For websites to rank well in today’s search engines, they must be relevant to the topics they cover and popular with visitors. But how does a website, especially in the enterprise, become relevant and popular? Search engines look for quality content that is easy to use and presented in an accessible way. Search engine optimization is the process of affecting and increasing website traffic with practices that can improve a website’s rank in a search engine. User experience refers to a person’s behavior and feelings when interacting with a product. To drive traffic to your site it is important that user experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO) are working together.

New Priorities for Your Search Rankings

Early search engines understood context by analyzing keywords and backlinks. Sites were ranked through the number of keywords and synonyms found across their web pages, which helped signal relevance for the term searched. And backlinks across the web indexed a website’s popularity.

Today, search engines use machine learning to understand both the context of a search and the quality of a website—to deliver the best search results. When Google updated its search algorithm with Hummingbird in 2013, the new algorithm included new technology that allowed it to understand context. Previously, searches were deployed to retrieve sites that matched each keyword separately. The update allows Google to understand the context of long-tailed keywords, and even predict the question a user is trying to ask.

This shift signals how new priorities affect search engine results. According to Moz, “Usability and user experience are second order influences on search engine ranking success. They provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site’s external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality.”

Businesses that lack a designed UX must attend to this in order to improve their search engine rank.

The Importance of User Experience

According to Nik Donovic, “SEO focuses on the customer’s journey before and after they arrive at a website and UX focuses on the customer’s journey while they are visiting a website.” Working together, SEO and UX should consider a range of entry points into a website, to ensure that a user has the best experience possible. To accomplish this, UX must be data-driven.

With the help of analytics, a data-driven UX strategy tracks user behavior on the websites they visit. By measuring this data, SEO and UX teams can see where and when people are dropping from a page and fix bugs and problems faster. Thus, a data-driven UX strategy improves the site experience, and a better user experience may improve the overall search engine rank. Because search engine algorithms can understand user behavior, a page with quality UX that keeps visitors engaged will begin to rank higher than a website with strong SEO, but poor UX.

Data-driven UX will also help a web team gauge if the current experience is optimal for a variety of uses. David Freeman argues that designing a user experience with a linear approach lacks flexibility, as more than half of consumers do not start their journey on a site’s homepage. Just like software, UX requires constant attention, with updates to keep it responsive, intuitive and inviting. Studying data gathered from visitor journeys in a site helps UX teams make informed decisions that benefit a site’s ongoing success and search rank.

The Rise of Mobile

Mobile-friendliness is one of the most important factors for high quality SEO. Shortly after releasing the new algorithm, Google announced that it would be prioritizing mobile friendly websites in its ranking. The Pew Research Center believes that 12% of adults rely on a mobile device for web use exclusively. And some sources even estimate that 60% of all web searches happen on mobile devices. As many businesses adapt to an omnichannel strategy, it may come as no surprise that Google prioritizes fast, mobile-friendly websites. Thus, it is important for SEO and UX teams to prioritize responsive, mobile-friendly design.

In addition to site speed and responsive design, good UX also depends on image use, easy-to-read text and an organized, logical sitemap. It might seem obvious, but pages with at least one tagged image rank higher than web pages without any images. As listed by Google’s instructions for improving the landing page experience, transparency and trustworthiness are also highly important. Visitors should be able to understand what your business does, and what your products are for, before they are asked to fill out a form. Attending to clarity will keep your site relevant, which will improve the quality of your site’s traffic.

Creating a Cross-Functional Team

Today, search engines can understand semantics, context and user behavior. These advancements mean that strategy must change too. No longer can SEO marketers and UX designers afford to work on projects separately. These teams must collaborate to ensure the best possible journey for the user.

A terrific UX not only keeps users engaged with the page but increases the potential for organic sharing and distribution. The more traffic a site receives, the more data that a team will have to plan revisions and improvements. A successful cross-functional team can be independently successful, but only if they are mutually supportive.

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