SEO vs UX? No, it's SEO and UX!
Search Engine Optimization and User Experience are both linked in a number of ways and this relationship has been steadily increasing in importance in recent years. This is partly down to the ever changing SEO weighting of different SEO metrics which occur as a direct result of search engine ranking changes. UX has in the past been an overlooked aspect of a SEO toolkit but is now gaining prominence for the significant role it plays in SEO. Before, SEO was mainly thought of as gaming the system and finding the easiest ways to get ranked. This resulted in low quality websites that ranked fairly highly with search engines. However with the new Google updates and other search engines following suit, it has become near-impossible to game the ranking system and therefore there is rightfully a whole lot more attention being paid to the user experience.
How to think about the connection between SEO and UX
There is an interesting connection between SEO and UX. This can be seen in a number of different ways. It wasn’t always the case that SEO and UX were linked. For a while user experience designers and SEO specialists were very separate. In major corporations, they often had completely different departments. This encouraged a culture of competition between the two sides in order to determine which was the prevalent factor for the success of the website. However they have realized in recent years that they should be working together to deliver the best overall experience for the customer. SEO and UX will always be linked because they both greatly influence the experience of the user. SEO and UX mesh together because ultimately, the SEO dictates the quality and quantity of the traffic that enters the website. The user experience of the website will then dictate how many of these targeted users are likely to produce successful conversions. Therefore both of these aspects have to be focused on since they have a clear and logical partnership. If the main focus is left on only on these aspects, then the other will be left greatly suffer.
Google is trying to work better with user satisfaction based on the data it has. The company has begun to make significant alterations to the way it ranks websites. It is beginning to take into account the satisfaction of different users. This is a bold step since it has not really previously done a significant amount with the huge amount of data it posses relating to user satisfaction. These changes will obviously mean that a greater emphasis is placed on user experience when ranking websites. This will impact the thinking of SEO and mean that SEO tactics have to be approached differently and have the user experience in mind.
How SEO Affects User Experience
SEO has a direct impact on the user experience. The search engine ranking results of a users search term will have a significant impact on their user experience. Even before a user lands on a website that they consider useful and relevant to their particular search term, their experience will already be impacted by the results that are shown to them. If they are given the websites they require then their experience will be much more satisfactory than if the results had led them to irrelevant websites.
The specific optimization that a website undertakes to improve their search rankings can also simultaneously have an effect on the user experience. This can be witnessed in a number of ways. Firstly the use of <h1> tags is considered vital for headings of articles. Including these tags is a well known SEO tactic. However these headings also have a direct benefit for the user experience since it provides clarity on what the specific page entails. It also provides a visible structure to your website which makes it easier to navigate for users. Keyword density is another important SEO term. Google will punish websites that overload articles with the same keywords trying to rank for them. The best procedure is to use keywords very sparingly and only when they are relevant. Using keywords with precision also has the effect of making the article higher quality and much more readable. This is another positive impact that SEO can have on the overall user experience.
It is clear that search engines and search engine optimization have direct effects on a user's experience. It starts before a user even visits the website and is present when a user is browsing a website. There is a direct correlation with the application of certain SEO methods and the overall user experience.
How User Experience Affects SEO
User experience plays a significant and valuable role in SEO. The main ranking in SEO terms that user experience contributes to is known as "dwell time". In layman's terms, dwell time is the amount of time that a user spends on a specific website before hitting back on their browser. This precise amount of time gives a lot of information and is used as a measure when ranking websites. The metric itself has caused some controversy in the SEO world with some disagreeing with the importance of dwell time.
Dwell time is an important SEO metric because it dictates how relevant and useful a user found the content within your web page. If they found it useful they are more likely to spend more time browsing the web page whereas if they did not find the content relevant they are more likely to quickly hit the back button on their browser to try and find a more relevant website. The aim of all search engines is to efficiently connect users with what they are looking for. Therefore a user that spends a lot of time on a website and clicks the various links within the website obviously find it very useful and relevant. In turn, search engines will reward this behavior. If a user only views one page on the website and clicks back very quickly, then it indicates that the content was not useful or relevant. If a lot of users are pushing the back button then the search engine will proportionally punish this behavior by shifting the rankings negatively.
It is important not to confuse dwell time with bounce rate. They are similar terms that are often incorrectly interchanged. Bounce rate is the percentage of users that only viewed one page on your website before leaving. Dwell time is an important indicator of how well a website is tailored for a user's experience and therefore search engines have rightly given it a more significant role in ranking websites. Google has no way to detect if a user leaves the website, it can only detect a user pressing back and going back to the search results. The dwell time is essentially the time taken between a user clicks on a website and when the user presses the back key to return to the google results. It is a key example of how SEO is slowly meshing with UX.
How PageSpeed affects both (UX and SEO)
Page speed affects both SEO and UX in a number of different ways. Page Speed plays a crucial role in SEO. In fact, Google has been using page speed as a ranking metric since 2010. How quick a site loads plays an important role in whether a user decides to stay on a website or not. Google has acknowledged that page speed is important for rankings because of this. In pure ranking terms, the page speed won't harm your websites chances too much unless your page loads very slowly. Back in 2010, Google stated that only 1% of all websites were actually given lower rankings due to their page speed. This number is likely to be higher in the current year though.
Mobile page speed is another important factor to consider in SEO. The massive boom in smartphone use has made it one of the most popular mediums to access websites on. Therefore much more emphasis has been placed on the page speed of mobile versions of websites.
Page Speed has an enormous effect on user experience. The first thing that a user will notice about your website is how long it takes to load. If it takes too long it is more likely that the user will leave your website before taking in any significant content that your website has to offer. There have been studies to back up this hypothesis, which found that more than half of web users expect a site to load within 2 seconds and will have an inclination to leave a website if it does not load within 3 seconds. 79% of online shoppers even stated that if a site had loading problems they were unlikely to visit it again.
A fast loading website contributes to a positive user experience a number of ways. If you have a product to sell, a fast loading web page will help a user to learn about your product more efficiently and also mean they can complete order forms more easily. If your website's prime revenue is based on ads, then the amount of clicks your web-pages get will contribute a great deal to it. A fast loading website leads to users more likely to visit a higher number of web-pages within the website meaning you get more overall clicks. Google gives a speed score out of 100, however this score only lets you know the potential for making your site more faster. It is recommended to know your metric page load time. This is a far more useful indicator and you can conduct a test on https://www.webpagetest.org/.
Page speed should be a top priority for any web-owner. It contributes heavily to the user experience and search engines have noticed this and are taking the appropriate actions to weight it in fairly for their rankings.
SEO and UX have always remained connected and always fit in with one another. However the prominent trends was to separate these two aspects of one goal. There is a clear emphasis shift in recent years done by search engines to give user experience the weighting it deserves in rankings. Therefore any web-owner should treat these two similar aspects with the same attention and think in terms of how they both mesh rather than trying to find differences.