Search engines take many different factors into consideration when determining how to rank pages on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). In days gone by, you could stuff a bunch of keywords onto a page and hope those would be enough to get your store to the number one spot, but things are a bit more complicated these days. Search engines have grown smarter, and are now more interested in how users actually interact with content so they can give people the answers they’re looking for on a consistent basis. That interaction with content is what we call User Experience.
In previous articles we’ve looked at keywords and search intent, and today we’re looking at that missing piece to complete our SEO puzzle - User Experience (UX).
What is User Experience, and why is it important to SEO?
User Experience - often shortened to UX - is as it sounds; the experience users have on your store. That includes everything from when they click the link on Google right through to when they leave the site altogether. In short, a great user experience will satisfy the query the user had, on a page that loads quickly and is easy to navigate.
SEO and User Experience should be seen as more of a partnership rather than UX simply being a ranking factor to optimize for. While SEO seeks to target search engines, UX targets the visitors to your store which in turn helps build trust and therefore improves your ranking with Google. Search engines are increasingly taking into account how users interact with the content they navigate to after performing a search so they can determine if those results actually satisfy search queries. Moreover, some UX elements such as navigational structure are important technical SEO functions, for example we’ve covered previously how a clear structure allows for easier crawling of your store. By taking an approach to UX that places importance on its relationship with SEO will ultimately help both visitor engagement, and your store’s ranking on search engines.
Step #1 - Fulfill the Query
The most important part of the User Experience? Ensuring the page they land on actually answers the search query that led them there! A large factor in this will be understanding the user’s search intent, which we’ve covered in a previous article. To ensure you answer a site visitor’s query, make sure page content is focussed and clear. By this we mean it should be easy for the user to see if the page answers their query just from skimming it, as this is what they will do before deciding if it’s what they’re looking for depending on their search intent. Consider all the different elements on a landing page you’re looking to rank on search engines. You don’t necessarily need to have lots of long copy on a page in order to rank for keywords, so long as users are satisfied that your page satisfies the search query that led them there. This will in turn show Google that your page does answer that query and over time it will rank higher as more users visit your site from similar search terms. Utilize content in a smart and considered way, by using different types of content that will assist in a user’s query. For example, using videos and images to demonstrate the products or services the landing page is discussing. For Shopify stores, you’ll want to ensure that reviews and testimonials are displayed prominently, as these will help build trust with potential customers. Cut content that pads out a page by asking yourself if it’s necessary - does it distract from the page’s main purpose? At the end of the day good content will ultimately rank higher, regardless if you write 600 or 6000 words!
Step #2 - Optimize Page Load Speeds
Once you’ve guaranteed the content on your page answers the query and intent of users, the next part is making sure it loads quickly. Page load speed is a big factor in bounce rates - 1 in 4 users will abandon a site that takes longer than 4 seconds to load, and 46% won’t revisit poorly performing sites. On top of this, page load speed has long been a ranking factor for Google. Some ways to improve page load speed include:
- Optimizing images and other media on pages
- Utilize Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to see where your store is falling short
- Look at with web host your site is hosted with - are they potentially slowing down your store?
- Work with your site development team to streamline your store’s code
And don’t forget mobile! Mobile ecommerce is big business, and for every second delay in load speed on mobile, conversions can fall by up to 20%. If you want to know more then check out this article from Google’s Marketing Strategy blog about the impact of page load speed improvements on mobile.
Step #3 - Ensure Your Store is Easy to Use
So your page loads fast, and it provides users with the answers they were looking for. The final step in providing an amazing experience is in ensuring that your store is easy to use. You’ll want to make sure this is consistent across both Desktop and Mobile, as providing a great mobile experience is just as important as your desktop experience.
Page Formatting and Layout
Formatting is an easily overlooked yet very simple way you can instantly improve your store’s User Experience. Proper and smart use of page formatting can help point users to the content they’re looking for on a page, or at the very least help give them an idea of what the page contains if they’re just skimming through. Think of it like reading a newspaper - you can skim the paper and see all the headlines and content markers in order to see which stories are most relevant to your interests. Here are some easy ways to improve your page usability with formatting:
- Use different heading tags (h1, h2, h3 etc) to show clearly the hierarchy of the page
- Utilize an “inverted pyramid” approach to page content - i.e. the most important information is at the top, with finer details and less relevant info to that page further down.
- Include in-page navigation to different sections of the page if it’s particularly long such as a lengthy blog article.
- Make use of eye-catching imagery that will instantly show the user what the page is about
Some stores have limited catalogs and therefore creating a navigational structure is straightforward. For stores with large catalogs, this proves to be a bit more difficult. Whatever size your store is, how easy it is for users to navigate your site is vital to their experience. Many visitors won’t land on your homepage unless they’re specifically searching for it, chances are they’re going to land on a number of different pages so making it easy for them to then navigate to elsewhere on your store is important. Create a navigational structure that makes sense - by this we mean group product categories that complement each other, and use your top menu categories to highlight different areas of your store that you want users to notice right away. Here’s a great example from The Sill:
You can see that they’ve divided their “Shop” menu into different sections with product categories that make sense together such as “Live Plants”, and “Pots & Accessories” being grouped together under “Plants & Pots”.
Let’s look at Patagonia’s larger catalog to see how this might work when you have lots of different products:
This may also help your listing on search engines as a clear navigational structure can result in sitelinks appearing on SERPs which can help direct traffic to the right page and give your store even more space on a results page:
Your visitors can now easily find the content they’re looking for in a page, and they’re able to navigate your store with ease, great! But now for the crucial part - the Call-To-Action. After all, what’s the point in ranking for a keyword if there’s no action as a result of it? Whether that’s signing up for a newsletter, making a purchase, or sharing the content on social media, the action you want from your page visitor should be obvious.
With the above example from Counter Culture, visitors will be able to see right away where the CTA is, and what action is expected of them on that page.
Creating a partnership between your User Experience and SEO is a winning strategy that will result in a store that’s optimized for both search engines and site visitors. A great User Experience will attract the attention of search engines, which will bring more visitors to your store to make use of that experience, and that in turn will continue to improve your SERP ranking.