We all know SEO is important. You simply can’t afford to have your site sitting low in the search results while your competitor is flipping you the bird from the number one spot.
But please, for the sake of all that is good and holy, STOP sacrificing your customers to the SEO gods!
Sorry. It’s just that you’re actually killing your SEO results by ignoring user experience, and you’re pissing your customers off in the meantime.
But I get it.
The question of SEO and user experience is a tough one.
Maybe you’ve ignored the question because it seemed too complicated. Or maybe you got it all sorted using maps and codes and newspapers, like that dude in Beautiful Mind, and then Google changed it on you.
Or maybe you just said, “Screw it,” and decided to go back to using MySpace.
Does user experience matter to SEO?
Yes. Definitely. And it will even more going forward.
But we tend to make things way too complicated. If you want to get this one right, you’re going to have to chill out and accept that it’s actually a really EASY fix.
It’s no secret that Google is out to make money. You don’t become a billion dollar company by giving away your shit for free. So how does Google keep the cash coming in Scrooge McDuck style? By keeping people on their search engine for as long as possible.
If people are happy with the results, they’ll keep coming back. Google can then sell more ads and continue rolling about in their massive piles of cash.
The moral of the story: Google is optimizing their product (the search engine) for the user experience.
We should be too.
Unfortunately, companies make this WAY more complicated than it has to be.
Businesses spend too much time finding big keywords with big search volume. The next thing you know, those keywords are in the title, the URL, the header tag, the h2 and h3 tags, in 2.5% across the page, and…please punch me in the face because I’m so bored.
Of course, this isn’t what you see. You see a company writing for the search engine bots. You take one look, shake your head at the awful mess, and then click away. You don’t have time to navigate a terrible website that looks like it was designed by Crayola.
If you were Google, is that what you would want users to do?
Remember, for Google, eyeballs equals money. When you click away because of a bad user experience, that costs Google. When determining a quality search result, Google now looks at signals that BEGIN with user experience.
It’s the most obvious things that get overlooked first. If you’re going to optimize your site for the customer…you’ve got to think like the customer (I know, I know, brilliant stuff).
If you were a customer looking for your business, you’d be thinking several different things:
It’s up to you to figure out what your customers would really be asking.
And if you’re unsure, you can always ask your customers directly through a survey or poll. This is a key element to getting UX for SEO right, so don’t cut corners here.
If you take a look at high-profile, SEO optimized companies like GoDaddy or Shopify or LCN, it’s clear that they have user experience in mind. When you land on the GoDaddy homepage, the very first thing you see is the ability to search for a domain name. This is exactly what a user coming from Google would expect to see. The same goes for Shopify. The first thing you see is setting up a personal ecommerce store, which is what most users coming from Google would expect to see. GoDaddy and Shopify optimize for SEO by creating the perfect user experience.
Again, Google is looking at user experience signals. Forget anything else you think Google cares about more—they don’t. This is why it’s crucial to think through SEO implications when designing and re-designing your website.
As Matt Cutts said in a Wired interview:
“…the key is, you also have your experience of the sorts of sites that are going to be adding value for users versus not adding value for users. And we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side. And you can really see mathematical reasons …”
– Matt Cutts, Wired interview 2011
Here’s an example from one of our clients in the agro business. They came to us in need of SEO and content marketing help and said, “Look guys, we know who our target audience is and we have this content about crops. So we were hiring the best content writers in the world to write 750 to 1000 words about corn and broccoli. We want to rank these pages for corn and for broccoli so we can get to the top of the funnel traffic.”
This entire cry for help was problematic for a few reasons:
You see where I’m going here. The company is about corn as a crop and not corn as a food. A slight distinction in user experience making a HUGE difference in SEO results.
To solve the problem, we took a step back to understand what the customer wanted. Then we changed the context of the corn and broccoli content. Their rankings shot up with this small change.
Again, it’s all about what Google wants for that query. Check to see not only what topic Google is ranking for a given keyword or phrase, but what types of results—video, infographics, articles, sales pages, etc. This will make a big difference in how to create your content strategy for SEO and for UX moving forward.
It’s not difficult to keep the SEO gods happy AND your customers happy. Design your website with your customers in mind. Don’t have them bouncing back to Google for some stupid reason, like you providing them with mashup videos of Al Gore, when what they really wanted was your phone number.
It’s all about giving Google and your customers what they expect.