Search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved greatly over the years. While you could once achieve high rankings on search pages by cramming specific keywords onto your site as many times as possible, modern algorithms are intended to “think” like a user. As such, there is now a mutually beneficial relationship, so to speak, between design that optimizes a user’s experience (UX) and search engine optimization. SEO determines where a site ranks among its peers on a search engine results page, while UX is defined by whether the user clicks and finds what they are looking for within the search results. This post will cover techniques you can use to improve both aspects of your website.
Designing for the User
Despite significant advances in the algorithms used by search engines, they do not “understand” sites in the same way humans can. They rely heavily on data gathered about users’ reactions and factors such as site structure, links, and keyword usage. The former allows search engines to determine the quality of a site. This is where UX and its impact on how a user responds to your site come into play. According to Moz:
Usability and user experience…provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site’s external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality. This is called the “no one likes to link to a crummy site” phenomenon.
Performing Keyword Research
One of the first things you should do is perform research on the keywords users might use to reach your site. Not only is your goal to identify the phrases used on search engines, you want to know how frequently a given term is used and how competitive the term is compared to its synonyms.
This provides the foundation you will use to develop your content and design your site. Without this knowledge, you miss out on attracting not just visitors, but the right kind of visitors, to your site. For example, you can see how the following keyword variations change the results returned:
While the ins and outs of performing keyword research are beyond the scope of this blog post, the following articles are good places to begin learning:
- HubSpot’s How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: A Beginner’s Guide
- Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO (Chapter 5: Keyword Research)
- SEONick’s How to Do Keyword Research for SEO
Ensuring Optimal Site Performance
Since 2010, Google has indicated that it considers a site’s speed when ranking search results, and it has gone so far as to claim that they’re “obsessed with speed.” This reflects the preferences of most users, who generally prioritize render time above all else. Many are impatient, and if a page takes too long to load after selecting and clicking on a search result, they will navigate elsewhere. If your site takes even four seconds to load, you will have lost 25% of your viewers.
When optimizing your site, there are two timing metrics you should pay particular attention to:
- Time to above-the-fold load: the amount of time that elapses between the user making a request for the site and the user to seeing above-the-fold content
- Time to full page load: the amount of time that elapses between the user making a request for the site and the user’s browser fully rendering the site
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for website optimization, there are certainly techniques that will improve the performance of many websites, including careful caching of resources, using content delivery networks (CDNs), minimizing the number of HTTP calls required for the browser to render a site, and so on.
Implementing Responsive Design for Mobile Users
One major aspect of ensuring top-notch page load times involves implementing responsive design for mobile users. While sites optimized for mobile devices were once a novelty, the demands and expectations of today’s users require you to optimize your site for display on smaller screens.
A user’s engagement with your site depends on it performing well on mobile devices, especially as the number of users accessing the Internet with mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets skyrockets. Leads to your site based on search engines require mobile optimization, with many penalizing sites that aren’t mobile-friendly by lowering their rankings.
Obtaining the “Long Click”
Once you have ensured that your site performance isn’t resulting in a high bounce rate, you’ll need to make sure that your content is up to par.
A search engine measures the success of the rankings it presents by keeping track of how the requester engages with the results. For example, if the user clicks on a link, but immediately returns to the search page to try a different link, the engine concludes that the user wasn’t satisfied with the first link he or she attempted. However, if the user clicks on a link and stays on that page for an extended period of time (an action referred to as a “long click”), the engine concludes that the site was of interest to the user based on his or her search terms.
Getting Visitors to Your Site
To gain a “long click,” you must first get the user to visit your site, instead of your competitor’s, when scrolling through a search results page. This is where the information you obtained by doing keyword research comes into play.
- Titles: Set using the HTML <title> tag, this is usually the clickable link on the search results page. Since you have a limited amount of space, be sure to use appropriate, eye-catching keywords that provide information relevant to what the user seeks
- URLs: Search results display your URL immediately after the title, so make sure your URL slug displays relevant keywords to let the user know they’re in the right place
- Metadata: The search engine follows the URL with a brief description of your site, so use this space to emphasize and expand on the information provided by the title. As always, remember to use the appropriate keywords!
Retaining the Visitors to Your Site
Once you’ve gotten the user to visit your site, you can improve the chances of getting a “long click” by ensuring that your immediate above-the-fold content captures the user’s attention. Visitors tend to be inpatient, and you will need to present the information they want in as short a time as possible.
- Identify Yourself: Make sure that your logo and/or site name is prominently displayed and not surrounded by clutter so that the user knows that he or she is in the right place
- Organize Your Site: Because users typically scan the page to look for specific pieces of information, use the appropriate headers and subheaders to help your user identify relevant content
- At the top of your site, you should place your sole <h1> tag, which provides a similar message as the page’s title tag
- Use subheaders to break up long pieces of content and to draw attention to specifics they may be interested in. Once again, your keyword research should dictate what you emphasize.
- Provide the Promised Content: Once your user lands on a page, you must provide the content promised by the title, headers, and links the user has already seen. You should strive to focus each page on a single idea or concept and link to others as needed (this technique can also be used to garner attention to other areas of your site). Be wary of too many hyperlinks, however, since this can “dilute” the user’s attention.
Today, user experience and search engine optimization go hand-in-hand, and you can’t afford to neglect either aspect when designing, maintaining, and updating your site. The good news, however, is that optimizing a user’s experience on your page directly improves your page’s search engine rankings.
For a full analyzation of your site, contact Rigor today for a free web performance report to help you improve SEO and UX.