Last updated on 13th June 2023 at 21:22 by Alex Nicholas
It's no secret that a good user experience has a very positive effect on both your visitor's engagement with your brand and your performance within the SERPs.
Creating a good user experience (UX) is all about enhancing the way in which your customers interact with your website and how they feel when they land on any given page on your site and navigate around it whilst consuming information, with the number one requirement for pretty much any Website should be to create a user experience that meets the needs of it's potential customers without causing them any hassle.
It should be attractive to look at, have a simple and useable design, and must never irritate through complicated and unnecessary graphics that distract from the main content. It must also go hand-in-hand with the service or products offered and fit in with the company standing, ethos, and market positioning.
We should approach user experience for what it is, optimising a website for search engines because UX and SEO go hand-in-hand. User experience is a major issue for both users and search engines, with a poor experience leading to lost customers, and often lousy ranking, so think about how people interact with your site, be honest with yourself and ask:
- Is it easy to find everything on the site?
- Is the site intuitive?
- Does the design inspire confidence?
- Does the content cover the details?
- Would I be happy to deal with this company?
SEO goes way beyond keywords and links. In fact, positive user signals from creating a good user experience will see your website succeed way into the long term, provided it's carefully planned with the user and mobile at the forefront of your mind.
User experience is a major issue for both users and SEO because search engines understand websites much better than they ever have before, so not only will a poor experience lead to lost customers, but it'll also make your life harder in the SERPs.
So let's get stuck into what makes users happy with the basics of good UX.
Design your site with a user-first mentality
Now, this shouldn't be an issue but designing a site with user experience in mind can often be tricky, mainly because the conversation you must have with the website designers should be about designing the site around the users and information flow and not about how fancy it looks.
Unfortunately, more often than not designers want to create something that's visually stunning which they can add to their portfolio and show off to the next company that shows an interest in their services. This rarely ends well with regards to customers converting into sales or leads so make sure you're in control of how your site is designed.
For example, if you're planning (or redesigning) an eCommerce store you can do a lot worse than studying how Amazon put the products and users at the heart of everything they do, with conversion rates as high as 40% on a huge range of products.
Their UX might look ugly and cluttered but the user can find exactly what they want immediately whilst comparing hundreds of products if need be.
Now admittedly a massive part of their stunning conversion rates is down to the trust and the customer-centric service they provide but what they also do is split test everything, as they always have, so learn from their decades of testing and also make sure that you have goals set up in your Google Analytics to get as much data as possible from your visitors.
Make the navigation straightforward
Making sure the navigation of your Website is clear, understandable, and aligned with your content needs to be the number one thing on your UX checklist. By clearly laying out your navigation you signpost where your pages are and what they're about, and without clear navigation, you will lose visitors and you are losing money unnecessarily.
Therefore, make sure your menu(s) have the correct information architecture in place. Label everything in a way that describes what the page a link is pointing to is all about. For example, we offer an SEO roadmap service, so in the small menu that my services are under the link to the page says SEO roadmap, making it clear what that page will be about.
This is also true with regard to internal links in the body content. Make it clear that a link will take you to a different page, and the link text they click on will take you to the page described in the link (just like the link above), this way the user understands what page they'll be taken to by clicking on that link. Clarity wins out, always.
Use the right website hosting
Website load times are getting more and more important with every passing month, and not just in regards to SEO. It matters because it's a simple fact that the slower your website is, the more money and visitors you lose. In fact, don't take my word for it, here's why it matters right from the horse's mouth, and that's a test from 2016 so imagine how important it is today!
Do you see? Speed matters a lot when it comes to optimising, for both SEO and converting visitors into paying customers, but how can a Website be set to warp speed?
This next point should be obvious, but I recommend hosting your website on a server configured to host the platform your site is built on. For example, WordPress and Magento sites have a mass of providers to choose from with a range of prices too, so there's no excuse for having your site on a bad server that's built for everyone.
In this day and age, there is no one size fits all type of hosting that actually works properly because each website platform is very different from the next, for example, sites built on Magento are very resource-hungry in comparison to sites built on WordPress and require different server setups. So if you are then I suggest you switch ASAP. Below is an overview of the different types of server setups:
- Shared hosting: Shared hosting is a group of servers that are designed to host lots of sites at the same time and is a cheap way to get your Website online. When you're just starting out as a blogger or you own a small business offering a service to the area you live in, more often than not the shared hosting plans will suffice until you build up decent levels of daily traffic to your site. However, shared hosting plans do come with downsides such as being on the same servers as hundreds, often thousands of other Websites that are all draining the resources of the servers.
- Virtual Private Server: A VPS is a smaller group of servers that mimics a dedicated hosting platform, so technically it's both shared and dedicated and is set up to get the most out of your CMS. You also won't be sharing it with thousands of other Websites that can and will slow your site down. So if you run a site that will be handling decent levels of traffic then I recommend going for a VPS. They're highly unlikely to ‘go down‘ and leave your site offline due to the fact that if one server fails another will pick up the slack until it's fixed.
- Dedicated server: These are for heavily trafficked sites that demand all the resources of a single dedicated server that doesn't have any other Website on it using up it's resources. Whilst they're not cheap, they are set up/configured to your Website, and as with the VPS, they provide you with the best chance of 100% uptime and ultra-fast load times.
NOTE: Search engine crawlers such as Googlebot will analyse how far/much they can crawl on your site based on a few important factors with one of the main factors being the response times of the server. So if your server is slowing you down you must be aware that the rate at which your site gets crawled will reduce, therefore improvements you make to your Website will take longer to show in the SERPS. For this reason, I often recommend hosing on at least a VPS.
Content Delivery Network
Along with choosing the right hosting plan I also highly recommend using a content delivery network (CDN), too. By adding a CDN you'll instantly bring your Web page load times down to hundreds of seconds rather than the one to two-second load times of a well-coded Website.
Here are the benefits of using a CDN:
- Performance: Your content is delivered to visitors from the area they're in due to the global setup of hundreds of data centres around the world. It works by caching a version of your Website and any static resources, then delivering it to visitors based on their location. That ensures the least amount of distance between a visitor and your Website, which reduces latency, bandwidth, and page load times. This also means the load on your server reduces.
- Reliability: CDNs run on domain name servers (DNS) that can resolve billions of queries per day from every type of Website available, from eCommerce sites with over 5 million monthly visitors to government Websites.
- Security: CDNs such as Cloudflare use WAF (Web Application Firewall) to protect your Internet property from common vulnerabilities like SQL injection attacks, DDoS attacks, cross-site scripting, cross-site forgery requests, and pretty much all other types of online threats. And with hackers becoming better and better at exploiting the weaknesses of Websites I see using a CDN as a must rather than a maybe.
- Insights: CDNs such as Cloudflare provide Website traffic insights and analytics on threats to your site and monitor search engine crawlers. You'll probably be surprised to know that these threats and crawlers make up a large percentage of your Website's traffic so it's good to have an idea of how often a non-human visits your site.
As you can see, CDNs provide a vital added layer of both performance and security and is a massive plus with regard to a site's overall user experience. I also recommend going with the aforementioned Cloudfare, and if you happen to be using WordPress it works perfectly with the W3 Total Cache plugin to give you ultimate performance.
Another bonus to using the W3 Total Cache plugin and Cloudflare is that they reduce browser download time by minifying CSS which is a render-blocking resource and is another feather in the site speed cap, and although this won't make a massive difference by itself, it's still part of the overall speed puzzle.
Note: Time To First Byte is critical so look to get your TTFB down to 500ms or below.
The next step of the speed puzzle is making sure your images are compressed, and if you're anything like me then they need to be because I like to use large-high-quality images alongside every page I publish which are basically just large files. The benefits of compressing your images are:
- Your page load time goes down dramatically, meaning users don't need to wait for images to fully load onto their screens.
- You free up hard drive space whilst having the image stay the same on the front end of your site.
- By using an image compression plugin, many of which are free for the first 100 or so images you compress, you allow a ready-made tool to handle this donkey work. And as if that isn't enough many also work directly with CDNs such as Cloudflare. Bonus!
Now don't get me wrong, you can reduce the size of the images yourself but if you do decide to go down the plugin route then I recommend ShortPixel Image Optimizer.
Make sure you're responsive
As I'm sure you're already aware by now, mobile search has overtaken desktop search, in fact, it's mobile surpassed desktop somewhere between 2015 and 2016. What you might not be aware of is the fact that Google's index crawls the Web pages of nearly every site with Googlebot smartphone. You can see this in the URL inspection of your Google Search Console.
Here's a clipped statement from them.
“mobile-first indexing will be enabled by default for all new, previously unknown to Google Search, websites starting July 1, 2019. It's fantastic to see that new websites are now generally showing users – and search engines – the same content on both mobile and desktop devices.”
Now, what does this tell us? That's right, they now rank Websites based on the content that's delivered to mobile users, they also expect new Websites to be fully responsive (I mean come on, seriously?), meaning no matter what device you're looking at a Website on, that Website must a) show the exactly the same content on all devices and b) respond to the device it's being shown on so it fits the screen, whilst using things like hamburger menus to handle navigation.
It's pretty obvious stuff but if your site isn't fully responsive I suggest you make this a priority as having a fully responsive site is critical to user experience and is, therefore, a huge negative in Google's eyes, and reading between the lines of that statement you can/should assume that there will come a time when Google annihilate the rankings sites that haven't bothered to go responsive. They're still out there and they have been warned…
And whilst I'm not going to talk about how to design a site with mobile-first in mind because I won't get anything else done, I will mention that everything I've already said matters, in fact, it really matters! So figure out your menus, don't be afraid of bold call-to-action buttons, and you've guessed it, make it fast.
The right type of content
Writing content is a very subjective topic as one website's needs vary wildly to the next site's so I won't go into too much detail here, other than to say that you must focus on semantic SEO.
What I will also say is that the same rules apply to everyone, fully covering the topic but always bearing mobile users in mind.
Therefore I recommend you:
- Write in short paragraphs because small chunks of text on a desktop can fill a mobile screen
- Make it scannable and easy to digest
- Make it relevant because relevance is still part of a good UX
- If you're writing long-form content use a table of content and jump links to allow users to quickly head down to the part they're really interested in
- Use headings well and describe the content it's above
It's also true that Google doesn't really mind having content behind tabs, because they can read it. In fact, they almost expect it when sites are designed from a mobile-first perspective as it allows you to place all of the important content/information in obvious places, so don't be afraid to do this as it can help massively from a user's point of view.
Remember that people are staring at a phone so make the tabs intuitive and clear, people are browsing with their thumbs.
Use ads carefully
Ads on Websites can be problematic, and when I say problematic what I really mean is you're potentially stepping into the ring with a cute-looking panda that will destroy your site's organic visibility in a very short timeframe.
The Panda algorithm analyses many different aspects of a site and will score it accordingly, but one of the main things the Panda algorithm is designed to do is to roughly compare your site's UX to the UX of the website's in the Quality Raters Guidelines, and if you read them carefully you'll notice that the word ‘ads' is used over 100 times. Google quite rightly frowns upon sites that aggressively push ads in the faces of mobile users.
Now I'm not saying that ads shouldn't be used and monetised but be careful not to thrust them in people's faces, and make them subtle and native.
I also suggest you select your ads wisely if possible. For example, the ad's on your site MUST be from reputable companies in themselves. If you're promoting ad's from companies that Google will look unfavourably upon then those ads WILL affect how Google ranks your site from an overall quality point of view because you're effectively guilty of promoting ‘bad apples‘.
This was one of the least publicised aspects of the so-called ‘medic' update of 2018, so be very careful how you monetise your site.
Broken things are a sign of neglect
Now here's an interesting one. In my opinion, Google's algorithms are starting to promote technically correct website's above website's that have persistent technical issues that lead to poor user experience, so check for:
- Broken links
- Links that point to irrelevant pages
- Missing images
- Slow pages
Although in isolation these things aren't the end of the world, if left unattended for too long users will assume you don't care about the state of your site and could think twice about buying from you.
Make purchasing frictionless
Getting the right visitors to your site is one thing, convincing them to buy from you is another issue altogether, so make the buying process as easy as possible.
- Make sure you have a solid returns policy that lays out exactly what the customer can and cannot expect should something go wrong or they change their mind
- You're not Amazon so don't force customers to create an account
- Use a 1-page checkout if at all possible as it avoids drop-outs as the fear factor kicks in with every ‘step in the checkout process'. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a good checkout experience will have the single biggest impact on successful checkouts
- Don't freak people out with hidden shipping fees, make them clear from the start
It's pretty clear to me that not only does a good UX improve conversion rate, it's also a big part of ranking a website. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Google uses user experience as one of it's main ranking factors, along with good quality backlinks and matching user intent.
So don't make the user think about what the page they're on is about or where they have to go next. Make every link, signal, and call to action crystal clear, feed them the content they want in a digestible manner and make your site fast.
People today are in a hurry and you must give them what they want if you don't want them to go elsewhere. They want to enjoy searching through a well-designed and thoughtful site that appeals to their expectations of your brand, and if you get it right and you win big.