Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
User experience or UX refers to the user interface and the process users follow to interact with a site. SEO or search engine optimization has been a major factor for web designers and marketers, but with the rise of apps and growing competition among websites, SEO and UX are equally important to web design from the technical details to the words on the page. Where do UX and SEO meet, and how do they affect each other?
One of the ways SEO and UX intersect is seen in the format of the web address for each piece of content. When the title of the content is part of the URL, the link still conveys what the content is about and may show up in search results for the search terms embedded in the URL itself. The link is seen as more reliable, too, when the title and URL contain the same words, so it is more likely to be followed.
If user experience was the only factor to consider, you’d probably want a single landing page with everything branching off of that main page if not encompassed on that single home page. When SEO is as important as the user experience, you need separate pages for each type of content, each one search engine optimized for its own, unique niche.
Titles and Headers
When your title includes the key search terms the user entered, they will quickly know whether or not the content is what they are looking for. Proper keyword use has the side benefit of adding authenticity, whereas keyword stuffed titles and headers hurt the appeal of your site with visitors.
Use informational headings and subheadings to make the content easy to skim to find specific information. You can put secondary keywords in subheadings as well as in the content itself.
Google says to design content for the user, not the search engine, though all the text must be crawler readable for SEO to matter. This means avoiding keyword stuffing, awkward grammar, bad spelling and an excess of related search terms. Aim for high readability, content that can be read by both your target audience and those who might be interested in the content. For example, your solution on how to solve a database error should be written for knowledgeable database users, not just database administrators. Someone shouldn’t have to work as at the Apple Genius Bar to understand your instructions on how to resolve an iPhone error, though the content should say when you need to involve the professionals.
Search engine optimization affects content by requiring you to integrate the search terms into the content. The header of “directions” becomes “Directions to X from Downtown” and “Where X Is Located”. Product descriptions are not simply lists of model numbers, dimensions and price information but need to include the company name, brand name and popular descriptive terms for the product. The SEO of the product information cannot be excessive or it hurts UX.
Menus and Buttons
Streamline your menu buttons so that the user knows exactly where each menu level or button takes them. For example, a button that says “locations” should take them to a list of store locations and information on how to get to any of these venues. Don’t be afraid to have a clear call to action button like “Sign Up Here” or “Buy”; the clear indicator as to what clicking the button does, like signing you up for a newsletter or following them on Facebook is seen as more reliable than a generic “click here”.
Drop down menus should be reserved for situations where a simple set of four or five navigation buttons on the main page isn’t enough. Use breadcrumbs and utility bars to make navigating the site as easy as possible. Reliable navigation improves users’ trust in the site, because they can go where they want to go and find their way back if they were wrong.
Links, Backlinks and Cross-Links
You’re usually not going to be able to put all information the user wants in a targeted search on a single page, and this means you need to put links to the related content on the landing page. Relevant links need to be prominently placed on the landing page, whether it is a link to the help desk ticketing system or directions to your facility. When these links include the key search terms related to their content, they indirectly improve the SEO and latent semantic indexing of the webpage. Sitemaps not only help visitors navigate your site but improve the indexing and crawling of the website, another factor in your site’s search engine optimization. These also make your site look more reliable to search engines, boosting your SEO.
Linking to your site on social media accounts helps the user go to your legitimate home page or the appropriate internal page while improving the website’s ranking with search engines. The tight links between social media profiles and the home page are seen as proof that your website is reliable and reputable, and branding both the same way helps even more.
Conversely, putting barely relevant links or ads with links on your site hurt your SEO and the user experience. They will pull some people away from the site, hurting the “stickiness” factor that search engines use to gauge the fit of your content to the user’s query, while all such links on the side of a page add to the clutter on the site.
Dead links hurt your site with both users and search engines.
Animation and Graphics
Don’t users want background music, voice over testimonials, or video welcoming them to the website? In most cases, the answer is no. The experience of mobile users suffers in particular when their limited bandwidth is taken up by downloading graphics or video, and they’ll bounce away when it takes too long to load. This will hurt your site’s SEO, since they don’t stay long enough for the artificial intelligences behind the search engine to register it as a good fit with their query.