One key takeaway from SEMrush’s latest ranking factor study was how user engagement signals seem to impact ranking performance. High on the list of results were user satisfaction signals such as time spent on site, pages per session and bounce rate.
Although we don't know to what extent user satisfaction is incorporated into Google’s algorithms, we do know that Google strives to make their users happy (as they always have) and many SEOs agree with the idea that Good UX is good SEO.
In this article, I will give some tips on UX/SEO optimization that can lead to better rankings:
- How to increase time spent on site.
- How to improve page speed (and tackle bounce rate).
How to Increase Time Spent on Site
When improving on page SEO, one of the key questions is how do you increase the period someone spends on a page? And, as often when it comes to SEO, the answer is: that depends.
How so? Well, because it is tricky to figure out exactly how much time Google thinks a visitor should spend on a website for any given search query.
Consider This Example:
A website that can answer a simple query such as "How many ounces to a pound?" might satisfy users within seconds and with a single page, while a search such as "What is an economic recession?" may call for visitors to spend some time exploring the topic.
The goal here, then, is for that exploration to happen on your website rather than a competitor's, and we can do that by providing supplementary content.
Tip 1 – Create Supplementary Content and Link To It
This is not only a good SEO practice, but it also gives the users the possibility to expand their search and stay on the same domain, rather than looking for related information elsewhere.
Wikipedia does this by linking to every possible related topic known to man (or so it feels when browsing an average wiki page):
However, adding internal links on keywords merely because they appear in the body of the text might not be the best way of referencing supporting content.
We can learn from thebalance.com here. Rather than linking from keywords in the body, they choose to link to supplementary articles that help readers better understand the topic at hand:
Here, each linked piece of content directly supports the main article. As a result, visitors have the option of consuming related content (if they find it necessary) and therefore, spend more time on the site.
Tip 2 – Answer Multiple Queries and Kill Two (or More) Birds with One Stone
If someone wants to know "what the tallest building in the world is" one can guess that they also want to know the second highest, and the third, perhaps all the way up to top 25. A piece of content that provides answers to the main search query, as well as related questions, could be seen as a better result than one simple answer.
This does seem to be the case in this example. The 2 first pages of the U.K. SERPs of the query “what is the tallest building in the world” does not include a single website that answers that specific question only. Instead, these results list a minimum of 5 of the highest buildings, most of them more.
Interestingly, there are websites such as Guinness World Record (DA 84) which technically answers the query perfectly by writing about the Burj Khalifa (which is the world’s tallest building), but that article is hidden by Google all the way down at page 4 in the SERPs.
The takeaway here is to think like a searcher: anticipate subsequent searchers and incorporate them into a single piece of content. This gives visitors more than they expected which, in turn, can lead to increased time spent consuming the content.
Tip 3 – Showcase Related Content
There are situations where you can’t bundle up all available information into one piece of content, of course, and the solution here is creating and linking to related content.
The BBC does this by listing articles related to a specified story as well as content relevant to the broader topic:
This is another strategy that allows visitors to easily browse through related content on the site.
Most e-Commerce sites have adopted this strategy too, although the related content is often other products instead of articles and the listings are likely cookie-based and personalized.
While the main driver behind this personalized shopping experience from Amazon might be sales, users are presented with products they are likely to read more about or purchase and are, thus, more likely to remain on the site longer, browsing.
In Google’s eyes, a happy consumer is one that stays to see what else there is to offer.
Website engagement is a subject well-covered and going into each aspect in detail is beyond the scope of this article. Here are some tips on improving time spent on site and links to articles covering each topic:
- Make navigation clear and optimised for all devices - searchenginejournal.com.
- Create scannable content - hubspot.com.
- Write to-the-point content and get rid of fluff - forbes.com.
- Add internal search function thesitewizard.com.
- Add exit pop-up - getsitecontrol.com.
How to Improve Page Speed (and Tackle Bounce Rate)
A note on bounce rate. Bounce rate is a somewhat controversial topic. As a standalone metric in Google Analytics, it shows the percentage of visitors who leave the website after visiting a single page. However, leaving a website after a single page visit is not always a bad thing: some pages give instant answers to queries, and a high bounce rate is therefore expected. Thus, one shouldn’t make strategic SEO decisions based on bounce rate without a fair amount of contextual information such as user intent, content type, CTAs, and so on.
As far back as 2010 Google announced that page speed is a ranking factor, and there have been several ranking correlation studies from Moz and others that indicate this to be the case. Additionally, in March this of this year Google’s Gary Illyes stated that page loading speed will be a ranking factor in a mobile-first world.
While we are still waiting for a mobile-first index to happen, it is fair to say that a website that loads quickly is good for both SEO and UX.
Some aspects that can help your website perform faster include:
Using a Content Delivery Network
Through a CDN your content gets cached on local servers to serve local visitors quicker. I use CloudFlare, but there are other solutions to choose from, including (but not limited to) Akamai, MaxCDN, and Rackspace.
Using a Good Hosting Provider
Image credit: Nate Shivar, shivarweb.com
Finding a decent hosting company requires some research but good hosting can do miracles for your site speed, especially in regards to Time to First Byte, and will be worth it in the end. Inform yourself on how to choose hosting provider by reading this article by CNET and this one by sitepoint.com.
Large images can be a killer for page load time. Tools that can optimize image size while preserving visual quality include Tiny PNG, Compressor.io, JPEG Optimizer, and BJ Lazy Load to name a few. More on that here.
Image credit: imagerecycle.com
Leverage Browser Caching
This allows for browsers to “remember” loaded page elements in order to speed up page load time for returning visitors. Read this to learn how to implement this on your website.
Image Credit: Heroku Dev Center, devcenter.heroku.com
Image Credit: keycdn, cdn.keycdn.com
As a side point, in addition to reducing bounce rate, low page load time can also help increasing conversion: Walmart reported a bump in conversion of 2% for every 1 second of improvement.
Image Credit: Cliff Crocker, walmartlabs.com
To check your site speed, I would recommend webpagetest.org as it gives you a breakdown of the loading time for each element and a score for each element
- First Byte Time
- Keep-alive Enabled
- Compress Transfer
- Compress Images
- Cache static content
- Effective use of CDN
Site speed is ONE important aspect when it comes to reducing bounce rate, but there are many more, of course. I would recommend reading the following articles to learn more about the other improvements that can prevent visitors to bounce:
4 Simple Tips to Reduce Bounce Rate
User experience and SEO go hand-in-hand, and it seems like optimizing websites to satisfy users can lead to higher rankings. Admittedly, UX is a broad subject, and the above tips only cover a small part of it. Nonetheless, I hope these examples have piqued your interest in UX and given you more ideas of optimization projects you can run for your clients or on your own websites.