Where SEO and UX meet on your site

At Yoast, we think SEO only works when you use a holistic approach. Just optimizing your page titles isn’t enough. It’s also about site speed and user experience (UX), and great content is obviously a huge part of it. In a holistic approach, SEO has a lot of “teammates” that have to work together. In this post, we’ll go into a number of areas where SEO and UX meet. Come to think of it, in a lot of ways, SEO simply targets the search engines and UX targets the visitor, both with a shared goal: to provide the best experience possible.

Before we dive in, if you want to learn more about user experience (UX) and other essential SEO skills, you should check out our All-around SEO training! It doesn’t just tell you about SEO: it makes sure you know how to put these skills into actual practice!

Common page elements that influence both SEO and UX

If you just look at the basic elements on a page that influence your SEO, you’ll find a close relation between SEO and UX. I’ll list a few elements that are important for both SEO and UX below.

Page titles and (sub)headings

An optimized page title and related, visible <h1> element will tell Google what your page is about. That page title also informs the visitor what that page is about, already on Google’s result page. So does that <h1> element, obviously. Subheadings like <h2> help both Google and your visitors to scan a page and grasp the general idea of that page.

Read more: How to use headings on your site »

External links

An external link in your content tells Google that you respect your sources. It can also increase the odds that your sources will link back to you in their content. For your users, external links will provide a way to access background information, for instance.

Great content

If you provide quality content, people want to link to you, and visitors want to read you. And stay on your pages to finish reading. These incoming links and the time-on-page is something Google will notice. Google could start to consider your content as the main source of information on a certain topic. Just like we are for WordPress SEO. Images and videos create rich content, which both Google and your users enjoy. All in all, it’s clear that there are many areas where SEO and UX meet, right there on your pages.

Keep reading: What is quality content and how do you create it? »

Site structure

When a visitor ends up on any one of your pages, you want to make sure they know where they are on your website. It should be clear to them that there’s more to explore on your site. If you initially fail to answer the user’s question in Google, at least be so polite as to direct them to it. You want to prevent that click back to the search result pages. That click back to the search result pages is called a bounce. And a high bounce rate can have a negative influence on your SEO. It indicates to Google that you may not be answering your visitors’ search query.

One way to prevent a bounce is to make sure your site structure is clearly reflected on your page. That has to do with an optimized menu, but I think even more with just making sure your website has a good structure. Do keyword research, and set up that site structure the right way. Take our site structure course for more in-depth information on that. Setting up the right site structure, means, for starters, that you make sure that your structure is clear from your breadcrumbs and, at least, reflected your menu. You can also think along the lines of related posts and products, for instance.

By building a nice, hierarchical site structure, you make sure that Google can efficiently crawl your pages and visitors can easily find what they are looking for. SEO and UX are naturally influenced by this.

Site speed

Yes, we also have to address site speed, again and again. It’s one of the things that heavily influences both SEO and UX. Google wants to spend only a certain amount of time each time it’s on your site to crawl it. Visitors don’t like waiting for your content to load. When an SEO recommends lazy loading of images, this improves the experience of both users and Google. If you defer parsing of JS and CSS files where possible, you make sure there is something to see on your page as soon as possible. Again, for both Google and the visitor. It’s not rocket science, right?

Read on: Site speed: tools and suggestions »

Mobile experience

What goes for site speed, goes for your mobile website as a whole. Yes, it should be fast, but it should also be well-designed and have a killer navigation, so users and Google can find what they are looking for in a heartbeat. That doesn’t involve cramming everything you have into your website menu. But it could mean that you have to think hard about your mobile homepage. Does it cover the main areas of your website, for your user? Does it set a mood and lure or invite your visitors, and any search engine, into the rest of the website as well?

Even button sizes on your mobile website could be of influence here. I’ve written a post a while back on mobile UX you should read. Every one of those recommendations influences mobile SEO as well, directly or indirectly. And feel free to ask Google’s opinion on your mobile website via their Mobile-friendliness test, for instance.

Conclusion: SEO and UX go hand in hand

As you can see, there are many areas where SEO and UX meet. When you keep in mind that Google is becoming more and more human, or at least mimics human behavior more accurately, it’s only logical to see all the overlap SEO and UX have, right?
I think it’s fair to say that almost all optimization you do for your users (UX) has a positive effect on your SEO. This applies the other way around as well: if you deliver a poor user experience, you might see this reflected in the search result pages! Obviously, the impact of that effect may differ from optimization to optimization. But SEO and UX are clearly a great match in our larger concept of holistic SEO!

Keep on reading: What is on-page SEO »

Coming up next!

25 Responses to Where SEO and UX meet on your site

  1. Insite Web Ltd
    Insite Web Ltd  • 5 years ago

    SEO & UX definitely go hand in hand, along with site speed, as being the key metrics, as a website needs to be found, work well when you’re on it and load quickly. It still bugs me that everything is so mobile focused by the big G though, I still wonder whether this is more for their benefit in the fight against Apps and other areas of online experience becoming more like walled gardens, or really for customers.

    It’s interesting how much of your traffic comes from desktop, as it’s easy to say it should be mobile first UX wise, but recent studies by Monetate and Smart Insights show that most people have limited interest in buying on a mobile, as conversion is still terrible compared to desktop/tablet. The real buying journey and often proper product research takes place on desktop sites UX experience. As do any visits for other real research or in depth knowledge about most subjects, as it’s too hard to do anything on a mobile, even Facebook posts are a usually full of errors when posted from mobiles!

    It’s easy to say that most local searches start with mobiles and that responsive/amp sites rank better, but it’s been driven that way by changes in rankings, mobile first algorithms, the map pack etc. I’d be interested to see joined up data on how much initial mobile traffic moves to desktop as journeys progress, and whether mobile conversion is really starting to improve now we have so many fast pay and wallet options.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      I agree, the phrase “most people have limited interest in buying on a mobile” makes sense to most users, I think. Speaking for myself, I like to start a purchase on a desktop and then switch to mobile for payment, as that is the easiest for certain payment methods, logging in with fingerprints and so.

      Thanks for your insights and addition!

  2. Imon
    Imon  • 5 years ago

    I am totally agree with you regarding SEO and UX inter relation. But It does mean to focus on mobile device only?

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Nope. At Yoast, we have 90+ percent desktop traffic. All depends on the site you have.

  3. akash
    akash  • 5 years ago

    Very well written and informative post…thanks

  4. کافه پزشکی
    کافه پزشکی  • 5 years ago

    i have a question.
    for ux mobile , what is best online checker?
    except google speed developers

    • Michiel Heijmans

      For UX? Open your website on your phone and ask a number of friends/relatives/coworkers to do the same. Click through your website, try to order something or fill out a form. Write down what annoys you. It’s simple: what bugs you, bugs the next visitor as well.

      I wrote down a number of tips here.

  5. Bolivar
    Bolivar  • 5 years ago

    Great post, optimization for speed and mobile is very import specially now that people are searching of on there phone, I have notice that about 52 % of traffic to my travel sites are coming from mobile devices, so better get ready for what`s coming…
    Thanks for the great article

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Good of you to check that. Makes sense. For us, the desktop traffic is a whopping 90+% ;-) Still, we aim to deliver the best experience on every device.

  6. Jakob Boman
    Jakob Boman  • 5 years ago

    Great post!
    I often find that many are stuck in a world of just pouring keywords into a text and optimizing url, title tags and meta text. It is the old way. The holistic way where you focus on the user and how to meet their needs is the future.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Thanks for your comment, Jakob!

  7. Johan Terve
    Johan Terve  • 5 years ago

    Hi Michiel, one question about “bounce rate” as reported in Google Analytics. Is its really when the user goes back to the search result page. I have always thought that “bounce” rate is when the user just leaves my site after just one page i.e the user goes somewhere else not neccesarily back to the search results.
    If it is like I am thinking, a high bounce rate could potentially indicate that you are doing well in SEO and that the user finds exactly what he/she was looking for, albeit the site is not very engaging giving them reasons for browsing more on the site.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      It’s a clear signal that you indeed need to optimize the page to ‘lure’ visitors further into your website. Think along the lines of related posts, further reading, customers who bought this product also bought this or a footer with useful links to your products or services.

  8. Marcus Tibesar
    Marcus Tibesar  • 5 years ago

    This is a very well written and informative post. I enjoy all of the Yoast newsletters and, surprisingy I actually read them. Most newsletters I receive I just delete them w/o reading them but, I always seem to find time to read the Yoast articles. Thank you for putting a lot of effort into writing meaningful and on target educational news articles.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Marcus. Really appreciate that!

  9. andy parker
    andy parker  • 5 years ago

    As always: there is no such thing as search engine optimisation.

    It is not a game, every description you have put here defines great design all the things working together is what makes it attractive to people and by default, appealing to be index by a search engine vendor.

  10. Web
    Web  • 5 years ago

    I think i have a better clarity on this H1 and H2 tag now, but i gotta ask external links, do they really help in seo.. i mean are they not just pushing away traffic off your site?

    • Michiel Heijmans

      We really want to improve the web as a whole. By adding focus on links like this, we can connect the entire web. As we all tend to link sources we trust and value, one might be linking sources others haven’t heard of, for instance. Besides that, linking others might lead to them linking you back as well. If you find a website in your referrals that you didn’t know of, you might check it out. If that website is driving you traffic, you might visit that website, find something interesting and link back to that website from a future post or page.

      So it’s an indirect influence, with a greater goal in mind. For the web, external links are important. For your post, I would definitely not leave them out because “they might push traffic away”. Your reader will appreciate the background information on that page.

      Speaking from personal experience: I always use another website / other websites to check if a statement is current or if there are more ways of looking at an issue, etc. There’s always an external link in my article before the analysis can tell me there is none (or before I see that recommendation at least ;-) ).

  11. John
    John  • 5 years ago

    Great post Michiel. I blog about health & wellness and this all makes perfect sense. But I’m not a web developer, so now I’m totally confused *!+<{#!•¥!. Hope I’m not being penalized for breaking too many rules ?

    • Michiel Heijmans


      First thing I noticed when clicking the link to your website, was the date archives in your right sidebar. My first advice would be to remove these. The only thing that makes these posts ‘belong’ together is the time of publishing. That will remove quite some ‘useless’ links from all pages.

      Can’t imagine that leading to a penalty, by the way :)

  12. Razvan Popescu
    Razvan Popescu  • 5 years ago

    I like to improve the speed of my sites, I’m constantly testing new methods. Many of my sites also have AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) version.

  13. Jay
    Jay  • 5 years ago

    Hi Michiel,
    I am redesigning a site to look much more like an app. It will be have a very sparse homepage with some large images with single word text (to look like buttons). I’m afraid that the lack of text will kill the SEO? Should I have a scroll down to 300+ words that I write?

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Focus on branding on your homepage, not just rankings :)
      Read this.

      • Jay
        Jay  • 5 years ago

        Thanks, I’ll take a read!

  14. Manuel Martinez
    Manuel Martinez  • 5 years ago

    Fully agree that UX and SEO now overlap. I wrote about this a couple of weeks back on my blog as well. Thanks Michiel for sharing your thoughts.