Why Having A User-First Approach to SEO Is Important
In the search engine optimization business, we spend so much time thinking about Google algorithms, sitemaps, and backlinks that we sometimes lose sight of the primary goal: providing useful information to human visitors.
In the past, it was easy to understand why. You could cram your page with keywords, slap on a few meta tags, and voila! Your page was on the first page of search engine results.
Google rightfully recognized this wasn’t the best way to provide top-quality answers to search queries, so it adapted its algorithms. Evidence of Google’s interest in improving user experience (UX) is found with updates like Panda in February 2011, Core Web Vitals, and other core updates that happen regularly.
That’s not to say you can completely forgo aspects of traditional SEO and that keywords no longer matter. Search engines still take foundational SEO attributes into account.
But organic search now also depends on implementing a user-first approach.
So how do you do that? Here is a list of five steps you can take to make your site more user-friendly, and hopefully climb further up the search engine results page rankings.
1. Learn Design Fundamentals
You don’t have to master the skills of a graphic designer to improve UX, but having a better understanding of the principles that comprise a good design is an important tool to keep in your tool belt.
Understanding these principles will allow you to make decisions that will give your site’s users a better experience, flow a more natural flow, and generally enjoy using your site more.
When looking into design classes, make sure you’re going to be working with a professor/instructor who can explain the psychology behind what they’re teaching you.
Understanding the psychological impact of design is the most crucial element of what you should be learning – the “why” behind what you’re putting in place – so your decisions have the desired effect on your users.
2. Address Existing User Pain Points
If you’re working with a site that has already been around for a while and you’re concerned that you’re running into user issues, don’t be afraid to use data to your advantage.
The first place you should start is Google Analytics. Assuming you have this set up correctly for your site, you can determine exactly where users are dropping off your website.
You may find it useful to set up heat mapping and recording.
Heat-mapping software gives you the ability to see precisely how people are interacting with your pages.
Some systems even allow screen recording, so that you have a first-hand view of how users are moving through your site – and what’s stopping them from converting.
Once you have this data, you can make better decisions about ways to improve your pages and give your users the experience they’re looking for.
Having this data might even help you reevaluate exactly what it is that your users are hoping to get out of your website.
3. Test All The Things
Once you have collected your data, you shouldn’t just jump straight into making changes to your site. While this data helped you identify potential problems, it wasn’t meant to give you all the answers.
When I’ve identified a problem or want to make a significant layout change on a page, I always set up an A/B test to make sure this change is right for my users.
If you’re unfamiliar with A/B testing, this is where you take two variations of a page and split the traffic between the two.
Then, over a given period of time and number of users, you analyze which version of the page performed better for the goal you’re trying to improve (this is usually related to conversions)
If that statement piqued your interest, it may be time for you to learn more about Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).
The data you gather from your A/B testing efforts will inform you if your hypothesis about addressable pain points is correct, while also telling you if you’re heading in the right direction to solve the problem.
If your new page variation doesn’t pass the test, you may need to go back to the drawing board and try something different.
While you aren’t going to win every single test you try, you’ll at least be taking steps to improve your site, with data to back your actions up.
That’s why testing is so important; you want to ensure the changes you implement are helping – not hurting.
4. Give The People What They Want
In the long run, it’s all about balance. If you’re only focusing on appealing to search engines, you might be missing the mark with your audience.
If you’re only working on your site from the user perspective, you’ll more than likely miss the other elements search engines value.
Once you find that happy middle ground that lets you keep both users and search engines in mind, I’m confident you’ll see positive returns from your efforts from both sides.
5. Never Stop Learning
In any form of digital marketing, it’s important to maintain a hunger to continue learning and improving.
Just like Google will never stop tweaking its search algorithm, you should never stop exploring new ways to appeal to visitors to your website and find ways to improve your search ranking.
The expansion of knowledge, not just within your field but in other areas that can make an impact on your work, is one of the most crucial skills a professional can have.
Experiences Are Everything
UX isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – that’s why there’s an entire field of web design dedicated to it. You may even have a UX specialist or two at work in your company.
But it is important for SEO, so you can’t afford to disregard it, or even minimize it.
You need to put yourself in the shoes of a person visiting your website.
Are they having a good experience? Or are they frustrated? Is your site responsive to the needs of mobile users or are they trying to zoom in on a desktop version?
Never forget that the link between user experiences and search visibility not only exists but seems to be growing in importance. And while your site hopefully doesn’t require massive refurbishing, taking a few steps to enhance usability can have big rewards.
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