The needs of Google’s users drive decisions about SERP ranking at Google – all of those people searching the web.
In other words, Google favors websites that provide everything its users want.
If you’re like many people, your mind is immediately going to SEO. This makes sense since so many people are familiar with the importance of SEO in web design.
SEO is everywhere, and, when executed correctly, search engine optimization is compelling.
It is also a formidable undertaking:
- There is an infinite number of ways to drive more traffic toward your site and improve SEO.
- Each approach involves research, analysis and trial-and-error.
- And the job is never done.
Many organizations are throwing everything they’ve got at SEO.
Does this seem logical? If you said yes, think again.
You can certainly move the needle when it comes to SEO, but when trying to move your website up in SERP rankings, it’s important to remember that your company cannot survive on SEO alone.
It’s also important to consider the importance of web design on SEO.
One is not more important than the other. Together, SEO and web design should be considered as one of the most critical partnerships in your business. They must work together seamlessly.
- Your website needs good SEO.
- And to operate with the best possible SEO, your web design needs to function correctly.
To properly leverage this partnership, let’s begin at the beginning by understanding Google’s algorithm.
Google Wants What Users Want
Let’s deconstruct the algorithm a bit.
Google wants to provide the best results for their users. They want their customers to have the best user experience possible and keep coming back.
Is it out of the goodness of Google’s heart?
Maybe, but for Google, more users mean more money in advertising.
For any search engine, websites that provide top-notch customer experience will be rewarded.
People are busy.
Companies realize this and are bending over backward, providing convenient and efficient experiences. Consumers have gotten used to this sort of treatment and have no patience for a website that has poor responsiveness.
Today’s consumer expectations are high when it comes to user experience. Your website must be designed with the user experience in mind, as well as the goal of optimizing your results on Google’s SERP.
When considering usability and customer experience in website design, the goal is to reduce friction.
When customers have to work harder than necessary to get something, they feel friction. Friction makes that customers want to avoid the experience – and your brand.
- If users know your site is optimized for user experience, they will visit.
- If your site has a reputation for being slow or difficult to use, they won’t.
It’s that simple.
Good usability is when the user is satisfied with the website design and the search engine that included the site in its results.
What Does POOR Usability Look Like?
Before defining what top-notch user experience is, let’s think about what it isn’t.
Poor user experience might look like this:
- The user clicks on your site and quickly has difficulty finding what they need.
- The user becomes frustrated when they realize how slowly the pages are loading.
- The user tries to open your site on their phone, but the tiny links and thin buttons make them feel like their fingers have turned into sausages.
- Small text boxes have users squinting and leaning away from whatever device they are using.
Poor user experiences, like the few examples above, translate to poor usability overall. Google will recognize this, and the oversight in web design will have a significantly negative impact on SEO.
Not only does poor usability impact SEO negatively, but it also impacts the consumer’s impression of your brand.
According to Steve Krug, author of the book Don’t Make Me Think:
“The fact that the people who built the site didn’t care enough to make things obvious — and easy — can erode our confidence in the site and the organization behind it.”
If companies are going to keep up with today’s consumer, something has to give.
What Does GOOD Usability Look Like?
Good user experience might look like this:
- The user clicks on your site and easily understands what the site is about.
- The user can quickly discern where they need to go and finds the content they want.
- The user might even continue to scroll your other pages because the site is just that good!
- They might even link your site into some professional writing they are doing or might share the site on one or many social media outlets.
In the eyes of the search engines, all of these factors indicate you are a quality site, and the reward for that is moving closer to the highest SERP.
Certain website design factors will make the difference between poor user experience and a good one. These factors include:
- Credibility. Does the site promote your brand in a way that establishes authority and trust?
- Convenience. Is your website easy to use? Is it easy for the user to navigate throughout the site no matter what type of device they are using?
- Speed and Agility. Do pages load quickly? Is the content agile and optimized for any device?
- Likeability. Does the site represent your brand in a way that strikes an emotional chord with visitors? Is it recognizable and consistent with other platforms? Does your content make the user feel as if their time is being well spent?
Let’s walk through each one of these driving factors of web design in more detail.
Your business places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of your website. The website is expected to:
- Get your business in front of the right consumers on various search engines.
- Engage consumers once they visit and hold their attention, so they don’t click away to another site. (Don’t forget that other sites are trying just as hard as you are when it comes to web design and SEO.)
- Convert leads into customers.
That’s a lot.
A site’s content will help with all of these responsibilities and must be given the appropriate amount of time and energy.
The website design must consider every piece of the marketing funnel to establish credibility:
Awareness. As your brand establishes awareness, prospective customers begin to see that your business understands and has experience solving their pain points. The following types of content on a Resources Page will accomplish these goals:
- Blog posts
- Informational articles or whitepapers
- Frequently Asked Questions
Consideration. In this stage, consumers know you who are and are now comparing what you offer against what is being provided by your competitors. To help in the decision-making process, provide practical content, including:
- Case studies
- Product or service information or demo videos
Conversion. Once consumers reach the end of the funnel, your content will be driving conversions and gently encouraging the purchase with calls to action.
- Free trial
- Free consultation or customized demo
Just like an architect develops a building to be aesthetically pleasing and practical, information architecture should be considered in the same way.
Information architecture (IA), sometimes referred to as site architecture, is essentially how your website is organized.
Good IA delivers convenience for a website’s users.
There are several different IA models that can provide convenience.
Single page model. Single-page sites are well-suited for businesses with a particular focus and only desire to communicate a limited amount of information.
Index page model. Websites that have an index page, more commonly known as a home page, with several subpages is the most widely used IA model. The homepage serves as an Introduction and a Table of Contents if you will.
Hierarchy model. The hierarchy model is similar to the index page model, but each subpage has its subpages. Those two groups of subpages are referred to as parent and child, respectively.
Speed and Agility
Speed. Consumers are becoming increasingly impatient and expect to have access to information immediately.
Ensuring your site loads quickly is critical.
Google has created an excellent tool that provides:
- feedback on how mobile-friendly your site is
- speed scores for both mobile and desktop use
- a report with actionable insights
Agility. You have likely gathered that consumers are using their phones to conduct most internet searches these days. With the significant improvements to mobile data networks and agreements as well as the constant evolution of technology, this should come as no surprise.
It is, therefore, essential to effectively optimize your site for mobile users.
To do so, first put yourself into the shoes of a mobile user.
When was the last time you accessed your site from your phone?
Users interact with your site in a very different way than if they were on a desktop. Even if most consumers pull the trigger on a desktop, their first connection with your brand and your site may very well with their phones.
Considerations for mobile optimization are many, but a few best practices include:
Mobile site navigation
- Keep CTAs front and center
- Abbreviate menus
- Indicate how to return to the home page
- Minimize promotions
Mobile site search
- Prominently indicate the location of the search option
- Utilize filters to optimize search results
- Streamline or minimize form entry
- Allow users to explore and make purchases as a guest
- Leverage existing information for convenience
- Enable users to complete the purchase on another device
- Enable product images to be enlarged
- Advise users to use landscape or portrait orientation
Website likeability is a combination of several factors, including:
- design conventions
- simple things like formatting and white space
- an overall intuitive strategy that treats the end-user as the guiding light
Conventions. People easily recognize a red octagon as a stop sign in the road before they see the word ‘stop’ on the road. Things we recognize feel good to the brain. Take advantage of this human tendency to improve your site’s likeability.
- Place your logo in the top-left corner.
- Place the site navigation menu at the top of the page – either centered or to the right.
- Place a search feature near the header.
- Place sign-up links and social media icon links near the footer.
- Make contact info easy to find.
Establish a visual hierarchy. When you increase readability, you increase likeability.
The eye sees larger, bolder text as more important. This makes for more comfortable to read the content.
Font. According to research from Penn State, specific fonts are easier to read than others.
Overall appearance. People like to say that looks don’t matter, but the truth is they do. The eye is happier when it sees aesthetically pleasing web design. Strategies to improve aesthetics include:
- Keeping paragraphs short and using bullets to maintain interest
- Using white space to divide web pages into clearly defined sections and minimize the visual noise
- Please keep it simple; less is more. If in doubt, throw it out to achieve a cleaner design.
Because likeability can be a somewhat enigmatic concept, two key quotes from Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think might help clarify what makes a website’s design likeable.
“Your primary role should be to share what you know, not to tell people how things should be done.”
“Making every page or screen self-evident is like having good lighting in a store: it just makes everything seem better.”
Work hard on optimizing your web design for user experience, and you will reap the SEO rewards for your efforts in terms of traffic and user engagement.