SEO basics What is UX (and why bother)?

You might have heard us say it before: the UX of your site is essential for SEO. But what is UX? And why is it important for SEO? In this article, we’ll explain what it is and why you shouldn’t forget working on it if you want to rank high in Google. On top of that, we’ll shortly give you some pointers on what to do to keep the users of your website satisfied.

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!

What is UX?

UX stands for User eXperience. As you might have figured, it’s all about how users experience a product. This can be a website, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be an app, a mobile phone or any other physical product that you can use, even a milk carton. It’s all about how someone feels when using a particular product. Does the product make you feel excited or happy, is it a joy to use it, does it help you effortlessly achieve what you’ve been aiming for? Or does it make you feel angry and frustrated because it doesn’t work or look the way you expected it to?

UX or usability?

UX and usability are sometimes used interchangeably. They’re both used to describe the ease with which a visitor uses your site. However, UX is often considered to be broader than usability. If a website is very usable – or user-friendly – visitors will be able to find or do what they want to do easily. A great user experience involves more, for example, esthetics. A website can be straightforward to use, but boring at the same time. This means the usability is excellent, but the user experience could be improved.

For instance, the illustrations of our blog posts are not necessary to improve usability. However, they do contribute to the experience users have on our site. I’m quite a fan of the drawings our illustrators Erwin and Tim make, and I hope they make you think or smile too. These images contribute to the UX of our site. Without them, you would experience our site differently. This way, UX can be part of a branding strategy, even more than usability.

Why is it important for SEO to improve UX?

So why should improving the usability and UX of your site be part of your SEO strategy? Google, or other search engines, want to provide people with the best result for their query. The best result does not only mean the best answer, but it also means the best experience. For instance, if you’re looking for the answer to “What is keyword research?” Google wants to give you the best answer in a swift, pleasant and secure way. So even if you’ve written an excellent answer in a post, but your site is slow, a mess or unsafe, Google won’t consider your post the best answer.

How does Google know?

Google uses different methods to make an educated guess about how users experience your site. They look at elements like site speed – there’s almost nothing more annoying than a page that takes ages to load -, mobile friendliness, the way you’ve structured your content and the internal and external linking of your pages. Lots of high-quality links to your web page probably indicate people had a pleasant experience with it, right?

In addition to that, Google uses user signals to find out how visitors experience your website. User signals are behavioral patterns that Google sees on your site. If a lot of people leave your website very quickly, they might not have found what they’re looking for. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, read Annelieke’s post on bounce rate to find out which. Some other user signals are the time spent on a page and how often people return to your website. If these are high, visitors most likely enjoy your site or find it useful. You can check these kinds of statistics for your site with Google Analytics and other website analysis tools.

It’s no coincidence that the factors mentioned above are important both for UX and SEO. Google tries to grasp how humans experience a website. That’s why a positive experience on your site can contribute to your rankings. If you want to learn more about this, you should read Michiel’s post on the relation between SEO and UX.

Holistic SEO

So should you work on usability and UX just for search engines? I think you can guess our answer to that… At Yoast, we advocate holistically looking at your website. This means you’re striving to make your website excellent in many ways: great content, easy to use – also on mobile – and secure. You’re making these changes for your visitors. In the end, it’s the user who’s going to buy your products, come to your event or subscribe to your newsletter.

Where to start?

As always, start by thinking about the goal of your website and specific pages. What do you want visitors to do on your site? Buy stuff? Read your articles? Donate money to your charity? The purpose of your website or a specific page on your site should be on the top of your mind when you’re making improvements. Your design and content should support this goal. Having a clear goal in mind will also help you prioritize the improvements for your site.

Read more: How to investigate the top tasks of your visitors »

If you want to improve the UX on your site also try to look at it from a user’s perspective. Ask yourself some questions – and be honest:

Most people develop blind spots if they work a lot on their site. You should, therefore, take the opportunity to ask people to evaluate your site, whenever you can! Try to get people from your target group to test your site and ask them if it worked as they expected it to. You can also research your audience by use questionnaires on your site, or, if you don’t want to bother them too much, use an exit intent question and ask them why they’re leaving your site. Another option is to do some A/B testing to find out which design of your page gives the best results. In this beginner’s guide to user research, you’ll find a whole lot of ideas!

So, no excuses anymore. Start working on the UX of your site, and you might boost your rankings too!

Keep reading: How to perform an SEO audit. Part 1: Content SEO & UX »

Coming up next!

14 Responses to What is UX (and why bother)?

  1. Gabriele Russo
    Gabriele Russo  • 4 years ago

    Usability is not like Ux! very good post!

  2. Pieniny
    Pieniny  • 4 years ago

    UX is very important, very good post.

  3. J Tontti
    J Tontti  • 4 years ago

    We content creators do think things from our own angle and forget the site visitors. A SEO marketer can surf through some pages from his own Google result page and think whether his page is competitive or not. Content should be planned in advance following the wanted UX results.

  4. nexvan
    nexvan  • 4 years ago

    UX is gonna be very important

  5. rickburgers
    rickburgers  • 4 years ago

    UX is gonna be very important..
    But i still share the opinion from Gerva Sharma; Site authority is the main ranking factor!

  6. Pradeep
    Pradeep  • 4 years ago

    Thanks a lot , Lot of unknown things i have learned from this article , Previously i was little confuse about link building strategy, Now I’m very clear about that. Thank You

  7. Ravi Roshan Jaiswal
    Ravi Roshan Jaiswal  • 4 years ago

    Glad to know the importance of UX for SEO. Thanks for sharing such informative post on UX, I’m surprised to know user experience matters for site SEO. Through this post I know about to improve the UX of site.

    • Willemien Hallebeek

      You’re welcome Ravi, good luck with your site!

  8. Sant Lal Bairad
    Sant Lal Bairad  • 4 years ago

    First time, I get this topic about SEO. this helps me lot to provide better user experience.

  9. Gerva sharma
    Gerva sharma  • 4 years ago

    To be honest, Google is just caring about the whole site authority these days. See Forbes they have the worst UX.

    • Willemien Hallebeek

      Hi Gerva, for sure nothing beats high quality backlinks to your site. But if you’re not a well known brand like Forbes, those links are not so easy to obtain. For more common sites I’d advise to focus on users first, make sure that they are happy, and then try to get more links. If your site offers an excellent experience getting links should become easier too.

  10. Paul Sherland
    Paul Sherland  • 4 years ago

    Thank you for this excellent article Willemien! I’ve heard some SEOs talk about deliberately making their sites confusing to keep visitors on the sites longer. My impression, which I think you’ve confirmed, is that Google’s user signals are more sophisticated than just a measure of time spent on the site. Thank you again.

    • Willemien Hallebeek

      You’re welcome, Paul!

      • Gary
        Gary  • 4 years ago

        Some great advice here and straight to the point