Why Is User Experience a More Important Ranking Factor Than You Think
Google is always looking for ways to add more value to the end-user. It’s why it created its ranking factors: So that the most valuable content is always at the top of the search results.
And to get to the top of the search results, we all need to do the right things when it comes to SEO.
The thing is, SEO is about more than just keywords and optimizing your content. It’s also about user experience.
And user experience may just be a more important ranking factor than you think. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at why that is – and what you can do to improve your UX.
What Is User Experience?
When we talk about a good UX, we generally mean that a site visitor is able to land on your page and browse freely without any hassle. They’re able to get the answers they need quickly, they’re able to navigate their way through your website thanks to good web design, and they’re able to do it safely.
Excellent web design is a great way to improve user experience. Source
In short, they have no reason to quickly bail.
Google uses a number of metrics to determine whether user experience is good or bad, and how good or bad it is.
These metrics in include:
- Quality of content
- Loading performance
What does all this mean?
It means that your website needs to:
- Engage site visitors
- Answer their questions via valuable content
- Load quickly, both on desktop and mobile (a good web hosting service will help with this if you choose one that meets your needs. For example, if you anticipate more than 10,000 visits per day, it’s better to go with a dedicated hosting service because the resources are all your own. This is in contrast to a low cost shared hosting service – see examples, where the resources are divided between different sites)
- Be safe and secure to use (ideally, it should run on HTTPS, because this will protect your website and your site visitors’ data from outside attacks)
But Why Is User Experience So Important As a Ranking Factor?
A poor UX will obviously do two things:
- Decrease your conversions
- Increase your bounce rate
A good UX will do the opposite. You can read more about the improvement of UX of a mobile or web application.
Meanwhile, user experience, in general, will also do a third thing: It can seriously impact your rankings, for better or for worse.
Let’s consider what ‘ranking factors’ means for a moment.
A ranking factor is a metric Google considers important enough to help it determine how much value your site is offering the end-user.
There are lots of different ranking factors and, taken together, they can position you highly in the SERPs, lowly, or averagely.
Ranking factors include:
- Site speed
- Mobile experience
- Internal links
- Image alt-text
- URL structure
- Quality content
How does Google measure your ranking factors?
It uses algorithms that are often changing (and this alone can make it hard to keep up with SEO best practices).
Along with the aforementioned ranking factors, we can also add user experience.
UX is important as a ranking factor because it incorporates so many variables that can make or break how much value your website is offering to the end-user.
This includes, but is not limited to, site speed, the quality of your content, how easy or difficult it is to navigate your website, as well as how your content looks on site (how readable it is).
And when your website isn’t offering any value to the end-user, they will exit and go shop elsewhere.
While it’s never great to lose a potential customer like that, things get much worse when you consider that user experience is a ranking factor.
Because a poor UX will translate into a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate then tells Google that your website is offering no value to the end-user, and as a consequence, the search engine will knock you down the SERPs.
The outcome is that less and less people will find your website … and this will obviously have devastating effects on your conversions and revenue.
How User Experience Is Measured
It’s really important that you measure UX for two reasons. First, you want to know how easy it is for potential customers to navigate your website so that they’ll eventually convert.
Second, you need to understand what’s working and what isn’t, so that you can improve your position in the SERPs by strengthening your UX as a ranking factor.
There are three primary metrics you can use to measure user experience:
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
Time On Site
The longer an individual spends on your website, the more value they’re clearly getting out of it.
That said, time on site isn’t a clear-cut metric. You need to, first of all, understand a) what each page is offering to the end-user and b) how much time you typically want them to spend on each page.
While a long website session can be a good sign, in theory, it can also be a bad sign, if it doesn’t lead to a conversion on a crucial page where you have a Call To Action.
The number of page views is an indicator of a good UX because, similarly to the above metric, it shows that the end-user is enjoying what they’re seeing. It can also suggest that your website is easy to navigate, but yet again it can ultimately hinge on whether or not there are conversions at the end.
We covered the bounce rate a little bit earlier, but it’s worth reiterating.
Bounce rate refers to how much time someone spent on your website.
For example, if a site visitor enters your website and leaves after just two seconds, and if this keeps happening with most subsequent visitors, you will be left with a high bounce rate.
And a high bounce rate tells Google that something is wrong with your website … and as a consequence, it will send your website tumbling down the SERPs. That’s why it’s important to redesign a website to keep it fresh and updated.
In other words, the user experience is clearly poor.
But bounce rate can also refer to the percentage of site visitors who entered your website but then left without converting. Again, if it’s high, it suggests something isn’t working – perhaps, for example, a form is too confusing.
And this is another sign of poor user experience.
How To Improve User Experience
The good news is that there are a number of ways you can improve the UX – and therefore your position in the SERPs.
Improve Site Speed
Site speed is critical to the user experience. As per Bitcatcha’s study, the majority of the world’s top 100 sites run on servers with response times below 5ms.
In fact, other research has also shown that 47% of site visitors expect a web page to load within 2 seconds and 53% of mobile users will exit a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
And when that happens, your bounce rate will soar.
To improve site speed, you first need to know how long your pages take to load. So a good idea is to run your website through a site speed checker tool, such as Google’s very own PageSpeed Insights.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a useful tool for checking your site speed. Source
Then, you can do these things:
- Use a CDN to ensure content is always delivered as quickly as possible, regardless of a person’s location
- Use fast-loading picture formats. For example, PNG is much slower than JPEG when it comes to loading time
- Optimize your images. Compress them and make them smaller before publishing a web page
Offer Valuable Content
If your content isn’t valuable – in other words, it doesn’t answer the end user’s question sufficiently – once again, they will exit.
Here are some tips:
- Understand your audience. You can’t keep them on the page unless you know their desires and pain points exactly. Then, you can build content around these things.
- Get to the point. People are in a rush and don’t want to read fluff.
- Break your content up into small paragraphs, so that it’s readable and easy to digest. Also, lots of white spaces look easier on the eye and are less likely to scare a site visitor off.
- Add links to case studies and data in order to back up your points and demonstrate your expertise.
Format Your Content Correctly
This means using headings and subheadings.
Why is this important?
Because it helps to guide the reader’s eye when they first land on your page.
Remember, readers don’t want to be confronted by messy text that looks like a novel. They want a good user experience, and the key to this is a site with content that is readable, well-presented, and which is clearly going to give them what they want.
For example, you can use headings and subheadings that directly address their concerns and pain points so that, when they first scan the page, they know that they’re going to get the right information here.
When your content looks presentable with headings and lots of white space, the user experience is improved. Source
Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
As of the start of 2021, mobile devices account for 54.8% of all Internet traffic. This means that you need to start focusing on your mobile audience and their user experience.
Make sure that you’ve implemented a responsive design so that your web pages adapt to each user’s screen.
You should also adjust different elements for your mobile audience. For example, make your buttons bigger so that they stand out and are easier to click. You can also enlarge your fonts, while another good idea is to use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to see if there’s anything else you’ve missed out.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool helps you improve the UX for mobile users. Source
Google uses 200+ ranking factors to rate your website, but it’s unlikely that UX will ever not be considered one. After all, it encompasses so much.
And because user experience does two things – improves your SEO and conversions – it’s essential that you understand your audience and give them the UX they want and need. After that, you can then begin to focus on nurturing your relationship with them and improving your sales.
Jerry Low has years of experience in SEO and web hosting business. He owns and operates various successful sites, adapting quickly to ever-changing Google updates.