Unlike a decade ago when you could rank a site purely based on keywords and backlinks, nowadays, user engagement variables like bounce rate, time on site, and pages visited have all become critical ranking factors.
Google recognizes real human behavior when it comes to determining quality sites worthy of top search rankings. In turn, usability and UX design have become integral components to SEO. Not only does a site require fundamental on-page SEO, but simple UX design considerations can go a long way in supporting engagement, and therefore, rankings.
To help shed light on where to prioritize your efforts, below we highlight five practices on how to effectively leverage UX design and usability variables to support your site’s SEO performance.
1. Simplify Your Site’s Navigation
One common conflict between UX design and SEO is that the latter often encourages robust site architectures that often lend to complex navigations. The more pages the better, right? Not so much.
Debunking previous SEO practices of creating very granular pages focused on tight-knit keyword groupings, a study by Ahrefs supports new SEO best practices in ranking just one page for many related keywords. In essence, having one very content-rich and user-friendly page can be a powerful asset for SEO across many different search queries.
Below we go into more detail about how to harness search data to inform site architecture (based on the point above); however the point here emphasizes having a very focused website that offers a simplified navigation. This especially holds true for mobile users.
Ultimately, you want users to navigate your site with ease. Complicated navigation structures, although debatably more SEO-friendly, can disrupt a user’s experience, thereby causing them to leave sooner. Instead of traditional SEO thinking of making all pages accessible to search engines, thinking about how accessible pages are to users. Oftentimes, a stripped-back navigation with less pages is an SEO-friendly navigation.
2. Utilize UX Design to SEO-friendly Layouts
There are countless cases in which layout design and how content is formatted can disrupt SEO. The simple reason is that aesthetics, like having the perfectly sized headers and right amount of text, can get in the way of SEO.
But what if UX design could find a happy marriage with on-page SEO and layout formatting? This would be the ideal companionship that would help support both usability and generating organic traffic, which as we now know, complement each other’s success.
Here are a few principles in utilizing UX design to support SEO-friendly page layouts:
- Make content easy to digest – while copy and word count is important for SEO, avoid text-heavy pages that make it feel like you’re reading a technical manual. Easy to absorb blocks of copy, organized with headers and imagery, can help with usability while still retaining SEO. Also, take advantage of bullet and number lists, as these elements can help promote featured snippets in Google.
- Leverage headers and in many forms – as an SEO rule of thumb, each page should have one Header 1 tag that defines what the page is about (and ultimately includes the page’s primary keyword target). Supportive ideas should be organized with Header 2 and Header 3 tags. Use these liberally.
- Infuse images and videos wherever possible – visual media is not only engaging for users, but these elements can be optimized for SEO. A good practice is to include a relevant image or video within each block of content (typically defined by Header 2 tags).
- Use CTAs liberally – when it comes to conversion rate optimization (CRO) and keep users on your site longer, the use of calls-to-action are a must. These can be as simple as an in-copy link or an alluring button link to “learn more.” The goal is facilitating the users journey on your site that satisfies their best interest as well as the action you want them to take..
- Include elements that link to related content – a common strategy that also supports both usability and SEO is dedicating an aspect of a page layout (typically near the end) that offers links to related content. Like CTAs, these callout links help keep users on your site longer all while cross-linking relevant content, which are both good practices for SEO.
For more ideas on how to leverage UX design to create highly SEO-friendly pages, see this introduction on interaction design, specifically the author’s points on Dimension 2: Visual Representations and Dimension 5: Behavior, as well as the tips below those points.
3. Harness Search Data to Inform Site Architecture
Back to our point about simplicity and optimizing pages based on larger themes versus granular keywords, gone are the days of building hundreds of SEO landing pages for precise queries. Instead, it’s important to take a decluttered approach that focuses on quality over quantity.
We all know keyword research and search data is important for SEO. But it’s how that data is used that makes all the difference. As an example, let’s look at the keyword data below for “ecommerce SEO.”
This keyword gets about 2.3k searches per month globally. If we’re going to optimize a page for “ecommerce SEO,” it’s important to consider what variations and long-tails that we’ll want to include as part of our keyword targeting strategy.
For an SEO agency, “ecommerce SEO services” is likely a primary keyword phrase. But instead of creating different pages for variations around “ecommerce SEO company” or “SEO for ecommerce,” (which we may have done 10-15 years ago), we will want to incorporate these keywords on the same page.
So how does all this SEO data involve UX design? Another example that dovetails on the latter ecommerce context is the new website we’re designing for this SEO agency, featuring a page that we’re optimizing for those keywords. This new page, as shown below, leverages many of the UX design principles mentioned above that help support both usability and SEO. This framework also enables us to properly capture the different keyword variations also mentioned above under “Having same terms” in Header 2 tags.
This abbreviated example underscores the importance of organizing both on-page content and site architectures in such a way that creates harmony between both UX and SEO. In fact, rare are the situations when these two departments need to compete with each other.
4. Optimize for Site Load Speed
Site speed is now an important ranking signal, as Google’s overarching mission has been (and will always continue to be) serving users with the best possible experience. In turn, Google rewards fast-loading websites in both Search and Google Ads.
In addition to GTmetrix, other tools worth exploring to test and improve your site’s speed and performance are Google PageSpeed Insights and Web.Dev. Both of these handy website optimization tools provide actionable analysis and guidance across a number of components. The recommendations these tools offer can vary from simple image compression to altering how the server interacts with requests. For UX designers, they can offer insight into ways a site can better perform for both SEO and users.
5. Ensure Mobile Responsiveness
Mobile-responsive design has become mandatory for both usability and SEO. Because over 50% of all traffic is now driven by mobile search, sites that are not mobile-responsive will compromise the experience of more than half their visitors.
By now, most savvy UX designers prioritize mobile-responsive design in all projects they’re engaged in. But if your website is not responsive across mobile (including tablets and different web browsers), you’ll likely see your user engagement metrics performing very poorly for these devices.
Despite departmental differences between marketing and design teams, clear website objectives combined with cohesive project management has helped immensely in creating harmony between UX design and SEO strategy. It’s now becoming more common to see balanced integration between roles, as more and more agencies (including vendors, partners and consultants) are realizing the importance of prioritizing SEO, but without compromising usability and design.
Want to learn more?
Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!