How pages are rated by search engines is rapidly changing. Companies sometimes fail to consider that the user’s experience on the website also has an impact on the page ranking. With the announced major update of Google’s page ranking algorithm in May 2021, UX seems to be even more important than ever.
Companies put a lot of energy into creating content and displaying their complete product catalogs or service overviews on their website. This often happens in an inside-out way that fails to consider how the user experiences it. As a result, internal vocabulary and structures that are irrelevant for customers often find their way onto websites.
Search engines provide the user with the most relevant search result based on the quantitative behavior of previous visitors. In doing so, they apply objective parameters to assess whether that page is relevant to the user based on the search term they used.
In practice, however, we see that quantitative data points such as bounce rate, time on page, etc., have little or no impact on your page rank. For that, Google uses another method: pogo-sticking. With this technique, Google takes note of how often a user returns to the same results page before settling on a particular website. If a user clicks on a different search result from a competing site, in combination with a high pogo stick score on the page, Google assumes that your page does not meet the user's expectations.
If we analyze this for a moment, it is precisely here that user experience and visual design play a crucial role. But before we can offer a good user experience or visual design, we must first and foremost understand who our users are, but also what their expectations are.
An important step in the process of drawing up journeys and personas is understanding the user. Who comes into contact with your website or brand, and when? What are their goals? What frustrations and needs do they have?
After determining who your users are, you can adjust the content and structure of the website to their characteristics. At the page level, we can now translate users’ goals into a structure and matching content. However, our work doesn’t stop with fulfilling that top goal; but we also want to push or pull them further into their journey. Just like in a physical store, it takes much less effort to keep the customer in the store than to get them into the store.
So, take into consideration which pages or actions are logical next steps for the user. Once we know this, we can provide relevant links to other pages via calls to action (such as ‘contact us’, ‘subscribe to our newsletter’, etc.). Now we know what a page should contain, and we can start creating relevant content. We know where we want to lead the user next.
The content of a page can be relevant and fulfill the need of the user perfectly, but if the visual experience is not aligned with its content, users usually don't engage as much with the website. Visual design may not be a parameter that Google uses to evaluate your site, but the interaction a user has with your site is.
Don’t forget that graphic design gives a user a first impression of your company and can inspire them to click further – or bounce.
Tests confirm that users do not read from top to bottom and from left to right. Instead, they scan the page looking for content that is relevant to them. As a result, it is important to make the page easy to scan. You can do this by including targeted whitespace. Using enough contrast in both color and size of the typography further enhances scannability. This also ensures that we can determine where the user's eye will fall – which is extremely useful for websites where conversion is key.
Images included on a web page must serve a purpose. Either they must be necessary to dictate the mood on a page, or they must support the text accompanying the image. If they do not meet one of these two requirements, remove them. This shortens page loading time and provides a better overview to users.
What emotions/connotations do you want your website to evoke? This must be in line with the content and products or services that your company offers. While the graphic design of your website has little quantifiable impact on the score of your website or page, graphic design, when applied properly, has a direct impact on how users engage with your site.
All too often, people associate online accessibility with blind people using screen readers. But did you know that 4.5% of people are colorblind and 1.75% of Europeans are visually impaired, according to WHO? Take a look in Google Analytics at the number of website sessions and do a quick calculation: you’ll be amazed at how many potential customers are left with their needs unmet.
Additionally, accessibility guidelines developed by Anysurfer and WCAG also offer best practices for SEO and UX, such as semantic HTML and the use of alt tags. As a result, if you follow these accessibility guidelines, you automatically follow SEO best practices.
Interstitials like full-screen newsletter subscriptions or voucher code pop-ups will increase leads or conversion in the short term. However, they will negatively impact the user experience on your site, and thus increase your bounce rate. Fortunately, the Google update scheduled for May 2021 will heavily penalize these practices.
When it comes to UX design, people are more inclined to think about the visual aspects and often do not realize that the technical side has at least as much impact on a good user experience.
This includes the speed at which the page loads as well as whether the user can smoothly interact with your page. Google includes responsiveness and smoothness in its page ranking algorithm, ensuring that the loading time of your website has a direct impact on your website’s location on the search results page. Google refers to this metric as the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
Your web server must be able to quickly serve pages to users, and the web page must also be able to execute scripts quickly. After the page loads, the website must also respond rapidly to user interaction. You might think that investing heavily in good servers will help, but your website’s coding and imagery also have an impact.
Elements must not jump or move after the page is fully loaded, as having to search for the exact sentence where they left off puts an unwanted cognitive load on the user. This should also be applied to transitions and animations, which must run smoothly to ensure a user can stay oriented on the page.
In addition to the loading time, perception of speed will also have an indirect impact on your page rank. How fast can a website show all elements on the page, how smooth are the animations and how streamlined the interactions? With certain nifty tricks, it is possible to give users the feeling that things load quickly and are very responsive while giving us a little more room behind the scenes, for example, to load some APIs. This perception of speed will, in turn, lead to longer interactions, which benefits page and website rank.
It’s clear that UX has an increasingly greater impact on Google search result page rankings. In addition to considering these broad guidelines for improving the user experience on your website, it is best to start by critically questioning whether your website still meets the needs of your users. You can start by looking at the pages with the highest bounce rate and use the above tips to think critically about whether it is still sufficient.