Some things just go well together. Salt and pepper. Steak and eggs. Wine and cheese. And of course, peanut butter and jelly.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and User Experience (UX) may on the surface appear to be very different. But digging deeper, when integrated well, they act much like a delicious PB&J sandwich.
SEO is a demand capture mechanism like no other. Looking to get in front of people seeking coconut skin moisturizer? Or a battery load tester for a car? Or accounting software? Rank high in Google search results!
Capturing demand and translating the demand into leads or revenue, though, are two completely different things. What if your organic rankings are high, but the resulting traffic leads to a poor site experience? What if those clicking through on your search listings become frustrated and annoyed? Not only do you lose the sale, but you potentially lose the prospect for years to come. Ouch!
If you want a successful business, it’s best to match superior SEO with superior UX. Someone who enjoys a great experience on your website is far more likely to think favorably of your brand. There is also a greater probability that they will engage with your brand and make a purchase.
To that end, here are five ways that you can integrate SEO and UX for better website and business results.
Mapping Intent to Experience
The first place to start when integrating SEO and UX is with your audience. The way you can do that is through the development of audience personas. Describe your target audience profiles in as much detail as possible.
What are their needs? What are their wants? What are their challenges and frustrations?
From an SEO perspective, what are the specific keyword phrases they use when searching in Google? Keywords indicate intent, and this is the key. For each keyword phrase, what are they likely aiming to achieve? What would be the perfect experience after searching on these keyword phrases?
If someone is looking for accounting software, for example, they may be looking for a list of features and benefits. If they search for an accounting software free trial, though, it’s obvious they are looking to take it for a test spin instead. There are many other searches they may perform during their purchase journey, seeking financial insights, a solution with integrated payroll services, software with 256-bit encryption security, or comparisons with other software packages. And all of this may start with top-of-the-funnel searches for a budgeting calculator, or ways to improve cash flow, or how to understand a balance sheet.
The point is the experience should be different depending on what they are seeking. If they don’t get the answers they are looking for quickly and easily, you risk them leaving your site and looking elsewhere.
Another area that benefits both SEO and UX is information architecture – the organization and hierarchy of your site structure. For SEO, your website should be well organized and categorized so that it’s easy for a search engine algorithm to understand what each section and sub-section is about. Furthermore, it should be clear what each specific page is about and how the pages relate to one another in supporting an overarching topic. I’ve run across too many companies that try to optimize many pages in a site for the same keyword phrase. Instead, each page should rank for different searches. Think of your pages as components that make up a content ecosystem.
Beyond the organization of the website, aim for clean, intuitive, easy-to-understand navigation. Although being innovative is typically a compliment, navigation is not where you want to be overly innovative to the point that your site visitors are confused. They don’t have the patience to figure it out, and instead will simply be frustrated and angry at the experience.
Google conducted a study in 2012 that found that the easier it was for web users to understand a website, the more they felt the site was well designed. Sites with low visual complexity were seen as better than those with high visual complexity. Also, sites that aligned with an industry framework were also seen as more appealing.
In other words, making your site easy to decipher and understand for both search engines and visitors results in a more positive result with regards to SEO and UX.
Once you’ve mapped intent to experience and have architected an easy-to-understand website, it’s time to develop a content strategy that’s going to take your SEO and UX to another level.
Content is critical to SEO success. If you think that optimizing your website technically is sufficient to rank high in Google search results, you are going to be disappointed. Technical optimization is the starting line. But technical optimization is simply a means to enable Google to easily read and understand the content in your website. Without content itself, Google will have no idea in which areas you are authoritative and why it should rank you for specific searches.
Develop content that supports your areas of expertise and the types of things your audience is searching for. Aim to develop a logical flow of content that supports your target audience as they go from the top of the funnel all the way through to purchase at the bottom of the funnel.
From a UX perspective, don’t be boring. Aim to excite your audience and evoke an emotional response. Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious – Why Things Catch On, points to emotions as a key factor in what gets shared. He found that high-arousal emotions actually lead to even greater sharing. And your organic search rankings will be strengthened the more your content is shared and backlinks established to your content.
The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found that people with damage to the part of the brain that triggers emotions (in other words, people who couldn’t feel emotions) had an extremely difficult time making decisions, such as purchase decisions. In other words, if your content is not evoking an emotional response, you’ll be making it mentally difficult for your target audience to engage with your brand and purchase from you. Even for B2B purchases, purchase intent declines when emotional content is reduced during the sales cycle, according to Google and CEB.
After investing in content production, you want to make sure that it’s delivered fast to your site visitors. This matters from both an SEO and UX perspective.
Google has publicly stated that site speed is one of its organic search ranking factors. Optimizing page speed throughout your site is clearly worthwhile for your business. And just last year Gary Illyes at Google announced that Google would be looking at mobile site speed to help determine the rankings for mobile searches specifically. The bottom line is that the faster your pages load, the better for your organic search performance.
Page load speed is not only good for SEO; it’s just as beneficial for UX. Fast loading pages make web users happier. This is common sense. No one enjoys sitting around waiting for pages to load. Many studies through the years, in fact, have concluded that individuals will abandon pages that take too long to load.
As for the correlation of page speed and your business, consider these statistics. A one second increase in page load time can result in a seven percent reduction in conversions. Auto parts retailer AutoAnything.com increased conversions by nine percent after cutting page load times in half. Seventy-nine percent of web shoppers who run into site performance problems say they won’t return to the site to buy again and approximately 44% tell others about the bad experience.
When talking about SEO, what is too often ignored is what happens after the click and why that matters. Welcome to the world of post-click SEO.
Google engineer Paul Haahr, in his presentation How Google Works: A Ranking Engineer’s Perspective By Paul Haahr, confirmed that the click-through rate (CTR) of a search listing impacts its positioning. This perfectly fits into Google’s stated aim of providing relevant search results. If many people are clicking on a certain listing among the search results, users are clearly finding it relevant.
Beyond CTR, it’s just as critical now that you focus on the post-click metrics related to your web pages. One of the reasons for this is Google’s introduction of Google RankBrain in 2015. RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps the Google algorithm determine the relevancy of content for searches, and is powerful enough to account for post-click factors in search rankings. Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow, has confirmed that RankBrain contributes to the ranking of every query in Google. Greg Corrado, Principal Scientist / Director of Augmented Intelligence Research at Google, has stated that RankBrain represents the third most important signal contributing to the result of a search.
What this means is that you should be aiming to increase engagement metrics such as page views, time-on-site, and interaction. The more that Google understands that users are finding your content relevant, valuable, and even irresistible, the more likely your search engine listings will rise in the rankings.
SEO and UX have historically focused on different areas of web marketing. However, by integrating SEO and UX, you’ll be able to not only improve your SEO results but also positively impact the feelings of those who visit your website.
Peanut butter and jelly are completely different foods with very different qualities. Yet, when mashed together in a sandwich, the taste is magical. Start treating your SEO and UX like PB&J, and you can achieve more delicious marketing results.