We all know that content strategy and SEO team members need to work in lockstep, but great search rankings also depend on great UX. In fact, part of Google’s algorithm is based on user experience metrics like engagement and site structure. Here’s how to make sure your UX is SEO-worthy.

Build Engagement in Every Page

Google’s ranking actually factors in user behavior on-site. For example, if a user types a search term, and clicks through to your site only to find your page is not all that, that user will click the back button to return to search results. Google tracks this and it’s reflected in the ranking for that page. On the flip side, if the user clicks to your site, and finds the page content interesting and stays on the site, this improves rankings for the page. If the user finds good quality content on the page and related links to more in-site content, your page rankings go up as well.

Engagement also means the time users spend on your site as well as that decrease in bounce rate. This means pages have to offer a depth of content, not just a lot of pictures and links.

It’s expected that UX design for content pages in a site would have text, but ensure that the design you plan supports at least 250 to 500 words of text. Five hundred is preferable. This may be a harder sell for your design team when it comes to landing pages and the home page. But these pages also require a minimum of 250 words in order to index for search.

For UX professionals this means:

  • Take time to plan for great content presentation and formatting on your pages
  • Always consider how related links can be highlighted on a page
  • Always ensure that every page has a strong call-to-action that can be easily found
  • More links are not better, consider a page design that highlights a few good links
  • Plan your UX for all page types to support at minimum 250 to 500 words of text

Page Load Time and Cross-Device Accessibility

More and more users have warp speed internet connections these days, but that doesn’t mean that page load times don’t count. This is especially true for mobile device users. There is also that well-known issue of user attention span during load time. For all these reasons and because Google cares enough about page load speed to factor it into search rankings, UX folks need to care about the “weight” of pages. The current standard is that first response to a query must be .5 seconds and primary page content must load in 4 seconds or less.

Few sites are planned now that are not responsive thanks to the growth in mobile traffic (over 50% on average now) and Google’s newest algorithm penalizes content that is not accessible cross-device.

For both reasons, the mantra of mobile-first design is an SEO mandate, too.

For UX professionals this means:

  • Consider load time and page “weight” by planning UX and designs that load quickly, even for longer content pages
  • Think mobile-first and design for responsive as standard practice
  • URLs needs to be the same for the mobile device as other devices (no m.URLs or mobile-only versions)

Linking Patterns

Because Google can’t read your page and see just how amazing your creative writing skills are (yet), much of the quality assessment for a page relies on linking patterns. These include high quality inbound links from authoritative sites, the depth of pages visited in a session, and the structure of your site itself.

Your UX effort has to support all of these linking patterns. One of the most critical of these is the ability for a search engine to find your page content at all. This means not burying key content items in dynamic page elements. Search engines cannot easily find “post-load” content that loads in iFrames or with javascript or Ajax calls. They also cannot find content that is hidden in no-index directories.

Each content page that you want a search engine to find must have a unique URL that should not have dynamic parameters. From a practical perspective, users cannot share a link to your great content if a direct link doesn’t exist for it. This significantly limits traffic (and rankings) for your site.

For UX professionals, this means:

  • Each page must have a unique URL, especially pages you want shared
  • Do not bury content in dynamic elements like frames or ajax calls
  • Avoid dynamic parameters in page URLs
  • Embed social sharing paths within the page content area, don’t just rely on the standard “share” bar at the top

Another issue that impacts linking patterns is tied to how easily your page is found from navigation links. As mentioned, if the user has to click the browser back button to find their way, your SEO rankings suffer. But your rankings also suffer if your site navigation is too deep and if there are pages of the site that are orphaned without a tie to the top level pages. This includes pages that load in modal windows without top navigation. Which are not mobile-friendly and should be used sparingly.

As more and more sites try to support a hamburger menu and a lighter top navigation for mobile users, the temptation is there to nest that depth of content deeper under fewer top-level navigation paths.

This raises some challenges for site structures on larger sites. Horizontal navigation — more top level categories and less depth — is better for search with regard to URL structure. Deep navigation — few top level categories and deeper nesting — is easier to support for design. Consider how to balance these issues when you are planning the underlying URL structure and directories of the site as well as how to make that minimal top navigation work. One important note here is that users may rely less on a “hidden” navigation and look for the link they need within the content area.

Content links are important for SEO, too. It’s time to put an end to content link text like “Learn more.” Search engines count the text in anchor tags as part of site rankings. Twenty “learn mores” on a page are not helping search rankings or your users understand the value of the content being linked to.

As a UX person, you can change this habit with how you display link text in wire frames. Understandably, we don’t have actual content to use here. But, wherever there is a content link indicated in your UX, try substituting “Descriptive anchor text here” instead of “More” and explain why to your team and your clients.

For UX professionals, this means:

  • Work with an SEO resource to define optimal URL structures from your site map
  • Use breadcrumb navigation in-page to help tie every page back to the top level
  • Avoid duplication of content in site architecture
  • Ensure that navigation terms are clear and mutually exclusive
  • Consider important keywords when defining navigation terms
  • Consider how to minimize the depth of site architecture with longer content pages
  • Be sure your site architecture includes the site map and robots.txt pages

UX for the Content Users Can’t See

As UX professionals, we spend most of our time worrying about the design the user sees. We often forget about that other “user,” the harried content author or admin who simply won’t make the effort to optimize site content if this process isn’t made as simple as possible.

It may surprise most of us who don’t optimize pages on a regular basis, but nearly half the content created for a site page is “hidden” from view as meta data. This includes the meta title, meta description, alt tags, video transcripts, image descriptions, micro data markup (rich snippets), tagging for taxonomy and internal search, and open graph tags for social media posts. It does not include meta keywords. Those are bad.

This is an incredible amount of additional content to author! It’s a barrier enough to get this hard work done without hiding the fields needed to input data.

For UX and technology resources, this means ensuring that the CMS admin interface supports authors by providing these fields in the content admin view or that SEO modules are part of the core site platform for sites built on CMS platforms like Drupal or WordPress that offer such modules.

For UX professionals, this means:

  • Consider SEO needs when planning UX for admin views
  • Recommend using taxonomy and markup for content
  • Content authors and admins are site users, too

 

Want to know more? Moz.com is a favorite source:

On-page SEO factors

Internal Links and SEO

User Experience and SEO