There are many misconceptions about how SEO affects UX and vice versa. On the one hand, you have digital content writers who struggle to grasp broad UX design theories. On the other, you have UX designers who don’t fully grasp the guidelines of SEO-friendly design.
There are also people on both sides who prefer to ignore the other camp, in the hopes they aren’t missing anything crucial. Needless to say, that’s hardly a recommendable approach.
Here’s the thing about the intersection of SEO and UX: they both work together to make the website a better product. Just as UX design is about much more than visual elements, SEO is much more than including a keyword here and there.
They both concern themselves with how you distribute and compose your content and are key factors in the quality of the website. In this game, finding ways to create something both users and search engines can easily understand is the ultimate goal.
What Does SEO Have to Do With UX Design?
Many people assume that for Google to make sense of your website, you just have to make sure you add the right keyword the correct number of times and in the proper places. But as digital marketing professionals will tell you with a sigh, Google takes a lot more into consideration.
The single most important thing for both marketers and UX designers to understand is that Google has a very simple and consistent goal: to offer readers the best possible experience. That means helping people find things they are looking for, to list quality websites within rankings. In this sense, Google and UX designers share their occupation.
Google uses keywords to find content that could be relevant to the user in that moment, and that’s where the concern for keywords comes into play. But that’s only half the battle for Google. How can it know if users are having a good experience? How can Google know that the results it listed are good options for the user’s search?
A Common Measurement
The answer is that Google checks the same thing that UX designers do in their user testing. Key metrics are vital in understanding the performance of your website and this is true for search engines too.
In its algorithm, Google now has several metrics that aim to determine if the user had a good experience on your website—and some metrics that try to determine if the average user would have a good experience. Nowhere is this more clear than with page speed.
Users dislike waiting for pages to load. Page loading on a mobile device is even more demanding of the user’s patience. In 2016, Google found that 53% of mobile users gave up if a page took longer than three seconds to load. Three! This means that even with relevant content, readers won’t enjoy the website—and Google will reflect this fact by ranking the slow website poorly.
This very same issue is a concern for UX designers as well. If users hate waiting, your design needs to be quick and light, which gives UX designers the challenge of creating beautiful elements and components that aren’t too large and load in a timely fashion.
Ultimately, however, both sides set out to improve page speed so that users benefit from agile loading. And no one even mentioned adding more keywords to the page! This is how both UX designers and SEO professionals can learn from each other. By implementing best practices from both sides, you can end up with a product that users truly love and enjoy.
UX design looks for a few central factors in the search for a good experience. These can include navigation design, usability testing, visuals, and content, among others. The great news for everyone is that Google looks to some of those same factors, and will often appreciate tactics that improve ranking and UX design standards.
Not everyone appreciates the rise in the importance of SEO in UX design—it’s easy to look at this trend as extra work. SEO is complicated. Today, Google takes more than 200 different things into account, and we aren’t even clear on all of them. To make things more complex still, the algorithm changes every year.
Of course, there’s a payoff for this extra work.
Investing the time and effort into creating a website that offers users an overall great experience won’t just boost your key metrics, such as conversion, but will improve the usability of your website. Users enjoying and navigating your website will boost your ranking. Happy users make Google happy. Disappointed users who abandon your website right after arriving will increase your bounce rate, which results in a poorer ranking.
SEO and UX Design: Best Practices
Implementing both theories doesn’t have to be the downfall of UX designers—the trade comes with a few tricks that can help immensely. Here are a few pointers on combining SEO and UX.
This is the first point people think of when it comes to optimization. And while most people have a good idea of what a keyword is, they often fall short of using them correctly. And so, let’s jump right into it: your keywords are a way to tell Google what your page and website are about.
Using the right keyword allows Google to match your content to searches that people carry out online, which effectively makes your keyword the bridge between you and the user. Establishing the right keywords to match the searches you want requires research and careful planning, but that is a topic worthy of a blog post in its own right.
For now, let’s look at the bare basics of keywords. The most common mistake when implementing keywords is to assume the more keywords the better. But keyword stuffing is a malpractice SEO pros know to stay away from. Instead of just dropping keywords left and right, try to place them in strategic spots and at a density between 2-5%.
Navigation design is such a crucial part of UX. Logically, it won’t matter if your website is amazing if users can’t find anything. Navigation is meant to be intuitive and natural, so users can find their way without having to debate which is the right link to click.
It can be challenging to create a website structure and navigation that Google understands fully. In this area, it helps to keep in mind that in the eyes of Google, pages that are high in the website hierarchy are more important—and tend to have more authority.
When it comes to organizing your website, consider using links and buttons so that link juice flows from top pages to the ones at the bottom (or to the ones with more conversion). Here are a few good points to consider in your navigation:
Navigation bars are easy for search engines to crawl and index properly. They are easy on both Google and users, who can find the most important links at any point in time. They have limited space, which is a good thing: the link juice won’t be diluted and it won’t overwhelm users.
Dropdowns are a good option for bigger websites, but can be tough for search engines to read. The slightest mistake in the code of the menu and none of those pages will be indexed. Dropdowns are also trickier to design, as they may bring certain usability issues to your website if poorly done.
Aim for a shallow website structure. This means that for Google, it’s easier to read and understand the whole website if the structure isn’t too deep. For users, this structure favors easy and natural navigation. Some specialists recommend keeping all content within four clicks from the homepage.
Mind your copy. It can be easy to forget that all buttons are, in fact, internal links around your website. That link is something Google takes great notice of, and having a button with a simple “Here” doesn’t do much for your optimization. Invest time and care so all your buttons and links have descriptive copy, ideally including a relevant keyword.
Potentialize Key Elements
Like we mentioned before, Google’s algorithm now takes over 200 different factors into consideration when deciding what to rank first. This list changes with every year, and Google is notoriously secretive about the exact weight each of these has. Check out this list of Google ranking factors for more information.
But while we may not know the exact algorithm, we do know that these elements play an important part in the optimization and ranking of any website. UX designers will recognize that most of these elements are crucial in web design, but you may find yourself looking at these familiar faces in a new light.
Images and Alt Text
Images and other visual elements are vitally important in UX design—no one can argue with that. But while UX designers tend to focus all their effort into the visual side of their images, they can forget about the underlying components those images bring: alt text. Alternative text attributes are meant for you to describe what the image shows or the role it plays in the webpage.
While this is a standard optimization tactic, alt texts are still a usability issue: visually impaired users need them to understand the website better. So while UX designers may be familiar with the usability face of alt text, it’s easy to overlook the optimization part. Here’s how to get them right:
Make it descriptive. Both users and search engine crawlers need this description to fully understand the image and website, so aim for a descriptive text that gets the message across. Don’t include “image of” as that is a given to both users and crawlers.
Make it the right length. Alt text should be shorter than 125 characters, so you want your alt tags to be descriptive but in a concise way.
Implement your keywords. After all, you want your images to be optimized. And so, remember to use the keyword you want to rank for in your images. But be careful not to overdo it. Keyword stuffing is a terrible practice that Google no longer falls for.
Headings are important for Google for the same reason they are important for blog readers. After all, no one really wants to tackle a dense block of text that has no structure. Users need this structure to understand what each section of the page is about, so they can find the information they want faster.
Google likes them too. Your headings are a way for you to help Google understand your website content and the hierarchy in which it’s presented. Here are a few pointers to make the most of headings on your website:
Have only one H1. Google attributes more weight to the higher levels of anything, which means you don’t want several H1s competing with each other. Make the H1 broad enough to describe the whole page, then develop from there.
Be descriptive and use keywords. The better the copy you have in your headings is, the easier it will be for Google to know that that section of the page will answer users’ questions. Users will also have an easier time scanning the page without having to read everything.
Page Speed: Users Don’t Wait
Yes, back to our example from the beginning of this article. Page speed is crucial for both users and Google, and it’s something you can work on in different ways. Most of the tactics you can employ to speed up your website are likely to require a developer or some serious coding knowledge, but that’s a digression for another post.
For now, let’s look at what both digital content professionals and UX designers can do to speed things up.
Have a reliable and efficient server. The server response time is a key metric for your SEO and usability efforts, and should be in the 200-millisecond ballpark. This is the time it takes for the code that makes up your website to load and is a complex topic in its own right. In short, it will largely depend on how much power (in terms of actual hardware and internet speed) your server has to offer. If you want to learn the specifics, give this a read: Google’s page speed insights.
Optimize images. Yes, we already talked about optimizing images. In terms of page speed, it’s less about what the image says and more about how much it weighs. Large files are heavy and will slow your page speed down. To curb this effect, you want to make sure you properly compress your images.
Responsive Design: No Longer a Plus, But a Must
It seems like yesterday when Google announced that it would attribute more importance to the mobile versions of websites. Responsiveness is a major concern today as design teams everywhere try to create something that lives to certain standards of usability.
Ensuring that your website adapts smoothly to mobile devices has a strong influence on your optimization, and in more than one way. While people can have different usability goals and strategies, these few factors will always manifest themselves in your ranking (one way or another).
Lower bounce rates. The bounce rate is one of the metrics Google uses to assess how users liked your website—by checking how many users abandoned your page immediately after landing there. Given the enormous number of users who surf with a mobile device, investing in mobile usability will push your bounce rate down. This, in turn, will signal to Google that users found the answers to their query on your page.
Quicker page speed. Part of responsive design is the act of condensing pages so they are smaller and faster to load.
No danger of duplicate content. Until recently, companies would create two versions of their websites: one for the web and another for mobile devices. And while the URL of both sites might not be the same, their content is likely to be the same. This will lead to Google penalizing both websites in their ranking.
Combined with the sheer increase in your traffic from mobile users, these three key points make a strong case for investing in a responsive website.
More and more, companies are realizing that by combining two different fields they can improve their website on both ends.
In broad strokes, to please Google you have to please the user. The more effort you put into the small details and overall usability of your website, the more Google will favor you in search results. By looking at the same elements with the views of both UX and SEO, you’ll find yourself creating a design that meets a very high standard of quality.
All the while, by pursuing this road you will also put your website on the only map that matters today: Google’s.
This post was written by Rebeca Costa, a content writer at Justinmind, the prototyping tool. Rebeca enjoys sharing the latest developments from Justinmind with the world, as well as reading all about the latest UX design trends. She owns too many books and enjoys long walks with her chihuahua in the dog park.