You may or may not already realise this, but Google uses “user experience” in several ways to inform search results. It makes sense really, links and content are helpful, but the only way to be sure that content is good is to track how users respond to it.
For this reason, it is important that you consider the user experience on your website and work hard to make your website experience better. The happier your visitors are, the better your chances of ranking and the more traffic you will get.
In this post, we will explore a few simple (and not so simple), actionable ways that you can improve your user experience in order to improve your SEO results:
Step 1: Snippet Optimization
When one of your pages, posts or whatever appear in a search result, the listing will be made up of various information that you control. This is called your snippet and it has one goal: to get the search engine user to click on it.
In this SERP you can see that the top result (in the red box) has a title, url, short description and an image of the author. Google of course knows which results get clicked on most often and they almost certainly use that as a strong relevancy signal.
Fortunately, there is plenty that you can do to improve your SERP click through rates. This handy SERP snippet optimizer tool will help you to ensure that all of your page titles and meta descriptions are the right length and you can use webmaster tools to check your click through rate and which terms you are ranking for.
Improving upon bad click through rates is a simple way to improve your rankings and using PPC is a simple way to do that. First, go to your Webmaster Tools account and figure out which phrases your pages have been ranking for. These are the pages with the best potential for quick ranking improvements.
Now, simply set up an Adwords Ad to test that particular page. Have the page you want to improve as the landing page and create 3 or 4 Ad variations to test different title and description ideas. This isn’t fool-proof, since you will have fewer characters, but you can at least get an idea of which words or phrases are most effective.
Once you have found a winning Ad, you can use that information to design a better SERP snippet for your page. This method does require a small spend of course, but hopefully the cost will only be minor, and the opportunity to improve your rankings is big.
Another great way to increase your click through rate from SERPs is to set up Google+ authorship. If you link up your Google+ account correctly and upload a good photo of yourself (must be a headshot) then your picture may appear in search results.
There is no guarantee, but if you are lucky enough to have your image appear it can have a positive impact on your CTR, which can improve rankings too.
Video SEO is a topic for another occasion (but here are some basics), but for the time being let’s just quickly cover the concept. Video content is a huge opportunity simply because not many people are doing it (compared to the amount of written content that exists).
Video is also a great way to engage visitors, and when videos do show up in search results, they come with a small thumbnail which gets more real-estate than any other type of snippet enhancement. This is of course excellent for click through, so it’s a great way to increase your chances of ranking.
Step 2: Reduce Pogo-ing
Google can’t track bounce rates directly, but what they can see is something called “pogo-ing”. This basically means that a visitor finds your page in a SERP, clicks on it and then returns to Google to do the same (or similar) search and clicks a different result.
Clearly, this is a strong signal that the user didn’t find what they wanted on your website. If your site appears in a set of results, and has a much higher pogo rate than other comparable pages in that result set, you are likely to lose rankings.
Linking In & Out
If your visitor lands on your page, consumes it and then isn’t given anything else to do, they will leave. This is why links are so important…
Linking out from your content (liberally) to both your own content and other people’s gives your visitors more opportunities to continue to explore rather than returning to Google for more information.
As an added incentive, various studies suggest a strong correlation between content with relevant links and high rankings. Correlation doesn’t mean causation, but it does wink suggestively…
Calls To Action
As well as linking, you should also use calls to action in critical points on the page to prevent traffic losses. Typical places to include CTAs are at the top (above the fold) and at the bottom (below content), depending on the type of page.
The appropriate call to action depends on the type of page, but in the case of blog posts for example, an effective “related posts” plugin is essential.
Another easy way to pick up extra traffic is by refreshing old content. Often your older content will have the most links and will get a steady stream of traffic, but as that content gets older it may also become less relevant.
Out of date content will generally suffer a higher bounce rate as well as ranking more poorly due to Google’s “freshness” algorithm.
You can use Analytics to find older posts which get a lot of search engine traffic – these are often a good place to find opportunities for improvement.
Personalizing your user’s experience is a great way to engage them, which again can reduce bounces, pogo-ing and improve user experience (and rankings). There are a few ways you might try doing this:
- Personalize based on previous behavior (viewed products)
- Personalize for logged in users (name, preferences, etc)
- Personalize by demographics, location, device etc…
This also ties into mobile optimization of course, which is another topic in its own right. But any type of personalization, even small tweaks can help to better engage your users.
Aside from using links and calls to action, one of the most powerful ways to improve your user experience is by using usability testing.
You can also use various other tools such as 5 Second Test to get direct user feedback in order to get ideas for improvements. From there of course, running a split test is a good way to see for sure which design works best.
The final step of course is to make sure that your website is super fast. A website that loads faster is likely to rank better, since site speed is a part of Google’s algorithm. Faster loading time also means your users will browse more and are less likely to leave. This is especially true for mobile users who are likely to have a much slower connection.
This image shows the page load speed section in Analytics, which is a good way to discover which of your pages take the longest to load. It is a good idea to focus on the pages which are slowest, but have the most traffic, since these will be the most important to improve.
There is a lot that you can do to speed up your website, but the simplest strategy is to use Google’s page speed analysis tools and follow their recommendations.
What Do You Do To Improve User Behavior?
If you found this post useful, please share it on your favourite social network, and come talk to use on Twitter or via email to tell us what else you do to improve your user behavior metrics.