Why User Experience Is Important For SEO
Back in the good old days, SEO was all about spamming your keyword around the page and building a ton of backlinks with exact match anchor text to your website. Today, search engines are a little bit smarter than that. So much so that SEO is no longer about pleasing search engines more than the user: today, search engines will reward you for pleasing the user.
In this blog, I will highlight the many examples of where user experience is vital for SEO and why you need to ensure your website provides a good experience in order to rank well beyond the usual SEO tactics.
The first thing a website needs to do to rank well is be mobile-friendly. In terms of SEO, this means the website is responsive and displays well on mobile screens without having to display different types of content for mobile users compared to desktop users. From a UX point of view, it means mobile users can easily navigate and use the website. In either case, your website needs to be mobile friendly!
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to have a horrible mobile experience of a website that you are quite fond of when browsing on a desktop. In fact, it was commonplace for websites to redirect mobile users to a different version of the page, or sometimes even use a completely separate subdomain for mobile users.
There are two main updates by Google which forced webmasters to understand the importance of a mobile friendly website. The first one was back in 2015, it was an update so big that webmasters nicknamed it “Mobilegeddon” – there were so many popular websites that didn’t provide a good mobile experience that the update was likened to some type of digital apocalypse! The “mobilegeddon” update essentially provided a ranking boost for webpages that were mobile friendly, and demoted webpages that were not mobile friendly. This is where webmasters began to develop entirely new pages or even subdomains for mobile users. Although these new pages were mobile friendly, they would commonly achieve this by displaying different content to mobile users compared to desktop users, which would lead to Google’s next mobile-focused update.
After the initial mobile-friendly update, Google then announced the next change in order to improve mobile user experience across the web. This was known as mobile-first indexing. Previously, Googlebot would crawl and rank pages based on how they appeared for a desktop user – so all those pages that reduced their content for mobile users could still rank high for mobile users even though it had less content. With mobile-first indexing, Googlebot would begin to crawl, index and rank pages based on how they appeared for mobile users. This was a massive change for webmasters – so massive that Google took from 2018 all the way to 2021 before every single website was being indexed with mobile-first.
It’s entirely fair to say that these two updates from Google are the core reason why mobile users can have such a good user experience on websites today – not having to worry about a bad user experience or being given less/different content.
Website speed is an on-going trend when it comes to ranking on Google – and it’s one of the biggest factors to giving a user a good online experience. Website speed first became a ranking factor back in 2010, but this update was only for desktop search results. It wasn’t until 2018 that website speed would also be factored into the ranking of mobile search results as well. The issue with these updates however is that a “good website speed” is obviously ambiguous, so no one really knew whether their website speed was good enough for Google or not. Fast forward to 2021 and we have the new Page Experience update. This update puts website speed into three measurable metrics which are known as the Core Web Vitals. From your Google Search Console menu you can see two new pages labelled Page Experience and Core Web Vitals. Now webmasters can actually see whether their pages are fast enough to benefit from any possible ranking improvements or not – and this data is based off of real users!
Regardless of what device you’re using or what website you’re browsing, one of the biggest things for user experience is providing a good site navigation. Once a user lands on your website, eventually they’ll ask the question: “where do I go now?” If your website’s navigation is not up to scratch and only creates confusion, the answer to their question will eventually be clear: “to another website!”
Other User Experience
There are also other user experience issues which can impact SEO other than the main issues listed above. Another one might be annoying ads or pop-ups. If you click onto a website, ideally the first thing you see shouldn’t be some video advert or a random pop-up you’re not interested in. Google knows this: in fact, they actively penalise websites for doing this with a penalty known as “intrusive interstitials penalty.”