SEO and User Experience can often clash, and although Google is doing its part to ensure that optimizing a site for search doesn’t lead to a bad experience for the user, there are still some grey areas.
When optimizing our sites for search, we pick focus keywords, and do our best to inlay them with our text and headers, image alt tags, meta data and more. We insert internal links using these keywords throughout our text leading to other relevant pages, and place additional links on other similarly themed pages that will lead back. We do all of this to help build up Google’s association with our web page regarding our target terms – this is all part of the onsite SEO process so that our site places higher on our focus terms.
The problem with the onsite process is that it can often lead to a poor user experience. While one, relevant internal link can help viewers gain content for something, too many becomes overwhelming. Repetitive terms throughout our content make for dull reading, and too many onsite headers make an article look cluttered and keyword “stuffed”. So while these onsite SEO elements will help build up your traffic, they may also drive it away.
What we, as an SEO agency need to do is find the proper balance between SEO and user experience so that we can bring in more traffic while making sure that the new visitors stay on the page and convert.
How Do We Measure UX?
User experience can be measured in a few different ways, but the underlying concept is that the more user engagement, the better the experience. The main analytics metrics that we look at for measuring the user’s engagement is bounce rate, time on site, pages viewed, and of course conversions. The bounce rate refers to whether or not an individual user views the landing page and leaves, or if they venture into the site to see more. Generally, we want to see people going through the website and viewing more content. Time on site and pages viewed are pretty self-explanatory. The longer someone is on the site and the more pages they viewed, the more interested in your content they are. Finally, conversions – these can be set up depending on your goals, and often change from site to site. Whether it is a form submission, an event occurrence, or more, you can set goals for your website and measure how often your visitors are hitting them. Obviously, with a higher conversion rate we can assume a better user experience.
The problem with optimizing User Experience from an SEO perspective is that often what drives a good user experience conflicts with content optimized for search. People reading a site often want engaging media like a video, or info graph - both of which can be optimized by search, but only have a minimal effect when compared to the SEO capabilities of text-based content.
Measuring SEO Effectiveness
SEO effectiveness is rather straight forward, we look at placement benchmarks and “organic search traffic” in Analytics. When looking at keyword placement benchmarks, it is important to keep in mind that everyone sees search results differently, so they should be used more to establish a pattern in ranking – and not a verbatim result of SEO efforts. Traffic through organic search is the more important metric to analyze and use for an SEO campaign’s effectiveness. This is the raw data showing you how many people visited your site from search engines. In Google Analytics, you can also get the break down of the Organic Search Traffic bounce rate, time on site, pages viewed, and conversions, which is the data that is used to help balance the search traffic and user experience.
Balancing User Experience and SEO
You may see traffic from organic search going up and up month over month, and think it’s a good sign, but you must dig deeper than just the total viewers. If you’re traffic is going up, but user engagement is going down, then your SEO efforts may be getting wasted – or at the very least are inefficient. What we want to see when it comes to balancing SEO and user experience is the “effective users”. These users can most easily be defined as those with a 0% bounce rate, meaning they viewed at least 2 pages on your site. This is where is imperative that you compare not only the amount of traffic, but its’ bounce rate as well – as more users with a higher bounce rate may end up having less “effective users” than a lower overall amount of traffic with a lower bounce rate. Consider the chart below.
What that chart shows you is that a lower amount of high-quality traffic is more valuable than a higher amount of low-quality traffic, which seems obvious when examined in-depth, but is often overlooked.
Effective Users are essentially the outcome of well-balanced SEO and user experience. It shows that the website is placing well under the right keyword phrases and bringing in people who are actually interested in the products and / or services being offered. So always be sure to analyze this metric and make sure that the goal of your online marketing strategy is to cater to and grow effective users.