How site usability and user experience affect SEO

Posted by Shane Barker on 21 Oct, 2015
View comments SEO
Did you know that your website's usability and user experience can actually affect your search engine rankings? By improving both the usability and user experience your site offers visitors, you can improve your Google ranking.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at each of these factors and how they're linked to SEO. We’ll also provide concrete tips and suggestions you can implement right away to improve both the usability and user experience you offer your customers and potential customers.

What is usability?

The term “usability” is used to describe how user friendly a website's user interface is and how easy it is to use. Usability considers how easily site visitors can perform basic tasks without confusion or abandonment. Does the design provide all necessary features for example? Is it easy to navigate? Can first-time users find the information they need with the minimum of effort? These questions must be asked of your site when assessing its usability. 

An in-depth measurement of site usability would also factor in the efficiency of the design. This can be evaluated by determining how quickly users can perform tasks after they familiarize themselves with the layout.

What is user experience?

Also known as UX, the user experience encompasses the visitor's perception and response resulting from the use or anticipated use of services, products and systems. The term user experience was coined by the cognitive science researcher Dr. Donald Norman. He was the first to identify the importance of creating a user-centered design.

At its core, UX is how a user feels throughout the interaction with the website, web app or software. Factors including design, usability, accessibility, system performance and marketing will all play their part. Since UX is greatly affected by site usability, many confuse the two. Usability and user experience are closely related, but they are not the same.

Don't mix usability and user experience

Let's take a closer look at each factor to learn how you can optimize your website for better search engine rankings. 

Definition – The first major difference between usability and user experience is in their definition. Usability involves efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction where users are able to perform and achieve certain tasks easily. In contrast, user experience has a broader definition which covers every aspect of a user’s interaction with the web site or system. 

Goal – Simply put, the main goal of usability is to make the site simple to navigate. User experience aims to make the user happy enough to log a conversion.

Usability concerns itself with how easily a user can interact with the website. User experience is related to the way users perceive that interaction. 

Many people mistakenly believe that just because something is easy to use, it automatically creates a good user experience. The truth is that site usability is only one of many factors that influence the overall user experience.

Process and Factors – The process of creating good usability involves removing roadblocks and minimizing the steps involved in navigating to a user’s goals. It focuses on what users do and how they do it. On the other hand, the user experience is concerned more with what users feel as they use the site. Good UX means creating an emotional connection with web site visitors. Usability is about making a task intuitive and painless, while user experience is about making a task valuable and meaningful.

Therefore, achieving good usability will require that you create a user interface that's uncomplicated and simple to learn. To generate a positive user experience, it’s essential to create a user interface that's pleasing and appealing to visitors. Again, this involves improving the site usability.

Question Models – If we were to frame both usability and user experience as questions, it becomes much easier to understand their differences. With usability, you're asking “Can a user accomplish their goal?” For user experience, the question would be something like “Did the user have an enjoyable visit?”

How the two affect SEO

Both usability and user experience have an indirect, yet immensely beneficial, impact on the external popularity of a website. Because usability and user experience can help to improve conversions, traffics and recommendations, they can be said to have a direct correlation with search engine optimization. 

If your website is difficult to navigate, it’s only natural that you'll struggle to engage visitors. Lower engagement rates not only increase the exit rates, but they also bring in fewer return visitors. The only way to increase user engagement and minimize your bounce rate is by improving your usability.

If searchers cannot find what they're looking for, it's likely that they'll dwell for just a few seconds before leaving and going back to the search result page to find a site that can help. High exit rates reduce the dwell time. This data can be easily fetched by Google to evaluate your website's user experience of the website and potentially de-rank it.

There's a similar concept of pogosticking, which is when users have to click through different search results before finding what they’re looking for. It normally occurs when a website fails to satisfy their needs despite being ranked highly. Since Google has gotten much better at identifying websites that don't serve the searcher’s intent, this can have a huge impact on your search engine rankings.

Google can track every click with the help of Chrome user data. So, the search engine can see how people are using your site. Are users clicking through pages quickly and then leaving? Are they getting lost on your site? Google can view all these bad user experience signals and lower your ranking.

How to improve usability and user experience

Now, you're probably wondering how you can improve usability and user experience to improve or shore up your search engine rankings. Here are a few basic tips:

• Install a heat-map system to record your visitors’ click behavior. This can help you understand how they're using your website and where you can make improvements.

• Avoid publishing too much irrelevant content. Your posts should be clear, concise and easy to understand.

• Place relevant information where the eye is naturally drawn to. For most web users, 80% of their time is spent on looking at information placed above the page fold. 69% of their time is spent viewing the left side of a web page. Design your layout carefully with these trends in mind.

• Speed up your page load times so users don’t abandon your site out of frustration.

• Opt for a simple page layout and be consistent on each page.

• Choose colors that are visually appealing for users, but not distracting. There is a lot of research on color psychology with some colors lending themselves better to certain industries. It’s worth considering this before you settle on a final scheme.

• If your site isn’t already mobile-friendly, take the time to optimize it for users visiting from smartphones and tablets.

Overall, it's clear that usability and user experience are important factors to keep in mind, not just for your search engine rankings but also for the benefit of your business as a whole. 

How have you improved your site usability and user experience? Have you seen an improvement in your search engine rankings? Let us know in the comments below.

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