Making SEO and User Experience Work Together

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At first glance, search engine optimization and user experience design seem to have little in common. SEO functions by adjusting websites for search engine algorithms, whereas UX development is aimed at producing a kind of experience which will turn visitors into converts. However, while their end-goals seem to be different, the methods they employ for achieving them have some overlap. In many instances, the same design principles can further the objectives of both SEO and UX at the same time. Needless to say, using these multi-purpose methods is extremely useful because it saves time, effort and costs of website development. This is especially relevant for businesses with a limited budget for online promotion looking to get the best possible return on their investment. In the rest of this article, we will examine some of the most common strategies and practices which can improve both search engine rankings of a website, as well as the experience of using it.

Loading Speed and Attention Spans

Site load speed is simultaneously an important SEO ranking signal, as well as a key component of a quality browsing experience. Research has shown that the average attention span of someone browsing online is about 8 seconds. Within this limited time-frame, the visitor is going to decide whether he should continue using the website in question, or move on somewhere else. This applies to his or her first encounter with a website, to interactions further down the conversion funnel, as well as to post-conversion interactions. If a page fails to load or respond during the 8-second interval, the visitor is very likely to bounce as a result of boredom, frustration or impatience. On the SEO side of things, Google explicitly includes site speed as one of its ranking factors. Based on in-house research which shows that users prefer faster-loading websites, Google recommends a load-speed of 3 seconds or less as a practical benchmark for webmasters.

Now that we have established the impact of speed on rankings and experience, it’s time to briefly go over some of the ways in which site speed can be improved. A change in web-hosting plan from a shared to a dedicated server can help websites which experience slowdowns due to increased traffic. Compressing images can be beneficial for websites which rely on visual content. JavaScript cleanup and compression work well for highly-interactive websites. Irrespective of the method being used, improving speed is a surefire way to rank better, as well as to provide an enjoyable user experience.

Mobile Optimization

Portable devices recently became the predominant means of browsing the web across the world. This shift towards on-the-go surfing has had a major impact on how websites are being designed. In comparison to desktop PCs, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have smaller screens with a vertical orientation and are usually operated via a haptic interface. These hardware differences create different browsing experiences depending on the platform being used. What works for desktop in terms of ease-of-use, readability or aesthetics does not necessarily apply to mobile as well. Search engine providers such as Google are keenly aware of this, as evidenced by the introduction of their mobile-first index sometime in 2018. This new ranking criterion will give priority to websites which are optimized for mobile, as it is now more likely that they will be accessed through a portable device. In other words, a mobile-friendly design is likely to become a focus of SEO in the foreseeable future.

To ensure that a website provides the best possible experience for mobile users, in addition to ranking well on major search engines, developers and SEO experts are incorporating principles of responsive web design in their work. These include using fluid grids with relatively-sized elements, scalable images, footer navigation menus, and others.

Site Structure

The impact the formal structure of a website has on its search ranking, as well as on the kind of experience it engenders, cannot be understated. In this day of CSS-enhanced, JavaScript-based dynamic pages, it is easy to forget that proper HTML markup is the base upon which everything else is built. Content is king when it comes to websites in general, but content lacking in the structure is nothing but a haphazard collection of letters as far as search engines are concerned. To index a page, a search engine crawler must be able to parse it, and this can only be accomplished by using adequate syntax when designing the page. Similarly, a site visitor is not going to waste their time trying to read an undifferentiated block of text. Information has to be visually organized to provide the intended user experience, otherwise, it is just noise. In other words, without a well-designed structure, a website will be ignored by search engines and audiences alike.

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Luckily, optimizing website structure is not an esoteric discipline, but merely the application of a number of standards and rules. Using proper HTML tags for titles, headings, sub-heading, lists, meta-descriptions, etc. can go a long way towards creating the right experience for users, and making the task of search engine crawlers much easier.

Conclusion

While the goals of SEO and UX design don’t necessarily have to align, their practical methodologies often overlap, as we have tried to show above. SEO and UX can easily go hand-in-hand in creating a successful website experience for both your human visitor and search engines, provided webmasters are willing to take the time get properly acquainted with both.


Chloe Smith is a cycling enthusiast and a part-time writer always willing to share tidbits of advice. She believes that passion, courage and, above all, knowledge breed success. When she’s not working, she’s probably somewhere cuddled up with a good book, and a cup of lemongrass tea (or more honestly binge-watching the newest Netflix hit show).

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