Why the User Experience Matters – and How to Make It Better

May 12, 2015

Search engine algorithms rely on an enormous variety of signals that help them establish the most relevant results for a search, but if you look closely, many of these tie into one crucial factor: the user experience. At first glance, judging a site’s relevance based on the user experience may seem arbitrary. After all, if a user is searching for pet supplies, and your site is well-optimized for the topic of pet supplies, user experience shouldn’t matter as much, right?

Not quite.

To understand why search engines put so much emphasis on user experience, we can take a look at a search’s engine’s ultimate goal: credibility. Search engines build their success on the trust of users who know that using a particular search engine will give them results that are not only relevant, but that are ultimately  their final destination for that search. A user searching for pet supplies probably wants to find a store where they can search for the dog bed or cat toy that they’re looking for, choose the one they want, make their purchase, and go on their way. If a site takes forever to load, is difficult to navigate, or has a long and confusing checkout process, chances are they’ll go back to the results to find a new site.  But their patience in digging through the first page of results is fairly limited; if they can’t quickly find a site that meets their needs, the search engine loses the user’s faith in its ability to help them find what they’re looking for.

What factors determine the quality of user experience?

Ease of Use

The quickest way to lose a visitor is to confuse them.  If your visitor has to navigate through a web of menus and links to find the content they need, they’ll quickly lose interest and abandon your site.  Your site should be laid out in a clear, logical way based on what your visitors are looking for, and the thought process they’ll use to find it.  A visitor looking for a dog bed, for instance, will probably expect to see a menu option for Pet furniture, with a subcategory for Beds, and perhaps a choice between Dog Beds and Cat Beds.  It’s clear, logical, and easy to follow.  But if they have to first go to a page called “Our products”, and then find a link on the page called “Dog Stuff” which takes them a page of categories that includes “Dog Furniture” which finally sends them to a page that shows products ranging from dog stairs to dog houses, with beds buried somewhere in between… well, chances are they’re never going to make it past the Dog Stuff page in the first place.

Making information easy to find isn’t enough – it also needs to be easy to act on. If you have an ecommerce site, there should be as few steps as possible between landing on your site and making a purchase.  If your site is designed to generate leads, a contact form  should be easy to find – and easy to fill out.

Aesthetic Appeal

Your site is often your first (and only) chance to make a good first impression.  The moment a visitor lands on your site, they’ll be making snap judgments about your brand.  A  site that is attractive, modern, and appropriate to your market can instill visitors with the confidence that your company knows what it’s doing.  On the other hand, a site that is dated, generic, or visually unappealing can leave visitors wondering whether your company is inexperienced, obsolete, or irrelevant.

Judging your own site’s aesthetic appeal can be tricky, especially if you played a role in its design.  Invite the feedback of others – customers, colleagues, even friends and family, and see if you might be overlooking an aspect of your site’s design that could be more appealing.

Technical Compatibility

This used to be a fairly straightforward issue – there were a limited number of major browsers in play, and most website visitors were using either a desktop or laptop computer with a fairly small number of screen configurations.  Now there are a huge array of devices, desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, ereaders, and even gaming devices, all with countless different screen sizes and proportions, and with varying software compatibilities. One device might support Flash, while another requires HTML 5; some may have 7″ screen, while another is as small as 2.2″.  Presenting your site in an attractive and usable way, regardless of the device, screen sizes or software requirements of your visitor’s device, is crucial in providing a great user experience.

Content Quality

If there is one Golden Rule in Internet Marketing, it’s that Content is King.  Whether it’s the copy on your homepage, the videos on your YouTube channel or the updates on your Facebook profile, your content is one of the most important factors in creating a strong user experience. We could write volumes on the importance of high quality content, but here’s what you need to know right now.  Content should be:

  • Well written – Review your site’s content to ensure that it is free of mistakes such as grammatical errors and typos. Glaring mistakes in your content sends a clear message about your company’s ability or willingness to pay attention to detail. Content should also be easy to read, with a clear, logical flow.
  • Informative – Your content should give your visitors the information they’re looking for.  Resist the urge to  be overly promotional in your content; instead, sell your company’s strengths by demonstrating your knowledge and expertise in your subject matter.
  • Engaging – The more engaging your content is, the more time visitors will spend reading it, which translates to more time spent on the page – an important signal that search engines use to determine whether visitors are enjoying their experience on your site.

 

Next steps

Once you’ve evaluated your site with an eye towards improving user experience, you’ll likely find that there are some areas you can improve.  Our next blog entry will look at some quick but  critical steps you can take to ensure that your visitors are getting a good experience.  In the end, as is the case with many quality signals, improving the user experience will not only help improve your rankings, it can also have a dramatic impact on your conversions.

 

 

 

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