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Why UX is pivotal to the future of SEO
As search engine algorithms become more sophisticated, many believe user signals will play a greater role in search rankings. Columnist David Freeman explains what this means for forward-looking SEO professionals.
At the end of the day, what is good for the consumer is good for organic search performance — especially if we consider how machine learning is becoming ever more central to search algorithms and incorporating areas such as search sequence, as well as content quality, structure and sentiment.
To keep pace, agencies and marketers must broaden their SEO approach by placing a much greater focus on UX across the full range of owned assets. The following explores the two areas central to making this a reality.
1. The SEO skill set needs to broaden into UX
Part of Google’s philosophy has always been focused on delivering the best user experience. With recent technological advances, Google and other search engines are now better placed than ever to deliver this vision. This focus will only intensify over the coming months and years.
Yet for many teams and agencies, UX has not consistently been a part of the SEO toolkit. Whether or not an SEO practitioner can discuss UX or make meaningful UX recommendations very much depends on personal experience, background and professional development programs.
As an industry, we need to reimagine SEO and the skill sets required to succeed as we move rapidly into an era of search engine ranking technology that is becoming more opaque, dominated by machine learning, and better than ever at interpreting consumer behavior.
If SEO can’t influence (or be a central part of) brands’ UX approach, then one of the central, future-facing SEO performance levers will be outside of our control. If it isn’t already, UX should be a high priority in your learning and development program.
2. UX must evolve beyond a linear approach
In working with a wide range of client and agency UX teams over the last 10 years, a challenge I have routinely faced is this: often, UX teams only want to consider a linear journey that starts at the home page. The reality is that for many brands, less than 50 percent of consumers start their journey on the home page, and taking a linear approach to UX provides a suboptimal experience for the majority of consumers.
As the use of machine learning increases, user signals will factor more prominently into search engine rankings. UX issues could therefore prevent brands from reaching their potential in the organic search results — and, thinking more broadly, could stifle conversion performance.
A lack of consideration for the user experience at different entry points can cause consumers to leave the site and look elsewhere. Here are two great examples:
- Tabbed content, in which consumers land on the page relevant to their search, but the information they sought is hidden within a tab.
- Infinite scroll pages, in which multiple subtopics reside on a single URL, with no method to land the consumer on the section relevant to their search.
By definition, UX is about providing the best possible experience to the consumer, and it shouldn’t be confined to a specific journey commencing at the home page. Instead, it should be data-driven, taking account of the vast range of entry points into a website.
By adapting the UX process to consider multiple entry points, a site’s user experience will be far better suited to organic search success, thus paving the way for greatly increased integration between UX and SEO teams.
This shift is not only essential, it benefits everyone
With SEO teams incorporating UX skills into their arsenal and UX teams adopting a broader approach by considering multiple entry points, it allows us to reimagine the ways of working to deliver better results. Productive collaboration can take place throughout projects, and by acting as one team, expertise can be pooled together to understand challenges and provide optimal solutions across website entry points. This will ultimately lead to a far better search-to-landing-page-to-conversion experience.
If we adapt and adopt the UX skill set, we will remain in control of the levers influencing organic search performance. This will be beneficial to brands and consumers alike, as we’ll be better placed to deliver the best experience throughout the purchase journey for each search a consumer makes.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.