How to Do SEO in a User Experience-Driven World

For a long time, SEO and user experience design have been thought of as separate practices. The lines however, have become increasingly blurred; so much so that if you’re not focusing on creating the best experiences for your users, you probably aren’t doing good SEO.

Google is getting frighteningly good at understanding how we think.

As users become less articulate in constructing search queries, search engines are becoming better at deciphering what we, as consumers, want—and how we express those wants.

This is the reason why search engine optimization is now beyond link building, keyword stuffing and trying to rank low quality, high volume pages or posts.

The experience that users have when visiting a website has much to do with how that site performs in search results as any other factor that would have previously influenced their search rankings.

As algorithms develop, businesses and web-designers need to be ever more concerned with the quality of User Experience (UX) and the effectiveness of their website’s interface if they want to increase visibility, attract and keep their users and customers.

Engagement is the name of the new SEO game, and understanding and satisfying the user’s intent is the way to win that game.

How to Do SEO in 2016: Don’t Feed the Robots

While search engine optimization can feel a bit technical, it’s become very much rooted in human experience.

Search engines succeed to the extent that they understand the desires of their users and deliver the most appropriate results to them. Hence they’re getting better and better at ranking the websites and content that real people like and find useful. And no doubt they’ll continue to develop their algorithms to get closer to this ideal.

Such is the reason why you should avoid feeding the robot—that is, creating content that’s keyword-perfect but fails to deliver on relevance, depth or quality.

The biggest thing to avoid in SEO 2.0 is disappointment.

Imagine this: you’re a teenager again. It’s Christmas morning, you wake up, run downstairs, grab that little rectangular box you’ve been eyeing up under the tree. You rip off the paper to reveal that classic white box with the shiny Apple logo—it’s got to be your iPhone. You gently lift the lid only to discover there is no iPhone. In it’s place, is stuffed a pair of Ruldoph the red-nosed reindeer Christmas socks. What a bummer! Who on earth thought it’d be a good idea to give you a pair socks in an old iPhone box?

Likewise algorithms are increasingly stronger detectors of dirty tricks: hidden text, blog comment spam, cloaking—anything that fails to deliver on relevance and value to the end user.

The user’s intent must be met. What role does user experience design play in that? A very important one.

In the new world of SEO, good UXis good SEO, and here is how you can win at that game.

User Experience: Start With a Person, Not a Keyword

Designing a good user experience begins with understanding your user. When you understand the people who are visiting your website, you can better address their needs and desires. When you understand how your audience thinks, you can construct a clearer message connecting them to your product or service.

All of this knowledge is what allows you to create an online experience your users will love. Of course, positive interactions online is good for business, but what does it mean in terms of SEO?

When users linger on your website and are actively engaged (scrolling, clicking, sharing and re-visiting), search engines take notice. These signs of engagement are indications of a positive experience with the site. Just as you wouldn’t spend lots of money on multiple occasions at a grocery store that only sold lima beans, you probably wouldn’t re-engage with a website that didn’t deliver what you want.

How to Succeed in SEO With User Experience Design

So how do you create a positive user experience? Well, apart from the volumes that have been written on the topic, here are a few things that’ll both enhance your user experience and boost your on-page optimization at the same time:

  • Simplify your design and visual layout
    • Less can be more. Spread out your content and allow users to focus on the main purpose of the page
    • Avoid distracting and irrelevant supplementary content and ads. Supplementary content and ads should be clearly distinguishable from the main content
    • Use relevant, high quality images and graphics. Better to have no graphics than have poor quality or irrelevant graphics
    • Break long forms into separate pages so users aren’t overwhelmed. A multi-step approach is normally better than squeezing your entire form on one page.
  • Limit choices
    • CTAs promote engagement but too many can overwhelm users. Each page should aim to have one clear call to action
    • Encourage social sharing but use as few social sharing options as necessary
    • Include similar articles or suggested content at the end of blog posts but don’t overdo this.
  • Be consistent
    • Your theme, typography, branding and site purpose should all work together to communicate the same message
    • Keep your pages and content up-to-date. Consistently check for errors, dead links and pages that fail to load
    • If you have a blog, either update it regularly or consider not having one.
  • Build trust signals
    • Provide full and complete contact information, privacy policies, terms and conditions and customer service information where relevant
    • Provide detailed about pages with images to give your brand personality
    • Use reviews, testimonials and social proof to give users confidence

According to Moz Inc., a Seattle-based SEO consulting company, the bottom line is to make sure you’re presenting the highest quality content from highly reputable sources. The higher the perceived value of your site, the higher the quality rating will be.

If users are getting a quality experience from your site, they will naturally engage more, stay longer and share more—and Google will eventually sit up and take notice. In this way, not only are you optimizing for conversion, you’ll also be poised to climb higher in search engine results pages, increasing your chances of being found by new users and customers.

SEOs and UX designers can no longer operate in isolation. As these two disciplines converge, the businesses and websites that focus on the experience of their end users, are the ones that are set to benefit on the fronts of customer acquisition, conversion and retention. The blurring of the lines between UX and SEO is good news for the user-centric business.