User experience’s greatest impact to SEO is through the increase it creates in organic sharing and distribution. – Rand Fishkin, founder of MOZ
What does that mean for those of us who don’t understand SEO inside and out? Simply put, the more that visitors to your website enjoy their stay, the more likely they will share and recommend your site to others.
If it were possible to hand all the visitors to your online business a glass of champagne and a kitten, you’d probably be ranking at the top of every search results page. Since that’s not possible, we’ve got the next best thing: an easy-to-understand (and easy to implement!) guide to improving UX metrics and benefit SEO efforts.
First Things First: What Exactly Is User Experience?
User experience, commonly abbreviated as UX, refers to the friendliness and functionality of your site.
Have you ever visited a website that was confusing, hard to navigate, cluttered with irrelevant information, and just plain annoying to use? That’s bad UX.
Ease of use and efficiency are hallmarks of a good UX, but emotional impact plays a role, as well.
It’s one thing to provide clear navigational menus, thorough product information, reviews, and contact information. But making sure your customer comes away from their experience with a warm, fuzzy feeling about your product is also important.
Just as researchers have tuned into how certain music, lighting, and promotional tactics influence shoppers in a brick-and-mortar grocery store, for example. Website developers must tap into research that dictates how certain principles of design affect a visitor.
How Does UX Inform SEO?
Many people are still under the (mistaken) impression that search engine optimization, or SEO, is conducted solely for the benefit of, well, the search engines.
Certainly, Google does take into account some specific, measurable attributes of a website, like its backlink profile, its keyword density, and its structure.
Very early on, however, savvy webmasters found ways to exploit these measurements.
Keyword stuffing, auto-generated content, and the practice of purchasing high quantities of poor links for very little money. Or building sites expressly for the purpose of linking them back to the original website, without considering content quality. These methods could send a site soaring to the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Then Google fired back.
The shot heard ’round the world wide web was Google’s Panda algorithm, which was launched in 2011. The process of developing this algorithm, and what it continues to mean for digital marketers, could fill a blog post (or seven hundred) of its own. In essence, however, Google’s engineers used real people to first determine some standards for website quality.
After the users had helped define which websites were valuable and informative, and which were simply junky, the search engine then employed machine learning to emulate the users’ experiential parameters. Once they were able to accurately predict users’ evaluations of websites, the big G launched its algorithm across the internet.
Long story short, the Panda update began penalizing websites for having poor quality content, pushing them down in the SERPs while rewarding high-quality sites with better rankings.
What Are The UX Metrics That Determine Quality?
No matter how smart Google’s machine learning is, it still can’t accurately replicate human emotions (thank goodness!).
That is, the search spiders can’t crawl a website and then say, “You know, there was something about site XYZ that was off-putting and unattractive. I just didn’t like it.”
So Google had to turn to users’ actions as a reflection of their emotional experience.
Three of the most important actions from which the company extrapolates UX metrics data are:
- bounce rate
- session duration
- and page views per visit
Let’s explore them one by one.
Have you ever heard the expression “let’s bounce,” as in “let’s get out of here”? Have you ever walked into a store, saw that it wasn’t what you thought it was at all, and turned right back around to leave?
On the web, that’s called bounce rate, and bounce rate is one of the most valuable types of UX metrics.
It’s the percentage of people who navigate away from a site after viewing only one page.
There’s a certain baseline bounce rate that site owners can predict and expect. For example, let’s say you visit a store called The Sign Emporium, expecting to purchase a Home For Sale sign to put in your yard. Inside, you discover that it’s actually a place to buy items related to American Sign Language.
You leave, not because you think the store was awful; it just isn’t what you need.
After controlling for these instances, a high bounce rate is bad. It means folks aren’t sticking around to see what you have to offer.
Session duration is simply a metric that tells how long people stay on your website altogether. As humans, time is our most valuable asset. So the minutes (or even hours) that they choose to spend perusing your content or products can be a valuable piece of the analytics puzzle.
Unfortunately, session duration is less precise than other measurements. After all, someone could easily click over to your site, then get distracted by a phone call from an important client, a child’s temper tantrum, or a particularly compelling episode of Hoarders.
Their session duration could be recorded as 10, 22, or 58 minutes. This is not an accurate reflection of their engagement with your site. That’s why it’s also important to look at…
Pageviews Per Visit
This metric helps analysts hone in on user engagement (and therefore UX). If a website visitor spends nine minutes on the site but visits only one page, you can assume one of two things:
- that one page is particularly fascinating
- or — more likely — the cat coughed up a hairball.
If that visitor, however, clicks through to 14 pages in a nine-minute visit, it’s safe to assume that they are sitting at their desktop or tapping away on their iPad, perusing different pages with intent. That, or the kitty walked across the keyboard!
Using analytics, you can follow the user’s click trail and get a sense of how they moved around your site. This can be another source of valuable information regarding UX.
These Three UX Metrics Must Be Examined Together
It’s like that old parable of the three blind men describing an elephant: the one touching the trunk has a very different sense of the animal than the man sitting on top of it, or the fellow stationed at a back leg.
Looking at only one of these elements isn’t going to give you a complete picture, and may actually lead you astray.
For example, a site visit that shows low session duration but high page views per visit may indicate that the user was skimming the site, looking for something but not finding it.
Tracking UX Metrics With Google Analytics
Unsurprisingly, Google’s freemium Analytics service tracks UX metrics, but also much, much more.
Time on site, page views, average time on page, unique page views, bounce rate and more are tracked under the category of Behavior.
Analytics also reports on Acquisition, which is where visitors to your website come from (organic search, pay per click ad, social media referral, etc.), and on Conversions (you probably already know what those are).
Again, Google Analytics is a whole wide world unto itself, but as an extremely valuable resource for providing snapshots of your website visitors, it’s well worth researching further.
So How the Heck Do You Improve User Experience?
Like all the questions related to SEO and digital marketing, this one doesn’t have an easy answer. Yet there are a few entry points into the confusing world of UX and UX metrics.
Consider Load Times
People are impatient, and if your site doesn’t load quickly enough for them, they’ll bounce. In fact, for every one-tenth of a second, your desktop site takes to load, conversions drop by 2.4%. The problem is even worse on mobile devices.
Use Google page speed insights to check your site.
Optimize For Mobile
Speaking of mobile devices, if your site doesn’t work well on a smartphone or tablet, you are destroying engagement. It’s as simple as that. Get thee to a web developer, fast, and make sure your mobile site is clean, quick, and easy to use.
Say you’re using a hamburger menu (those three little horizontal lines that look — vaguely — like a hamburger inside a bun), but you’re considering switching to a menu button. Develop two versions of your site, one for both of these options, and drive traffic equally between them.
Next, you’ll compare and contrast the results using UX metrics analytics tools.
Keep Things Simple
It’s generally acknowledged that good web design is simple, clear, and uncluttered.
Use headings and white space between paragraphs. This helps minimize confusion and makes a site easier to navigate.
Keep your calls to action simple and attractive, it must be made clear what your reader can accomplish. Similarly, reduce the number of clicks a user must make in order to take action.
The easier you make it for a user to find what they need — whether that is your contact information, a product they want, FAQs, or your latest blog post — the more they’ll enjoy time on your site.
A Few Pitfalls That Could Drive People Away From Your Site
- Large adverts within your content. Although you might want to earn ad revenue from your website, do your visitors enjoy their experience on your site? These ads do everything to get the visitor to click the ad and not read your great content. If your website is an affiliate marketing or e-commerce site it’s probably better to concentrate on getting your visitors to click your links and buy your services or products. Rather than clicking on ads and leaving your site.
- Pop Ups. They may be effective but do they add to the user experience? Without a doubt, most of us would say no! I wouldn’t say I leave a site very often because of a pop-up but they are very annoying. It’s something we are used to seeing (and closing) but it doesn’t mean you should automatically include them on your site. Think of the UX!
- Auto-play videos. I’m sure you have been to a site and you’re reading the content and suddenly you hear someone talking or music playing. You then have to find the video to stop it or leave the site. Having a video on your site is very good but give your visitors the choice of watching it or not.
If you’re too involved with the appearance or technical details of your website you may overlook the user experience. But as you can see above there’s more to UX than just having a good-looking site.
When designing or re-designing your site you must consider UX. It’s very easy to be too involved with writing content for your website or getting traffic and forgetting about your user experience.
E-commerce, according to some experts, has a failure rate as high as 80%. It’s painful to hear, but it drives home the need to give some thought to engagement and UX metrics.
Have you made any tweaks to your site’s UX lately? Do you track UX metrics? Let us know in the comments!