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SEO and User Experience: At the End of the Day, It’s All UX

January 8, 2018 | |

Why Optimizing Your Site’s User Experience Leads To More Conversions

What should you focus on when it comes to search engine optimization? Having the latest tools? Analyzing every piece of data? Investing in future technologies like artificial intelligence? All these things are important but, actually, modern SEO actually has a lot more in common with a very human-centric field: user experience.

When we talk about digital marketing and SEO, we often focus on rules and metrics. Do you have title tags? How fast is your website? Are you using the most-searched or relevant keywords? Of course all of these things are important — they’re the foundation of your SEO. But they’re also the “how” of your SEO, not the “why.” If you don’t understand the big picture — why you need to do certain things — then you ultimately won’t be guided towards the right decisions about your marketing strategy and budget.

Google’s rules may seem shadowy and confusing but they aren’t arbitrary. Their algorithm is designed, as best it can, to evaluate what kind of experience you’re providing for the user. For example, why do you need relevant metadata? So the users that access your site via Google actually find what they’re looking for. Why does your website need to load fast? Because no one likes waiting. Why do you need a responsive, mobile-friendly site? Because not everyone is on the same big desktop computer as you are.

All of the things that you’ve been told to do have a “why” behind them. And, as you think about your marketing goals and budget, it’s important to zoom out and think about the why. Blindly experimenting with “hacks” or tricks that you don’t completely understand won’t yield you sustainable results in the long term. What will get you results is committing to understanding the usability of your site and consistently striving to analyze, understand, and meet your users’ needs.

Good UX Builds Customer Trust

In a brick and mortar business, you have more opportunity to build customer trust and troubleshoot issues that confuse or alienate customers. You can see when a line is too long and you need to put someone else on register. You know when something breaks or spills. And you can have a salesperson talk to a confused, annoyed, or otherwise not-ready-to-buy customer.

But in the ecommerce world, your website needs to do that work for you. There aren’t as many opportunities for sensory cues (like upbeat music or atmospheric lighting) or interpersonal interactions (like someone greeting you at the door or offering to get you a fitting room) to make the user feel at home. And when a website has usability issues, it erodes customer trust and contributes to your bounce and exit rates.

Take page speed, for example. We often talk about how important page speed is for SEO and UX, focusing on the technical aspects of what slows websites down and the data on how fast a site needs to be to increase conversions.

But the real issue with page speed is that slow websites raise suspicions and erode user trust. The user may not be consciously judging your site but page speed is closely correlated with bounce rate is because it instantly inspires a positive or negative perception of your website. When a website is slow, it’s a cue for the user to think things like:

  • This is a bad sign.
  • This can’t be a reputable business. I’d better be on high alert to ensure I’m not getting cheated.
  • It’s going to take a long time for me to get what I want.
  • I’m frustrated.
  • If it’s this difficult to buy x product, I don’t want to even bother.

You can transfer this same experience onto virtually every other aspect of user experience. An onerous checkout process, confusing navigation, and poor product images will inspire a negative perception, while fast load time, a streamlined checkout, and clear navigation will inspire a positive one.

Traditional SEO Initiatives Matter for UX, Too

It’s not only that good design and proper web development are important for SEO. Traditional SEO initiatives also enhance user experience, even if their relationship to UX is less apparent than that of the design elements.

For example, keyword research and content writing are not only important so that Google knows what your site is about. They’re also important because they help your user understand and navigate your site. This is why “keyword stuffing,” once hailed as the ultimate SEO hack, will now earn you a penalty. Genuinely good and useful content is a positive user experience, whereas meaningless words repeated on a page is a bad one. The same goes for backlinks. Building a link profile important for UX because it builds trust with customers who come across those backlinks.

Take User Experience Into Account When Setting Marketing Goals and Budget

“Data-driven” is one of the most important buzzwords in digital marketing and make no mistake: data should be at the heart of everything you do. But it’s important to remember that there are users behind that data and that, actually, the customer’s experience is the the story behind the data.

The data tells you customers come back and repurchase items after you send out a certain email flow. The story is that you successfully connected with them, incentivized them, and made it easy for them to find and repurchase what they wanted. The data tells you that a PPC campaign has a high click-through rate but low conversions. The story could be that you aren’t targeting the right group of users and thus aren’t giving them what they’re looking for, or that your landing page experience isn’t good enough.

Commiting to user experience will improve your SEO return on investment across the board. Your site will rank better organically, your PPC ads will perform better, and your email marketing campaigns will drive more revenue. It will help you turn the leads you capture into customers and the customers you convert into regulars.

So what should your marketing priorities be? Anything that you can commit to making useful and beautiful for your users. Of course website design and development are important to this, but consider how other initiatives like email marketing, PPC, and social media optimization contribute to users’ overall engagement with your brand. You should always be returning to the question of how what you’re doing will improve your customer’s user experience.

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Emma works on IntuitSolutions' internal resources and marketing initiatives. Previously, she taught ESL and worked as a freelance writer on a variety of subjects ranging from healthcare to education.