For a long time, User Experience and SEO were not really considered important to the other. However as algorithms have evolved and as search engines have adapted to better understand how users really use search, this has changed.
So what is user experience? And why does it really matter to SEO?
What is User Experience (UX)?
User Experience (UX) is how a visitor interacts with your site. Certain features will make it easy for visitors to engage with your site, and there will be elements you can improve upon that will make it even better.
Think of it like a room in a hotel - there are certain things you expect, and when those expectations aren’t met you become frustrated. For example, you expect there to be a lightswitch, however if that lightswitch is broken or located somewhere in the room that’s difficult to find right away, you wouldn’t have a very positive experience. The same is true for your potential customers, except instead of a lightswitch it might be a “Add to Cart” button or your site load speed.
UX is a huge part of designing an ecommerce store. You want to design a user experience that’s easy to understand, simple to navigate, and useful for potential customers. That means including all the features they’ll expect as standard, such as an informative product page and a fast checkout process.
Why does UX matter for SEO?
Google’s goal is to provide useful, reliable, and relevant information to their users; it’s how they stay at the top of the search engine market. How they rank pages and the SERP features they provide then need to work together toward that goal. In the early days of Google, it was as simple as a user entering some simple keywords and being provided with a page of blue links. Then people started to use long-tail and question-based search terms, so Google started adding natural language processing into their algorithm. As search users change, so too do search engine algorithms.
Nowadays, user experience is just as important to search users as the content on a given web page. The content of a page might be relevant to their query, but if it loads really slowly or it’s difficult to navigate then they’re unlikely to find it useful. We all have high expectations of our experiences online, and search engines know this. That’s why search engine algorithms assess pages not just for their content, but for things like page speed, mobile friendliness, and navigation.
And that’s precisely why UX matters for SEO. Search engine optimization is all about finding those opportunities to rank higher in SERPs. Some of the biggest opportunities are directly related to user experience. If you can optimize for both at the same time, you’ll be on to a winning strategy.
4 ways to improve both UX and SEO
1 - Page speed
People are increasingly impatient when it comes to page load speed. It can even impact how they perceive your entire brand and their experience with it - 70% in one survey said it even affects their likelihood of buying from a retailer. Not only that, but an improvement of just 0.1 seconds can result in an 8% increase in conversions.
To optimize your page speed, here are a few quick tips:
Reduce image sizes - Images can often be a speed killer, as high quality images can result in huge file sizes. There are a lot of tools online which can help reduce file sizes while maintaining quality.
Minify page code - This is the process of removing unnecessary characters and lines of code that don’t affect the functionality of the page. You may need the help of a developer for this one, but it can give pages a good lift in speed.
Cache your pages - Anytime a user loads your site, their browser needs to load every element. Caching your pages means they’re essentially “saved” in the browser, so that it doesn't have to load those page elements every time.
- Remove unused apps - Apps are invaluable to your store, until they start slowing down your site. Even apps you no longer use or need will still have bits of code leftover, so will need to be fully removed.
2 - Mobile friendliness
Mobile is the future, especially for user experience. Your customers are increasingly browsing and shopping on their mobile devices, and mobile accounts for 65% of ecommerce traffic. Whether they’re out and remember to order something they need, or they want to snap up a deal as quick as possible, mobile is essential to user experience.
All themes purchased on the Shopify Theme Store are mobile responsive as standard, which takes a big task off your hands. However, that’s just mobile responsive, if you want to really boost your UX and SEO then you need to strive for a real mobile experience. This means not just ensuring that your site looks good on mobile, but that it functions in a way that’s easy and simple to navigate on mobile devices.
Some questions you may want to consider include:
- How easy is it to navigate through your primary navigation and sub categories?
- How many fields are there to fill out at checkout?
- Do you have any mobile payment options enabled such as Google Pay or Apple Pay?
- How long does it take to scroll through product pages?
- How accessible are your CTAs?
Poor mobile experiences often stem from the fact that we typically design and manage ecommerce stores on desktop computers. That’s why it’s so important to look at your mobile site not as a version of your desktop store, but as its own separate experience.
3 - Site navigation
How easy is it to get from your homepage to your best-selling product? How straightforward is it to get in touch with your customer support? Site navigation or architecture is crucial to both UX and SEO. If your store isn’t simple to navigate then not only will it be off-putting to users, but it will be more difficult for search engines to crawl and understand how your site links up. This can in turn seriously harm your site’s search ranking.
Luckily if you're a Shopify merchant, this is made easier as Shopify is pre-built with a solid site architecture using logical hierarchies, and URLs which use standard characters and a simple, readable structure. There is still some work to be done, however, to ensure your architecture is fully optimized for UX:
Smart internal linking - Internal links show search engines how your site’s pages are connected, and makes it easier for users to navigate your site. These links should be useful and relevant to the page in question. For example, on a product page you may want to link to your customer support page, FAQ, or sizing guides.
Clear sitemaps - Sitemaps are additional tools for users to help find useful pages that may not be linked in your primary navigation. For example, linking to shipping information. XML sitemaps are used by search engine crawlers to better understand and find your most important content.
- Consistent navigation - This is essentially creating rules for your team to follow in future when creating new pages, categories, and subcategories. Decide early on how different products and categories should be named and organized in the greater scheme of your site’s architecture, and stick to this. It will make it easier as your site grows and adds more products, and will ensure consistency for your UX.
4 - Question-led content
With the rise of voice search, users are increasingly giving Google question-based queries. Rather than simply typing “best sneakers” into the search bar, they may instead type “which sneakers are best for yoga”. This is due to users making use of more natural language, as many are used to voice based queries with voice enabled devices, i.e. “Hey Google, where can I buy good running sneakers near me?”. How we ask a question out loud is now how we use search engines.
In order to satisfy this and provide a better user experience, you should start looking at your content under the lens of question-based search. This means looking at product pages and blog content primarily.
On product pages, consider including an FAQ section or using language which reads like the answer to a question. To take the previous example, that might be “Ideal for low intensity activities such as yoga, providing comfort and flexibility” - you’re demonstrating what makes the sneaker best for that activity.
For blogs, analyze the kind of long-tail, question-based keywords users may use to find your brand or a competitor brand. Then, answer those questions as a blog. That won’t always be something directly about your product, it might be “How to brew coffee with an aeropress”, or “How can I reuse old candle jars”. Find the questions your target audience is asking, and answer them in a blog.
Adding this content to your website improves UX by being more relevant and useful, and this will help your SEO.
User experience and SEO these days go hand-in-hand. By looking at ways to improve UX, you’ll also be giving your store a much better shot at climbing search engine rankings.