User Experience Directly (& Indirectly) Matters for SEO

It’s not uncommon to have a competitor who challenges a search engine optimization strategy with horrible design, poor site usability or questionable, short-term SEO tactics (or a combination of all three).

A good SEO strategy should always have an approach to recommendations that benefit website visitors AND search engine optimization. Sometimes this may be frustrating; especially if the competition mentioned above continues to maintain search visibility or even gain in position.

It is also difficult to establish a direct line between the benefit of good site usability and search engine rankings. Most would agree that easy-to-use or easy-to-read content should attract more users and the likelihood of inbound links but are never able to guarantee this will happen.

However if there ever was a question whether Google was interested in how user preferences impact search behavior, recent enhancements to search technology provide even greater support into the soundness of usability and it’s value to SEO.

  • Google Search Wiki
    Google’s SearchWiki allows users signed in to Google services to prioritize and reorder search results based on their personal preferences. Searchers can also comment and note search results, which is ideal for reference purposes and to rate information.

    Google SearchWiki

  • Google Preferred Sites
    While this functionality is only in beta test for a select group of Google account holders, what makes this important is that preferred sites are completely based on what the individual searcher finds valuable; not an algorithm.

    Google Preferred Sites

  • Transparency in Customized Search Results
    The key takeaway from this enhancement is the clear indication that Google search results are becoming more personalized, regardless of registration and sign in. Google will take into account recent search history and the IP of the searcher when presenting results.

    Customized Search Results

  • Eye Tracking Studies
    Eye tracking studies are not a new concept, but the fact that Google uses these studies to test the behavior of searchers further indicates their concern for usability. Regardless of where your content appears on a search results page, effective titles, descriptions and web addresses can all come into play when influencing the searcher’s decision to click into a result.

    Google Eye Tracking Studies

  • Finally, the personalization and functionality that helps structure Google accounts (Google Web History, Google Bookmarks, Tags in Gmail, Google Reader Tags, Search Wiki Notes etc.) provides even more direction and understanding of user behavior and why (in the form of keywords) we may find a piece of content valuable.

Conclusions
Site usability matters. Design and readability matter. Providing value to search engine users – beyond keywords stuffing and short-term link schemes – will continue to matter. Google (and Yahoo and other search engines) will continue to analyze and to take into account search behavior and search preferences.

It is frustrating when a business spends a great deal of time and effort putting together the best experience for potential customers and a competitor continues to make strides with something of seemingly low value. Fortunately, it’s refreshing to see that the pattern of search innovation is directly related to the user experience and what you and I may find valuable online.

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