX Design That Can Improve SEO

1. Site Navigation

One thing that SEO encourages is robust site navigation, with very specific landing pages focused on just a few related keywords. However, with new importance set on experience, new SEO best practices suggest that having one content-heavy and user-friendly page for many related keywords can be a powerful ranking factor for many different search queries.

Website visitors should be able to navigate your site with ease. Although complex navigation structures are sometimes more SEO friendly, they can disrupt a user’s experience, if they have to click through too many pages to find the answer that they really want.

So, when building pages and trying to make them all accessible for search, it’s a good idea to think about how accessible the information is to your users. A simplified navigation can be a more SEO-friendly navigation.

2. Combine UX Design with SEO-friendly layouts

There are some elements of UX design, such as layouts and content formatting, that can harm SEO. Some aesthetically pleasing things, such as perfectly sized and headers and interactive elements, aren’t always SEO friendly.

Finding the perfect combination of on-page SEO and layout formatting can help complement each other’s success. You can do this by:

  • Making content easy to digest, such as using easy-to-absorb blocks of text, bulleted and numbered lists, and organised headers and images.
  • Using headers in different forms. Every page should have a header 1 tag that includes the page’s primary target keyword, while supporting ideas and further thoughts should be organised with header 2 and header 3 tags.
  • Using relevant images and videos wherever possible. These aren’t just more engaging to users, but they can be optimised for SEO.
  • Placing calls-to-action throughout the page. These can be simple in-copy links, or specially placed buttons.

3. Optimise Site Speed

Site speed, now more than ever, is an important ranking signal for Google, whose mission is to serve users with the best experience possible. Fast-loading websites in Google Search and Google Ads will be rewarded with better rankings.

Tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix are a huge asset to any SEO’s toolbox. You can find vital technical insights and actionable recommendations, such as minifying HTML, CSS, and Javascript, as well as optimising images, caching and server requests. These site speed tools offer UX designers a great way to perform better for both SEO and your site’s users.

4. Ensure Mobile Responsiveness

Over 50% of all traffic to Google is driven by mobile devices – so incorporating mobile responsive design is an indispensable part of both UX design and SEO. By not making your site mobile-friendly, you are compromising the experience of over half of search users.

Nowadays, web designers and developers should already be incorporating design elements to make sites mobile-ready. If not, you’re likely to see user engagement metrics doing poorly, and your rankings suffering.

You can easily check if your site is mobile-ready by using Google’s Mobile Friendly Test. Just enter your page URL, and Google will analyse your site and instantly let you know of any page loading issues.

Despite SEO and UX design being in vastly different departments of marketing, it’s clear that the main objectives can work in tandem to achieve better results. Integrating the two strategies and finding the right balance can help you prioritise your SEO efforts, without compromising on usability or sleek design.

 

Looking to incorporate UX design into your SEO strategy? Or just wanting more help implementing UX elements into your website?

Tecmark’s SEO and Web Development team can work closely with you to deliver a beautiful user and search-engine friendly website. Get in touch to discuss your next project with us.

Lydia Rutter
Lydia Rutter
Lydia Rutter is an SEO Executive at Tecmark who joined us in 2019. She has a degree in Public Relations from the University of Oklahoma, and an MSc in Digital Marketing from the University of Salford. She brings us experience in digital marketing for the medical and healthcare industry, and in agency settings.

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