User Experience. Is it a Key Factor for Rankings and SEO?

There has been a lot of talk about the ‘death of SEO’ over recent months, many stating that it is simply not required as Google can easily tell when a site’s content, links or social media has been manipulated and will ignore it, concentrating instead on sites that have good useful content.

User Experience

How do they decide if the content is good, well in part (it is believed) they look at the number of links to that content and the amount of ‘chitter chatter’ there is on Twitter, Facebook etc. This sounds reasonable to me, but there is a problem, in that until this great content is found, people simply cannot link to it or mention it in a Tweet.

So, for the content to be found the site really needs either a great marketing campaign to drive traffic to the site or it needs to be listed on the Search Engines, and that needs the very links and comments that it has yet to get…

A bit chicken and egg to say the least, and the reason why most sites need some links created to ‘prime the pump’. Once this is done Google (which certainly knew about the site all along) will suddenly start giving it some places in it’s listings. These will normally only be for long tail words at the start, but if the site is good enough, and the users do not bounce straight back to Google then things should get better and better over time.

User Experience Also Matters

That was the thought pattern that most agreed with, at least until recently. Now, there is a school of thought, one that is to a degree also ‘pushed’ by Google that it is not just ‘useful good content’ that makes a site worth ranking, there is also the matter of ‘User Experience’.

The thesis of one of these soothsayers, Jayson DeMers, is that “The happier your users are when they visit your site, the higher you’re going to rank.” His stance is that you don’t need advanced technical skills to do SEO right. Just create great content, which will lower your bounce rate, and then sit back and watch your rankings rise.

He suggests that the key to successful SEO campaigns involves six points:

1.    Great user experience
2.    Quality content
3.    Being recognized as an authority
4.    Social media marketing
5.    Building your local reputation
6.    Using modern content management systems

You cannot argue about the need for quality content, that after all is what people want, although what this content will look like will be very different depending on what is driving the visitor at that time.

The issue of Social Media is somewhat more complex, in that having loads of followers is no guarantee that a site will get any more sales, although, the fact that the brand is mentioned may help with SEO (that is my view anyway).

What you need here are advocates, but that means a great website, or product or both, and they can’t decide on either until they have seen or tested both. That of course means that they have to have seen it. Back to the chicken and the famous egg.

Again there is no doubt that being seen as an authority in an area is a great boon, whether or not it is true or not. But here again, that takes time, great content and getting enough people to link and acknowledge your genius. That of course means that they have had to see it. I can see that chicken appearing on the horizon again…..

The matter of Local Reputation is again a good point to consider. It is far easier being a Guru  (a big fish) in a small pond than in a large one, so make sure that you get mentioned / supported by local firms and sites. This is especially important as many companies want to work with local firms and if you are seen as an expert there is even more likelihood of you getting some business.

The point about using a good modern Content Management System is also one that should not be ignored. These modern systems allow you to add content very easily as well as allowing this to be done in the manner that Google and the other Engines like, that is it follows the well established protocols of allowing you to put keywords in the places that Google expect them to be in.

That leaves just one, the first point on the list, that of ‘Great user experience’.

This is the one that I have the problem with, for one simple reason, ‘How does Google know that the experience the user had was good?’

Apart from the fact that the experience could well be affected by the fact that although a perfectly good site, with lots of content,  it will fail to impress if it does not give the answer to the problem that the user had.

Of course, a good experience is more likely to be achieved if the navigation is nicely laid out and there is a search facility on the site (that works well). Both of these can to a degree be ascertained using some computer usable rules, so that is fine. But what about the content that makes up the experience and how different is this from the matter of ‘good useful content’ which is already a primary SEO factor.

Bounce Rate, Time On Site and Return Visitors are User Experience Metrics

It seems that UX metrics include the areas of Bounce Rate and Time on Site. Both of these can to a degree be estimated by people’s behaviour when using Google, for if users click to go to a site and then quickly back to the results it is clear that they have bounced and thus have low time on site.

Returning visitors are a bit more of a problem though, as if the user bookmarks a site and then goes there directly, Google will not see this event and thus cannot tell the level of returning visitors.

That is unless the visitors are using the Chrome Browser or are logged into a Google Account.

The habits of both of these groups are passed to Google and added to their database, even when you are using Incognito node, so using this data, it is possible for Google to tell how many people come back for more.

But, saying this, it still means that having a Great user experience is just the same a providing good content the people look at for a long time and then come back for more, which in turn means it is not new from an SEO point of view…

SEO Can’t get a ‘bad site’ ranked, But It’s absence can cause a good site NOT to get the rankings it merits

The purpose of all this is to say again that SEO cannot now (more often than not) cause a bad site to be consistently get good rankings, but the absence of SEO can and does cause good sites not get to the rankings they deserve.

This means that a successful website needs to have

  1. A good design that is easy to read and use.
    The good design means that users won’t leave straight away
    and the
    easy to read and use will extend the time on site even further.
  2. Contain good content, content that is useful and that answers people’s questions.
    This again extends user time on site
  3. Continually modified and extended content so that people will come back for more.
    This will increase the level of returning visitors.Don’t forget, if you can do things on the site that will enable you to contact your visitors again in the future (and thus possibly get them to come back) you will again boost this level.

It will also have to load fast, be mobile friendly, have enough links and at least some mentions on Social Media if the best rankings are to be obtained.

Conclusion

Things have not really changed that much here, SEO is still needed, but it is imperative that your sites construction and speed do not cause the value of the content that it holds to be devalued.