SEO 101: Part 2 (UX)

Google rewards pages that promote a good user experience from a click on the search results to the destination page. Pagespeed, accurate title and meta tags and mobile friendliness are all ranking factors that we have the power to optimize on.
Written by
Jennifer Chu
Published on
February 5, 2024

SEO 101: Part 2 (User Experience)

Welcome to Part 2 of our SEO 101 series where we'll cover User Experience as the second pillar of SEO. As a reminder, the four pillars of SEO are:

  1. Content
  2. User Experience
  3. Authority
  4. Technical

User experience (UX) has transcended from an after-thought to an essential pillar of search engine optimization (SEO). This demarcation is particularly significant since Google's updates—such as the Page Experience Update and the mobile-first indexing approach—have cemented UX's critical role.

For anyone marketing their business, understanding and incorporating UX principles into their SEO strategies is non-negotiable. Below, we will dissect the interplay between user experience and search engine rankings, providing not just the why, but the how, giving practical insights and measured strategies to ensure your digital footprint is both reader and search-engine friendly.

Defining User Experience: More Than Just a Design Element

When we talk about user experience in the context of websites, we are referring to the totality of interactions that a user has with your site, encompassing not only design but also accessibility, performance, and usability. At its core, it’s about understanding and delivering what the user wants in the most efficient and enjoyable manner.

Bridging UX and SEO: The Google Equation

Google's primary objective is to provide users with the most relevant and satisfactory search results possible. For that reason, they've been increasingly factoring in the user experience each website provides when positioning them in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Remember when, in SEO 101: Part 1, we talked about the importance of having Title Tags and Meta Descriptions that accurately give the user a summary or preview of what the page’s content? This is to create a a better experience for the user (in addition to informing Google on what the topic is) and providing appropriate expectations for what that content is that the user will consume.

Google's Page Experience Update, which rolled out fully in August 2021, incorporates user experience signals to determine the overall quality of a page, and it's part of a long arc of changes Google has made. Websites that are responsive, fast, and readable may get a ranking boost under these measures.

Key Factors of UX for SEO

To optimize your user experience for better SEO rankings, consider the following critical areas:

.

Image Files

Users don’t have patience for slow web pages—nor does Google. A fast loading page not only provides a better user experience but also performs better in search engine results.

Image file sizes and file names can improve how search engines crawl and index assets on the page. Large image files can also lead to slow loading pages, which results in a poor user experience and poor performance in search engine results.

Image File Best Practices

  • Images should be either compressed or reduced to an optimal file size without losing quality. If possible, aim for under 70 kb per image. Please note that platforms like SquareSpace will not compress the files for you when you upload and use them on your pages. I like using TinyIMG to compress images into smaller file sizes.
  • Image file names should be short, accurate, keyword-infused descriptions. Do NOT default to the file name give by your phone, eg “IMG_2668”
    Good example: file name = “A joke about an atom losing an electron.jpg”Bad example: file name = “atoms.jpg”
an atom loses an electron joke

Image File Types

  • PNG: highest quality image but can also the largest file size. Necessary if you’re using transparent backgrounds.
  • JPG: smaller file size but lower quality
  • WebP: a newer format for lossless compression that is compatible with Firefox and Chrome browsers. Since this format was developed by Google, it may even rank better than other image file types.
    TinyIMG and various other browser plugins will allow you to convert your images to WebP.

A Free Tool to Check Pagespeed

Google Pagespeed Insights score for "135 best mom jokes that proves she's funnier than dad"

You can check your Page Speed on the Google’s Page Speed Insights Tool.  The top part of the report, Core Web Vitals, is based on real users experience data. For a new or low-traffic page, this data may be limited. You’ll want to scroll down to the second part of the report which includes diagnostics and scores based on lab data by Chrome's Lighthouse. Pay attention to your Mobile Performance under "Diagnose performance issues". A score of 90 or above is considered good. 50 to 89 is a score that needs improvement, and below 50 is considered poor. You’ll want to be at least above 50.

Big companies sometimes have the worst page performances due to extra third-party for analytics, ads, or other legacy stuff that was never cleaned up.  In this Pagespeed report, they also have 2 MB of video thumbnail image file sizes ranging up to 700 kb each!

Mobile-Friendliness

Over 50% of online traffic comes from mobile devices. For us moms who are on the go daily chauffeuring kids around, the percentage on mobile may be even higher.

With Google’s mobile-first indexing, the mobile version (not desktop) of your site becomes the starting point for what Google includes in its index. Ensure your site is swift and responsive on mobile, providing a seamless experience regardless of the device.

Editing Squarespace page on a mobile device view

Responsive design is critical. This is when a website is designed to adapt to a user’s device and screen size.  You must therefore consider usability on smaller screens. Is it easy to navigate the menu? Are the text and images easy to read? These questions should guide your optimization efforts.

Most website hosting platforms like SquareSpace allow you to view and customize your pages according to a mobile screen size. You should also view your own website from your device and not just on larger screens like your laptop.

Pop-ups and Interstitials

Pop-ups can be valuable tools to engage with your website visitors and convert them into subscribers or customers. However, the use of these elements can have a significant impact on SEO, particularly regarding user experience (UX) and Google's guidelines particularly around mobile-first indexing.

Intrusive pop-ups

Example of an interstitial pop-up
Source: Google

Google considers pop-ups instrusive when they obstruct a user's view of content and are spammy or difficult to dismiss. Examples include:

  • Immediate Pop-Up Ads: The kind that appears right after a user lands on the webpage, covering the main content and demanding engagement.
  • Standalone Interstitials: These are the “welcome mats” that require user action before accessing the main content. They are often seen as interruptions to the user experience and can lead to increased bounce rates.

Google has explicitly stated that these can cause a site to be downgraded in its search rankings, particularly on mobile. Best practices dictate that pop-ups should be used judiciously and designed to enhance rather than disrupt the user's journey.

Acceptable interstitials

That's not to say all interstitials are bad for SEO. When used wisely, they can actually enhance user experience and fulfill specific legal or age requirement obligations. Here are some interstitial types that are okay for SEO:

  • Legally Mandated Interstitials: If your website needs age verification or has other legal requirements, as with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance, an interstitial for these purposes is justifiable and generally won't harm your SEO.
  • Easily Dismissible Banners: If interstitials are designed to take up a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible, they're less likely to interfere with the user's primary content consumption and won't adversely impact SEO.
  • Exit Pop-ups: Activated when a user signals an intention to leave a page, often by moving the cursor towards the browser's address bar, these pop-ups can offer a last-minute incentive or gather feedback. Google generally does not penalize these, since it is does not involve the interaction between a search click and your page and content.

Interstitial Best Practices

  • Avoid full-screen interstitials and interstitials that are difficult to dismiss
  • Keep interstitials to less than 15% of the screen size
  • Interstitials should be easy to dismiss
  • Don't redirect users to a different page for collecting consent or providing data. Redirecting all URLs to a single page will remove all but that one page from search results, as Googlebot can only fetch that page.
  • If you are dead-set on having pop-ups, consider restricting pop-ups to desktop devices or adding a timer or trigger so that the pop-up displays after the user finishes reading your article
  • Use banners instead of interstitials
Acceptable smaller banners rather than full-screen interstitials for SEO
Source: Google

Final Words

In conclusion, the attributes that search engines evaluate when it comes to user experience ore not far off from how designers might look at these metrics in user testing. SEO and UX go hand in hand more than you'd think. Ensuring a good experience on your site can help you better meet the objectives of your customer and achieve long-term improvements in organic traffic.

Continue the SEO 101 series with our next topic, Authority.

Follow our beginner SEO 101 series

  1. Content
  2. User Experience
  3. Authority
  4. Technical SEO

References

1 https://developers.google.com/search/docs/appearance/page-experience

2 https://developers.google.com/search/docs/appearance/avoid-intrusive-interstitials

3 https://www.statista.com/statistics/277125/share-of-website-traffic-coming-from-mobile-devices/

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