Most people focus a large proportion of their time on “keywords” and not much else. However, if you’ve been working diligently on keyword optimization but are still not getting the results you want, you may need to consider other factors that affect SEO ranking.
Search engine algorithms not only rate the relevance of your keywords on pages, and in the meta data, in relation to a user’s search terms, but they also evaluate information such as the duration visitors stay on your site, bounce rate, broken links, pages viewed, inbound and outbound links and so on…
In this article, I’ll look at the various aspects of website usability that impact website ranking, how to improve SEO rankings by improving website usability and what to do when there seems to be conflict between usability and SEO “best practice.”
Site architecture and navigation
When visitors can’t find what they need on a website right away, they most likely leave the site and this contributes to high bounce rate, low dwell time and low number of pages viewed.
A well-thought-out site architecture reflected in clear navigation is critical in helping visitors find what they want on your site, accomplish their goals and come back repeatedly (repeated visits can improve SEO ranking.)
Example of a clear concise website navigation.
Nobody likes running into a wall of text.
Good formatting of your content helps improve the user experience of your website tremendously. It makes readers more willing to spend time to read your content and come back for more, which will ultimately signal your relevancy to search engines.
Proper use of header tags can help break up your content into sections that are easier to read and utilize.
It’s easy to insert header tags in WordPress to improve user experience and improve SEO ranking of your website.
Search engines also rate keywords in header tags more heavily. By including relevant terms in your header tags, you are also boosting your SEO ranking against those keywords.
Besides image file format and sizing, there are other ways to make sure your images are working hard for you on the SEO front.
You can signal relevancy of your content to search engines by using keywords for your image file name, alt tag, title, description and caption.
Page load speed
Both Google and Bing take page-loading speed into account in their website ranking algorithm.
Users may leave your site if they have to wait even just an extra few seconds for each page to load. That would hurt your dwell time, increase your bounce rate and reduce the number of pages viewed – all of which could hurt your SEO ranking.
There are many ways to increase page load speed, some of which include using a caching plug-ins, making sure the code is clean and streamlined, optimizing image sizes, reducing the number of plug-ins, and minimizing redirects.
Useful, high quality, relevant content
“Dwell time” is the amount of time visitors spend on your website and it can affect SEO ranking.
When you provide useful content, visitors tend to stay longer on your website to consume the information and therefore increase the dwell time.
Based on this research, content between 2,000 – 2,500 words seems to rank the highest in search engine results.
Although word count doesn’t rule the SEO world – nobody will read your stuff if it’s not helpful to them – longer content does give you the opportunity to provide more value, include more keywords, incorporate more outbound links, and of course, get people to spend more time reading to increase dwell time.
Another reason to create highly useful content is that when visitors bookmark your content on Chrome,
it will improve SEO ranking of your website in Google.
Images, videos, slideshows and audio can help enrich the user experience and allow you to deliver information in a way that is most suited to your ideal site visitors.
They also act as a signal of quality content to search engines… after all, you have put in the work to make your content look good and interactive!
Video marketing has become an increasingly integral element in driving user engagement and conversion. It’s found that websites using videos can achieve a 4.8% higher conversion rate, compared to a 2.9% average on websites that don’t use videos.
Videos get visitors to spend more time on a website and retain more information.
Even if you have a well-educated audience, they probably don’t want to be deciphering a PhD dissertation every time they visit your website and read your content. You don’t want them to give up reading your content and click away because it’s too difficult to digest.
Making your content easy to read and understand helps make it useful to your readers. Some experts also believe that Google takes readability into account when ranking webpages.
You can use a variety of tools to test your content’s readability, including:
- The Readability Test Tool
- Readability statistics in MS Word
To make your content more useful and relevant, you can link out to authority sites for more in-depth information your readers can use.
Linking out to well-respected authority sites will not only increase the relevancy of your content and time readers spend on your site, but it is also believed to send trust signals to Google and improve SEO ranking.
However, more is not necessarily better. Too many outbound links can be distracting and make the content hard to get through.
Who wants to get a 404 page after clicking on a link? Broken links make for bad usability.
Not only that, search engines consider a large number of broken links as a signal of an old, neglected site and this can impact your SEO ranking.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go through every single page on your website and test the links manually. There are many tools and apps to help ensure that your site is free of broken links, such as:
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
- Google Webmaster Tool
- W3C Link Checker
As of April 2015, Google has started to penalize sites that are not mobile optimized by bumping down their search engine ranking.
More and more users are consuming content on mobile devices, and not being mobile optimized is going to affect user experience and conversion.
It is particularly important for B2B marketers. Research has shown that 77 percent of executives use their smartphone to research a product or service for their business.
Business executives use mobile devices to research products and services for their businesses.
Layout and formatting
Proper formatting and a user-friendly layout can help improve user experience and make your content easy to scan and digest, so your readers will stay on your site longer and consume your website’s information.
Formatting can help dramatically improve a webpage’s usability by making the content easy to read:
- Use font size and typography that are easy to read.
- Use bold type and colors – sparingly and strategically – to call out important information and make the content easy to scan.
- Use short paragraphs and ample line spacing in between – nobody likes a wall of text.
- Use bulleted or numbered lists for clarity.
- Use techniques such as sliders, tabs, progressive layouts, structured grids, modal windows, rollover elements, accordions and mega drop-down-menus to organize content and add interactivity.
- Break up content into sections with subheads. Proper use of header tags that include keywords also helps improve SEO ranking.
The number of Facebook shares, Tweets, Pinterest pins and other social media mentions can influence SEO rank.
Installing social sharing buttons on your website not only makes it easy for users to share your content, and thereby improve user experience, it can also help you rank higher on searches.
Contact us page
According to this Google document (p.98), websites that have sufficient contact information are considered to be more trust-worthy and therefore may rank higher by search engines.
Including a Contact Us page on your website and putting the link in the navigation not only makes for good user experience (especially if you have an ecommerce site) but can also potentially earn you some Google juice.
It’s found that a well-designed contact form increases user participation in a company’s online presence. It also helps generate new business opportunities, capture new leads, improve customer service, and more.
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