Web design for SEO – usability, user experience and how Google monitors them

Let me briefly explain what SEO is. Google itself emphasises that Search Engine Optimisation is all about ‘improving sites’ interaction with both users and search engines’. In other words – ensuring a website can be easily used by your customers, but also enables a Googlebot (Google algorithm) to crawl, correctly interpret and index pages on the site. Interestingly, most of the SEO rules are related to providing an exceptional user experience and improving the usability of a website.

“You should base your optimisation decisions first and foremost on what’s best for the visitors of your site” – Google, Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

User Experience vs. Usability in Web Design

When it comes to the definition of User Experience (UX) I like the straightforward explanation of the term provided by Jakob Nielsen (often called ‘the father of User Experience for Web’). Nielsen views UX as simply meeting the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother.

The term Usability, on the other hand, is related the design of the user interface – so all elements of the website a web visitors can interact with. As a web designer you must ensure the user interface is intuitive, easy to learn and use, pleasant, the most important information is clearly visible and so on.

To makes things easier to grasp imagine a house:

The foundations, electricity wires, materials used to build the overall structure of the house is like the UX part of web design. The materials you use, the house layout will determine if the premises will be functional and safe for residents. Usability in this cause will be similar to interior design: so the choice of furniture (and furniture settings), doors or windows models, lighting, type of flooring and so on. All these will determine whether the website is not only useful for a visitor but also practical and pleasant to use.

How Google determines if your website is well designed

Google monitors how users interact with your website – metrics like bounce rate and time spent on a site would be examples of assessing if visitors like what they see on your website or not.

Imagine two websites (let’s be creative and call them Website A and Website B). The first site ranks higher than the second one, and so it has a higher Click Through Rate (CTR) meaning more people will enter this website. However, visitors do not like what they see on the landing page, and within a few seconds, click the BACK button and go back to the Google search results page. This super short time spent on a page sends a clear signal to Google, that for some reason this particular page does not provide what people are searching for.

Website B on the other hand, despite initially positioning lower than its competitor Website A, has a much lower bounce rate and visitors spend much longer on. Now, that suggests the landing page is useful for the searchers.

Google quickly adjusts its data: now Website B ranks better than Website A, as searchers ‘voted’ for it by spending more time on it.

If you ever thought about designing your website for Google search engine…think again. Google puts its users first, and so should you.

Usability and UX testing

It is a good habit to test your website at different stages of a design and then once it is launched. It does take some extra time and well… time is money. However, I cannot emphasise enough how important for both, your conversions rates and your rankings is providing great usability and user experience on a site.

As we all know, it is hard to convince clients to invest in anything extra when it comes to the web design. Here are a couple of ideas for UX and Usability testing on a budget.

Tips on web design testing

Test with 3 to 5 users

Nielsen & Landauer’s (link: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/ ) study found that once you perform user testing with 5 participants you can identify up to 85% of usability problems. If the money is tight, test the design with at least 3 users to get some valuable feedback on the design. Testing with less than 3 will not give you enough insights, testing with more than 5 users simply costs too much to justify it.

5-second rule

People online have a very short attention span. Many studies suggest you have less than 5 seconds to convince the visitor they landed on the right page. If you fail to do so, they will leave.

Make sure you clearly communicate what the page is about and display most important information (from the visitor’s perspective) first. Most visitors look for contact information, products or services a company offers first and you need to consider this when planning the website content and design – use call to action buttons or contrasting colours to guide the users and help them complete their visit’s goals. Make sure the design is visually pleasing and looks professional (so creates trust). Adobe research states that 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive.

Recommended services for usability and UX testing

Basic Testing: https://usabilityhub.com/

my favourite service that does not cost a fortune but provides good insights into the design.

More in-depth research tool to use once the website is launched: https://www.crazyegg.com/

Web design is never completed – the best practice is to monitor website’s performance on regular basis. Services like Crazy Egg help you identify how users interact with the design, and ultimately, help find out any problems they may encounter.

Other: https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/usability-testing.html

This entire website is dedicated to usability testing. It gives you a lot of tips on web design and provides plenty of valuable information on testing (including on-site testing and on-budget testing).

Why testing at all?

I believe SEO is all about user experience and great usability, so web design for SEO is a must. Taking care of the website performance (site loading speed, accessibility, server reliability etc.) as well providing exceptional experience for site visitors will help you get noticed by Google, and the same increase your chances of getting found by potential customers. Only then the investment in your beautiful website will make a business sense.

About the Guest Author:

Dominika is a design focused SEO expert from Cork, Ireland, working under the name Digital Dots. She’s awesome so check out her work 🙂