Post-Click SEO: User Experience & How to Survive Google’s Algorithm
There has always been a connection between SEO, user experience, and how well a website ranks. That’s because Google is laser-focused on the user experience — specifically, what type of experience searchers have when they click through to a site.
User experience is now more important than ever as Google ramps up its ability to filter out sites with poor user experience. Now businesses need to ask: How can we improve our user experience to improve our chance of ranking?
- How Google Search Evaluates User Experience
- Post-Click SEO: User Experience Strategies
- FAQ: What are the major ranking factors related to user experience SEO?
We’ll never know all of Google’s secrets, but let’s start by looking at what we do know about user experience and SEO. This Google ranking engineer’s presentation at SMX in 2016 provides a good background:
That presentation is technical, so I’ll give a high-level overview of two ways Google is ensuring that its search results provide the best user experience possible.
Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
Google uses its search quality rating program to better understand if the changes that it is making to Google Search algorithms yield quality results.
Human raters use the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG) to analyze search results, determine their quality, and report back. Google engineers may then make tweaks to the algorithm and see if the results improve for a query.
If you’re wondering why Google is doing something, often the answer is to make it [the search results] look more like what the rater guidelines say.
–Paul Haahr, Google Ranking Engineer, SMX West 2016
Major ranking factors include how relevant a webpage is to a searcher’s intent and the quality of the page. (Both are user experience issues.)
The “needs met” section within the SQEG is worth noting. It goes into detail on how a search result can satisfy the user’s query.
“Fully Meets” is a special rating that Google says is for search results that are “fully satisfying for mobile users, requiring minimal effort for users to immediately get or use what they are looking for.”
This rating is for results that are the “complete and perfect response or answer so that no other results are necessary for all or almost all users to be fully satisfied.”
This is what you want to strive for.
RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system. In essence, it’s one way that Google Search achieves the goals set out in the SQEG. And it’s also one of the top three ranking signals in Google’s Algorithm.
In a nutshell: RankBrain is search results relevant to steroids. RankBrain applies machine learning to determine the best search results based on a variety of factors over time.
Click-throughs to your site could be a factor, as alluded to in the Paul Haahr presentation at SMX (above). And then there’s this quote from a former Google engineer on Quora:
It’s pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they’re less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top. Building a feedback loop is a fairly obvious step forward in quality for both search and recommendation systems, and a smart search engine would incorporate the data. The actual mechanics of how click data is used is often proprietary, but Google makes it obvious that it uses click data with its patents on systems like “Rank-adjusted content items”.
WordStream research suggests that for long-tail search terms for a niche, if a page:
- Beats the expected CTR for a given position by 20 percent, and you’re likely to appear in position 1.
- Beats the expected CTR for a given position by 12 percent, then you’re likely to appear in position 2.
- Falls below the expected CTR for a given position by 6 percent, then you’re likely to appear in position 10.
People speculate that RankBrain specifically looks at the query, the pages visited, the searcher’s intent (informational or transactional mostly), and the time spent engaging with that page (dwell time).
In theory, RankBrain determines whether the webpage fulfills the intent of the query. Then future search results will be biased towards satisfying that imagined intent.
Think about this: How do people engage with your page when they click through? Do they quickly click back to the search results to look for a better answer?
This is a user experience issue. Over time, RankBrain can figure out that even if you are on Page 1, you may not be qualified to keep rankings based on searcher behavior.
In May 2020, Google announced that page experience would be considered a ranking factor some time in 2021. Page experience takes into account things like:
- “Core Web Vitals” like page load performance, responsiveness, and visual stability
- Page experience metrics like mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, and no intrusive interstitials
These signals will come together to improve the ranking of webpages that offer a good user experience.
Page experience ranking signals, “Evaluating page experience for a better web,” Google
Google discussed how this will factor into inclusion in the “top stories” carousel in the search results:
As part of this update, we’ll also incorporate the page experience metrics into our ranking criteria for the Top Stories feature in Search on mobile, and remove the AMP requirement from Top Stories eligibility. Google continues to support AMP, and will continue to link to AMP pages when available. We’ve also updated our developer tools to help site owners optimize their page experience.
Would you be surprised if I told you that the same SEO strategies that have always worked to help a site rank also improve user experience?
In SEO, you have four goals:
- Get quality rankings in the search results.
- Create enticing SERP listings so that people will click through.
- Have quality content that satisfies the intent of the visitor.
- Keep and engage the traffic on your site.
Yes, SEO is about driving traffic. But it’s also about user experience. How you engage with your traffic can make the difference between more traffic and less traffic in the future. This is more evident now with things like Google’s SQEG and RankBrain.
Let’s look at each of the SEO goals outlined above with some high-level strategies you can apply to your website.
The foundation of a searcher’s user experience is the content you create. If you do not create content that satisfies both user intent and Google’s quality ratings, you may not rank.
But I’ll take this idea a step further. With 50% of searches today resulting in zero clicks, it’s important to target queries that have a better chance of click-throughs.
Know which of your target queries Google is answering right in the search results so that a person never has to click through. Don’t target those.
Not only that but create and optimize the type of content (e.g., video or other) that is most often featured on the search engine results page (SERP) for your target query.
If you’re on Page 1 of the SERP, congratulations. But you’re not done. You also need to entice the searcher to click through to your site.
While data has shown that the top results get the most clicks, we also have information that people quickly scan the search results page before deciding where they will click.
That means you need to stand out. How do you do that?
- Compelling meta information. And not just metadata that satisfies current SEO best practices. But meta-information that is written with copywriting tactics in mind. This study by CoSchedule showed that more emotional headlines got more shares. Apply this principle to your webpage’s metadata (title and description) to get more clicks.
- Enabling rich snippets. Schema markup is nothing new, but it is a great way to enhance your listing in the search results and make it stand out. For some niches, like recipes, it’s critical.
- How to Use Schema Markup to Improve Your Website Visibility in Search
- Bruce Clay SEO WP plugin (for targeted recommendations on your metadata)
Adhere to the principles outlined in Google’s SQEG. This will go a long way to ensuring content is up to par with Google’s standard of quality. This will enhance the user experience.
Also, there’s one SEO strategy that has always been at the center of user experience, and that’s siloing. Siloing (aka content architecture) is how you organize the content on your site for search engines and users.
Organizing content on your site is something Google has suggested for years. Here are two quotes from Google that prove this.
The first relates to content architecture as it applies to the user experience:
Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal “search” functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.
The second quote is about content architecture as it relates to determining relevance. (Remember, relevance is a biggie when it comes to ranking and satisfying user intent.)
The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
–Google, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide
To keep people on your site, you want to create a good experience when people are interacting with your webpages. This is going to be especially important as new page-experience ranking signals go live in 2021.
Then you can a) build an audience and b) gain quality links when your content is shared.
It’s important to note that good content will still trump user experience signals like those outlined earlier in Google’s new ranking system. But UX is still important nonetheless.
From Google’s page experience help file:
While page experience is important, Google still seeks to rank pages with the best information overall, even if the page experience is subpar. Great page experience doesn’t override having great page content. However, in cases where there are many pages that may be similar in relevance, page experience can be much more important for visibility in Search.
Google gives specific details on how to optimize for page experience in its help file, including:
- Measuring Core Web Vitals
- Checking the Mobile-Friendly Test
- Viewing the Security Issues report
- Checking the site’s secure connection
- Not using interstitials that hinder the experience
Google has always valued the user experience. Now Google is accelerating its algorithm to better filter out the sites that don’t share its values. The good news: Strategic SEO has always put user experience at the center.
Need to talk to an expert about your website? Contact us here and let’s talk about improving your results.
User experience (UX) is a pivotal factor that can make or break your website’s visibility. Understanding and optimizing for UX SEO ranking factors is essential for staying competitive in the digital realm.
- Page Loading Speed Matters
One of the fundamental elements of UX is page loading speed. A slow-loading website can drive users away and adversely affect your SEO rankings. Invest in optimizing your site’s loading time to ensure a seamless user experience.
- Mobile Responsiveness Is Non-Negotiable
With the majority of internet users accessing websites through mobile devices, mobile responsiveness is a paramount UX SEO factor. Google prioritizes mobile-friendly sites, so make sure your design is responsive and adaptable across various screen sizes.
- High-Quality Content Reigns Supreme
Compelling, informative, and relevant content is the cornerstone of SEO. Ensure your website offers valuable content that engages users and keeps them on your site longer. This can positively impact your SEO rankings.
- Intuitive Navigation Enhances User Experience
Websites that are well-organized and intuitive make finding information much simpler for visitors to your site. Utilize clear headings and menus to guide them around.
- Secure Your Website with HTTPS
Security is a significant concern for users and search engines alike. Transitioning to HTTPS by installing an SSL certificate not only encrypts data but also gives your site a boost in SEO rankings.
- Optimize Images and Multimedia
Images and multimedia content enhance user engagement, but they must be optimized for faster loading times. Compress images, use responsive media players, and provide alt text for accessibility and SEO.
- Consistency in Branding and Design
Maintaining a consistent branding and design scheme across your website fosters trust and recognition. It also contributes to a cohesive user experience that search engines appreciate.
- Reduce Bounce Rates with Engaging Design
High bounce rates can negatively affect your SEO rankings. Craft visually appealing and engaging pages to captivate visitors, encouraging them to explore your site further.
- Prioritize Accessibility
Make your website accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. This not only aligns with ethical principles but also helps improve SEO rankings as search engines value inclusivity.
- User Engagement Metrics Influence Rankings
User engagement metrics, such as click-through rates (CTR), dwell time, and bounce rates, are closely monitored by search engines. These metrics reflect user satisfaction and can impact your rankings.
Optimizing for user experience SEO ranking factors is indispensable in today’s digital landscape. Your website’s credibility and visibility with both visitors and search engines can be strengthened by placing emphasis on factors like page loading speed, responsiveness to mobile devices, quality content production, and user engagement.
Step-by-Step Procedure: How to Optimize for User Experience SEO Ranking Factors
- Assess Your Website: Undergo an in-depth audit to identify areas where user experience could be improved.
- Prioritize PageSpeed Optimization: Utilizing tools like Google PageSpeed Insights can help assess and optimize the loading speed of your website. Take the necessary measures to do so!
- Conduct multiple device and screen size tests on your website to ensure mobile responsiveness.
- Produce High-Quality Content: Generating relevant, informative, and entertaining content will attract your target audience and increase loyalty.
- Simplify Navigation: Make your website’s structure intuitive and user-friendly by simplifying its navigation system.
- Implement HTTPS: Secure your website by obtaining and installing an SSL certificate.
- Optimize Images and Multimedia: Compress images and ensure multimedia content is optimized for fast loading.
- Maintain Consistency: Ensure consistent branding and design elements across your website.
- Reduce Bounce Rates: Design visually appealing and engaging pages to keep users on your site.
- Prioritize Accessibility: Adherence to accessibility guidelines will ensure your website is accessible to everyone.
- Measure User Engagement Metrics: Monitor metrics such as click-through rates, dwell times, and bounce rates to gauge customer satisfaction.
- Update Your Content Regularly – To keep the information on your website fresh and engaging for visitors, update and improve it frequently.
- Utilize Structured Data. Structured data provides additional information to search engines and can help increase website visibility.
- Engage in Link Building: Build high-quality backlinks to boost your website’s authority and SEO rankings.
- Test and Iterate: Regularly test and iterate on your website’s design and content to optimize user experience.
- Assess SEO Performance: Utilizing SEO tools will allow you to monitor the performance of your website and make any necessary adjustments as required.
- Stay Informed: Stay informed on the latest algorithm updates and SEO trends to keep your website competitive. This can ensure that it stays relevant.
- Seek Expert Assistance: If needed, consult with SEO experts or agencies for specialized guidance.
- Engage with User Feedback: Listen to user feedback and make improvements based on their suggestions and complaints.
- Stay Committed: Achieving optimal user experience SEO requires ongoing dedication and adaptation to changing user behaviors and search engine algorithms. Stay committed to the process for long-term success.