What comes to mind when you see the term “SEO“? Where do you focus all your energy when you’re trying to improve your search rankings?
Most people focus a large proportion of their time on “keywords” and not much else.
However, if you’ve been working diligently on keyword optimization but are still not getting the results you want, you may need to consider other factors that affect search engine ranking.
Search engine algorithms not only rate the relevance of your keywords on pages, and in the meta data, in relation to a user’s search terms, but they also evaluate information such as the duration visitors stay on your site, bounce rate, broken links, pages viewed, inbound and outbound links and so on…
Getting users to stay on your website and interact with your content can boost your website’s ranking, and you can do so by improving the user experience and usability of your website.
Using keywords to get visitors to click through to your site is only half the story. If you approach SEO as “optimizing your website for people who use search engines,” the notion of user-friendliness becomes an important factor.
In this article, I’ll look at the various aspects of website usability that impact SEO, how to improve website usability to boost SEO ranking and what to do when there seems to be conflict between usability and SEO “best practice.”
What is website usability?
Website usability encompasses many elements of website design, most of which are also tied to conversion.
Here are a few that can affect search engine ranking:
- Effectiveness: can users achieve their objectives when they land on your website? e.g. Can they find the information they need, order the products they desire, or contact the company for customer service?
- Efficiency: adding to effectiveness is efficiency. Besides being able to achieve an objective, how quickly can a user complete a task? If visitors cannot find what they need effectively and efficiently on your website, they’re more likely to navigate away. The shorter time they spend on your website may have a negative impact on the SEO ranking.
- Learnability: can users learn to navigate your website quickly? Are the calls-to-action that are clickable consistent so visitors know how to interact? When visitors spend too much time trying to figure out how to use your website, they’re spending less time consuming your information or looking at your products. Plus, when they can’t find what they need, it’s likely that they will get frustrated, navigate away and never come back.
- Memorability: can users re-find your website next time they go onto a search engine? Repeat traffic can help you get a Google ranking boost. Visitors may find your website and then navigate away for a number of reasons. They may remember it later and try to search for it again. Is the keyword associated with that particular search memorable enough so they can find your site again?
- Error Prevention: certain errors on a website can affect not only user experience but also SEO ranking. e.g. A 404 Page Not Found error, a link that says one thing but displays something else, or a broken link that is no longer valid.
Why is Website Usability Important?
The main reason that usability is so important is because there are so many similar websites that people will go to the next site if the first one they visit is not usable. You can have the most beautiful website in the world, but people will leave immediately if they are unable to figure out how to navigate your site quickly.
Usability testing is used to test all forms of interactions that humans have with devices (Image credit – Mediamatic)
As stated in the article Why Web Site Usability is Important for a Company, on the web, companies entirely rely on their web presence in order to achieve their online goals. Similarly, a user of a company’s web site will formulate a judgement about that company that is strongly correlated with the way they perceive its web site. Furthermore, usable websites increase user satisfaction whereas web sites which violate usability conventions confuse users and result in a loss of revenue for the companies behind them. This is because improving usability is a great way to encourage users to visit your site instead of the sites that belong to your competitors and is often an approach that keeps customers coming back to your site again and again. Indeed, high-quality websites that are easy to use bring in customers and give a particular site a competitive edge over the competition.
What is Usability Testing?
Usability Testing is a technique used to evaluate a product (in this case a website) by testing is on users. Most people who set up a usability test carefully construct a scenario wherein a person performs a list of tasks that someone who is using the website for the first time is likely to perform. Someone else observes and listens to the person who is performing the tasks while taking notes. Watching someone perform common tasks on a website is a great way to test whether the site is usable because you will immediately be able to see whether they are able to perform the tasks and any difficulties they have while doing so.
The result of usability testing using an eye tracking device indicates where the user has looked and the length of time he/she stared (Image credit – User Vision)
There are 3 main categories of usability testing:
- Explorative:Used early in product development to assess the effectiveness and usability of a preliminary design or prototype, as well as users’ thought processes and conceptual understanding.
- Assessment:Used midway in product development or as an overall usability test for technology evaluation. Evaluates real-time trials of the technology to determine the satisfaction, effectiveness, and overall usability.
- Comparative:Compares two or more instructional technology products or designs and distinguishes the strengths and weaknesses of each.