How SEO Has Finally Collided With User Experience
Google started as a basic search engine using exact match keywords and backlinks to sort out results. But as years went by, the weaknesses of that approach were pretty obvious.
Anyone could trick such algorithms into giving them higher rankings they don’t deserve. So that was a huge drag on both Google and its loyal users who needed quick, accurate answers.
As an ultimate solution, Google needed to base its judgment on user experience. It had to know what real-time users think of its’ results and how they interact with them.
Two decades of work and insane progress later, we’re starting to get there. Finally came the day that we see Google relying on user experience to return accurate results. And with the help of Google Search Console, webmasters can measure basic UX elements and improve them overnight to get better SEO results.
I’ll break down everything you need to know about Google and user experience in the rest of this article. I’ll also share with you the most important UX factors and how they influence SEO.
Let’s dive in.
Google Prepares to Launch Page Experience Update
The new Google Page Experience Update will bring great improvements to Google’s ranking algorithm. That, along with many other user-based data, will allow the search engine giant to rank results based on user interactions and behavior.
That’s a great win for both Google and end-users. Simply because, from now on, search results will rely more on user experience instead of backlinks only.
Now, let’s get a few things clear:
Backlinks have always been one of the top-ranking factors for all search engines. And they’ll never lose their effectiveness since they count as genuine votes that tell Google which sites deserve to come at the top.
But in recent years…
Google’s vision has shifted rapidly towards on-site signals that accurately reflect a user’s experience on any website.
In the past, perfecting your on-page SEO and building a few backlinks could earn you a top spot for any high traffic keyword. But, what was often missing is a flawless experience to the user landing on your page.
Google noticed that most of its top-ranking sites don’t stand up to the user’s expectations. It was either pages offering irrelevant content. Websites that took too long to load. Or designs that were too sloppy and unresponsive.
Google had to develop new metrics to detect those deficiencies and rank sites based on them. Which paved the way for the new Core Web Vitals to be developed.
By combining that with bounce rate and other key conversion metrics, Google can tell whether a user is having a positive experience browsing your website.
- If a user stays for long enough on a page they visited via Google, it means the content has answered their query.
- Visitors that spend more time on a website browsing its different sections prove that the whole site is relevant.
How Page Experience Has Many Angles
If we were to ask 20 web experts about the definition of user experience, we’d have 20 different answers. So, it’s really hard to come up with an an-inclusive, final answer.
But the interesting part is that, by combining all answers, we’d get a lot closer to a more complete definition for UX.
In my experience, here’s what makes up user experience:
1- Conversion Optimization
This one is often overlooked. Yet, it remains one of the most important factors that Google uses to assess user experience.
The first thing you should know is this:
Google bases its judgments for user experience on buyer intent. It looks for specific actions taken by the user to determine if they’re getting closer to the final goal.
For example, a prospect that:
- Converts by purchasing product or service
- Signs up for a newsletter to receive new offers
- Contacts a business through an online form
If any of these actions are taken, Google will categorize such users as moving closer to the final stages of the buying cycle. The prospects are interested and have found the answers they were looking for.
Thus, Google can assume that the site simply does what it was made to do. So, it deserves better rankings and more exposure from your target audience.
Setting the right conversion rate optimization metrics helps you convert more prospects. But it’s also important for SEO as that allows for a closer look into user behavior and how you can improve it.
2- Bounce Rate
Bounce rate is one of the oldest ranking factors and also one of the most underestimated ones. Many SEOs minimize its importance because they believe it doesn’t affect SERP rankings by much.
But the truth is:
Bounce rate is a major signal for Google, especially when it depends directly on the search query.
Just think about this for a second…
What’s a better metric for Google to use than seeing if people are actually staying on the page?
It’s the most straightforward measure a search engine can rely on to determine relevance and usefulness. If organic visitors are leaving a page as soon as they land on it, then surely that result doesn’t deserve to be at the top.
3- Page Speed & Core Web Vitals
Google considers page speed a crucial factor for user experience, mainly due to human nature and the fast-paced world we live in today. A website that takes too long to load may get people leaving before they consume any of the content.
But the thing is…
On its own, page speed is far from an accurate metric for user experience. Because it’s often insufficient for a fair assessment of UX when there’s a lot more to measure than speed.
The difference in loading speed between two sites can sometimes be in milliseconds. Would it be reasonable to always rank the faster loading site first in the SERPs?
That’s why Google introduced Core Web Vitals as a way to assess page experience more accurately.
These user-centered metrics are still super basic as the update is just beginning to roll out. However, they’ll continue to evolve with time to provide a more precise evaluation for UX.
Now, here’s the important part:
Webmasters can audit their sites for loading speed and core web vitals using the PageSpeed Insights tool.
This tool works both on mobile and desktop devices. And it will provide a detailed report for your site’s speed and performance on the web. You can combine that with Google Search Console to troubleshoot any speed or core web vitals issues on your website.
4- Great Content Targeted to an Ideal Buyer Persona
You can improve your site speed and performance as much as you want. Build the strongest backlinking profile possible. And optimize key conversion metrics on your web pages.
If you don’t offer great content, none of your SEO efforts are going to matter. Visitors will land on your site, read through, and click the “Go back” button as quickly as possible.
The best way to prove to Google that you deserve the top spot is by crafting valuable, well-written, highly targeted content.
I know that can be tricky, especially if you don’t have lots of experience with content marketing.
So, let me offer you my golden tips for writing great content that engages:
- A key part of crafting awesome content is understanding who you’re talking to. Your buyer persona represents your target clients, their pains, and their challenges. Be sure to get that right from the start so you can aim your message towards the right audience.
- Build your content around answering questions and addressing concerns. That’s how you’ll meet users where they are in the buyer’s journey and help them overcome their challenges.
- Search engines prefer comprehensive resources that provide full answers in one place. So, make sure your content summarizes all the important points of your main topic using various keywords.
- Engage more prospects by showing them what they need, but don’t know exists. For example, once a visitor finishes reading your article, give them suggestions for other topics they should know about that could make their journey easier.
Wrapping It Up
I could talk for days about other factors and how they influence user experience. But I wanted to focus on the ones with the most impact on your SEO growth.
As Google continues to roll out major updates regularly, SEOs need to understand one thing:
Links are no longer the deciding factor when it comes to search engine rankings. There are lots of new UX metrics and rankings signals that Google considers in the process.
Google postponed the Page Experience Update until mid-May and June. And they’re expected to slowly update their algorithms with small changes until the whole rollout is finalized by the end of August.