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The importance of SEO and UX: How they work together

Lewis Pugsley

Posted by Lewis Pugsley

Co-author: Holly Yelland

23 January 2024

We’ve already published a guide on how SEO and CRO intertwine and are important for the overall success of your digital acquisition campaigns. Hanging over the relationship between SEO and CRO is the practice of UX (user experience). UX plays a vital role in how users interact with your website and its products and services once they arrive via channels such as SEO. Let’s take a look at how SEO and UX can benefit each other and improve the bottom line when it comes to buyer journeys across your website.

How does user experience influence SEO rankings?

There are well over 200 known ranking factors for Google alone. Many of these are anchored around familiar concepts such as backlinks, technical SEO, keyword optimisation, and content. One big part of this is UX and how users interact on your site once they click through. 

Some UX metrics aren’t a direct ranking factor, such as bounce rate. However, UX-centric areas (and other metrics) like site structure, page speed and, to a degree, how users interact with your site with regards to average session duration and dwell time, do play a role. An increasingly common concept within the industry is search experience optimisation: the blending of SEO and UX best practices to provide the best possible journey for the user across search and on your website.

Outside of typical SEO performance tracking tools that cover areas such as clicks, impressions, and keyword rankings, you can assess your analytics platforms to get a sense of where things are with regards to UX signals. For example, Google Analytics 4 will show you metrics such as average engagement time, average session duration, bounce rate, and the ultimate arbiter of good user experience: conversions. Here’s a look at some of this in action on the GA “Landing page” report on the Google Merch Shop demo account:

How can I tell which pages on my site offer good (and bad) UX?

In a lot of cases, there may well be a clear correlation between high keyword search rankings on certain pages, with positive user engagement signals such as high session durations and low bounce rates. If users are spending a lot of time on your site, discovering the page they found via search engines and then going on to browse other areas of your site, then you’re in a pretty good position in terms of providing a positive UX. In this instance, you may want to keep an eye on the bottom-of-the-funnel metrics such as engagement events, goals, and conversions to make sure your hard-earned traffic is paying off. Here’s a look at the default “Conversions” report in GA4:

On the flip side, there may be some pages that perform well on Google for a number of keywords but have low user engagement metrics, such a high bounce rate or low average session duration. This could be due to the content not matching user intent, or providing a poor experience such as slow page load.

In cases like this, it’s worth identifying these pages and addressing the potential issues. Are users dropping off after scrolling past a certain period? Is the content irrelevant in relation to the keywords users searched to find it? Is it not mobile-friendly enough, or perhaps has too many ads or pop-ups? Are there missing CTAs and internal links that may be impacting conversion rates?

Google is increasingly punishing such examples of poor user experience in its recent algorithm updates, and so addressing pages like this that maintain strong search rankings should be a matter of priority. A good place to get a quick top-level assessment of where you might be here is to head over to the Page Experience report in Google Search Console:

Alongside Core Web Vitals metrics, this gives you an overview on some pages that provide either a good or bad user experience. Marry this data up with what you’re seeing in your analytics suites and start to prioritise on where to make improvements.

What areas of SEO does UX play a major role in?

There are several key areas of SEO that relate directly to UX. This is where you should be making as much effort as possible to ensure there are open lines of communication and symbiotic ways of working between both SEO and UX experts.

Site speed

There are countless stats alluding to the fact that poor page load speed can cost businesses thousands. Outside of this, website speed has long been a core search ranking factor for Google. It became a mobile ranking factor in 2018, which was then followed up by the Core Web Vitals measuring system in May 2020. 

Core Web Vitals measures stats around screen loading time, ease of interaction and visual stability. You can use the Core Web Vitals measuring system within Search Console as a guide on where improvements should be made. This is where UX and SEO teams can work together to assess elements across a website that may be contributing to a poor Core Web Vitals score. It may be unnecessary interactive elements or superfluous codes or scripts that are contributing to poor scores, such as unnecessary JavaScript. Optimising them so they load quicker or removing them altogether can be a joint venture between SEO and UX teams to improve the experience for users.

Site structure

Whether you’re building a site from scratch or improving the structure of an existing one, improving website navigation and architecture is an arena where SEO and UX come into their own as a combined entity. SEO teams will be focusing on structuring websites and their navigation in a way that is friendly and optimal for search engine crawlers. The aim here is to provide a clear journey for them to navigate through pages and crawl and index content accordingly. A typical headache of large websites, for example, is building out web pages that sit deep within the site architecture and are hard for users and search engines to find. Improving click depth is something SEO and UX consultants can work on collaboratively, and this can be done by structuring websites using clear taxonomies, categories, and collections that the user (and search engines) can navigate through with ease. Providing clear journeys across your content with clear paths to conversion is something UX and SEO teams can work through together.

Page layout

As well as a logical and user-friendly site structure being mutually beneficial for SEO and UX, actual page layout within individual content pieces is also something to collaborate on. Consider this: you have a well-written piece of thought-leadership content on a topic relevant to your industry. The aim of the piece is to pick up on popular search terms around the topic, draw users to your content, and then keep them on the page until they hit a conversion action. This can be achieved by using semantic HTML to structure elements such as headers and sub headers, so users can navigate through the page with ease. Bolding out key elements in the text, ensuring there are relevant line breaks, and using imagery throughout to keep eyeballs on the page are some great ways UX practices can complement some of the SEO work done in providing helpful content. We’ll go into more specific details around how certain UX approaches can help drive more engagement and conversions on SEO-led content next.

The role of UX in content and optimising user intent 

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, matching user intent around certain keywords should be the ultimate aim for SEO teams when they’re publishing content. No longer does Google simply return search engine results based on straightforward keyword optimisation; its modern algorithm is much better at providing answers based on the deeper search intents behind queries. 

This is where UX professionals can really help. For example, a travel website may be publishing an in-depth piece on the topic of “Hidden Gems in Barcelona”. Old-style SEO would dictate that an article is spun up and is simply peppered with keywords around terms such as “hidden gems Barcelona” or “secret things to do in Barcelona”. This might still be applicable to some degree, but the sophisticated, modern-day user will likely want to see their intent matched early on in the content. 

This is where UX elements such as tables, summaries, graphics and videos can be deployed in the content. Instead of seeing a wall of text detailing these hidden gems (regardless of how good the copy is), users will likely prefer a summarising table element or visual summary at the top so they can navigate and browse around the article as they see fit. Within such listicle-type pieces, it’s likely that users who know about Barcelona will be looking for two or three hidden gems they might not have heard of before. Providing a clear way to jump to the locations within the article and get the lowdown on such places is a great way that UX can help match search intent.

Such practices can be applied for almost any content type, covering any type of user intent, whether it’s an informational article such as the above, or a more commercial-based query such as “SEO ranking software”. In this instance, the user is at a relatively early place in their purchasing phase and is assessing potential software. While there are many types of SEO ranking software on the market, the best type of content matching this intent will likely be comparison and feature detailed articles around these products. Here, UX techniques such as pro and con graphics, and summary tables detailing aspects such as pricing models and key features, are likely to perform best.

What KPIs should I measure when it comes to SEO and UX efforts?

SEO metrics such as impressions, keyword rankings, organic traffic and conversions from organic remain the lynchpin of measuring SEO success. However, when considering the additional input from UX practices, there are a whole range of metrics to think about that, if improved, will likely contribute strongly to bottom-of-the-funnel KPIs.

User experience, in tandem with SEO, or indeed search experience optimisation, is about improving user behaviour signals across your site. A lot of these are either indirect or direct search engine ranking factors in their own right. Here’s a list of core KPIs to measure, either via analytics or from other third-party tools, such as Hotjar: 

  • Bounce rate: Are users visiting your website and staying put, digesting your content and then navigating to other pages across your site? Driving the bounce rate down is a good sign of improved UX and SEO.

  • Engagement rate: While bounce rate focuses on single-interaction sessions, the engagement rate in GA4 provides a more holistic view by considering sessions with multiple interactions, giving you insights into the depth of user engagement on your website. This metric takes into account various user actions, such as page views and events to, provide a more comprehensive view of how users engage with your content.

  • Average session duration: Longer engagement time is a clear sign that a user is engaged with what they're seeing on the page. Look at how this is improving from the organic channel and focus on the pages that matter to your business in terms of driving conversions. 

  • Event count: Within GA4, events allow you to measure specific events such as link clicks, form submissions, scrolls, content shares and, of course, purchases. These can be customised and segmented based on what you want to track. Again, if the numbers across some of these event types are increasing on the sessions you’re tracking, this is a good sign the UX on the page is doing its job.

As always, cross-department collaboration is key

SEO works best when it's collaborating with other marketing disciplines. Increasingly, as Google and other search engines move towards prioritising user experience and user satisfaction, and rewarding sites that do this, working alongside UX teams to optimise journeys is becoming more and more paramount.

There are some vital search engine ranking factors that can be directly influenced by UX techniques. Alongside modern-day SEO best practices that consider elements such as search intent, E-EAT, and helpful content, it’s vital that the two disciplines work together.   

Optimising for a user first is going to benefit both SEO and UX. Google is moving to better serve relevant and high-quality pages so addressing the experience on a site, we will see the rewards from this in both engagement metrics and organic performance.

About the authors

Lewis Pugsley is Reddico’s SEO Operations Lead. He has been working in SEO for more than a decade and began his journey working in the automotive sector, focusing on SEO campaigns for clients, as well as helping to optimise the software platform. While Lewis still manages SEO strategies for a diverse range of clients, from insurance to finance, his primary focus is now leading and supporting the SEO team, ensuring their success and Reddico’s continued growth.

Senior Designer and Developer Holly Yelland holds a first-class honours degree in Digital Arts from the University of Kent. She worked at a Salesforce ISV mobile app company for three years as a Creative Technologist and UX Designer, developing websites, creating marketing materials and delving into UX design for complex use cases. She then worked as the Lead Designer for a specialist UX agency before joining Reddico in November 2020. She has a wealth of experience in website and UX design, bringing fresh ideas to our designs.

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