User Signals and User Experience: Essential for Rankings
UX is a complex of features that prioritize the optimization of websites for their human visitors instead of search engines, while SEO deals generally with the technical aspects of a site. However, in recent years, UX and User Signals gained importance as ranking factors one should not ignore.
SEO experts already know which signals impact search rankings. Fortunately, their knowledge is no longer a secret. Searchmetrics’ study of Ranking Factors & Rank Correlations offers clear data to help website owners, webmasters, and marketers understand how Google’s evaluation of websites evolves. User signals like click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate, and time on site, count among the major Google ranking signals in 2017.
From the study of Searchmetrics
The General Ranking Factors by Searchmetrics shows that click-through rate (CTR), which is a user signal, has the highest correlation with a site’s position in SERPs out of all factors analyzed for the report. CTR is a metric that determines the number of times a search listing was clicked in relation to the number of times it was displayed.
Fortunately, CTR can be improved with onsite, old-school SEO techniques that are still relevant. To determine which pages have poor CTRs, you can log into your Google Search Console and find Search Analytics under Search Traffic. Here, you can filter and compare your results by clicks, impressions, CTR, and position in SERPs. Google gives full instructions on how to read these parameters here.
After identifying pages with poor CTR, you can modify your pages meta title and meta description to attract more clicks. There are several tools to help you write magnetic headlines, including software like the WebSite Auditor from Link-Assistant.com, plugins like Yoast SEO for WordPress sites, or free headline analyzers like the one provided by the Advanced Marketing Institute or the one offered by CoSchedule in addition to many others. Better page titles and meta descriptions will improve the appeal of the listing, resulting in better CTR, and often, a boost in rankings.
Next, the user experience factors that count for rankings are the number of internal links, the number of external links, the number of images, video integration, font size, interactive elements, the presence of unordered lists, bullets per list, Flash, and Adlinks / AdSense. These factors impact UX in different ways.
- Internal links define the site architecture and help users navigate the site (UX). They also pass link equity throughout the entire site (SEO). Link equity or ranking power, helps pages rank better in SERPs;
- External links help users identify third-party information, like references and sources of research or sources of different quotes (UX). They are also considered an essential source of ranking power by SEO experts. Linking to third-party sites may determine their owners to link back to your site, thus increasing the number of backlinks to your site. Backlinks still count among the major 8 ranking factors of 2017 according to Search Engine Land;
- Visual content like images and video triggers an emotional response (UX) resulting in longer times on site. Using original visual content of good quality is imperative. Optimize your pictures and video for SEO: using “alt” tags, good file names, reduce file size for web usage to improve loading times, add captions, use the srcset attribute for responsive images that will display well on desktop and mobile devices, and so on;
- Interactive elements create a rich user experience that will increase the time on site;
- Unordered lists are important for both UX and SEO. On one side, they help your users scan quickly over the information you provide. According to Searchmetrics’ study of Ranking Factors & Rank Correlations cited above, lists are important for rankings. “Across all search result positions, the use of unordered lists is high – between 53 percent and 59 percent. As with 2015, unordered lists remain common on high-ranking pages. In general: the higher a page ranks, the more likely it is that it contains a bullet point list,” the study revealed. It is also clear that Google lists in its search results:
Other Factors Impacting User Experience on Hospitality Websites
Besides font size, interactive elements, images, and lists, several other factors impact the user experience and influence search engine rankings. Bear in mind that Google demands responsive web design (RWD) and considers mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal since 2015. This means that UX should also address the need of mobile-readiness for websites. Hospitality websites should make UX a priority: a site is not an “online brochure” for a hotel or for a restaurant. Due to the advance of modern technology, an online presence can become part of the experience for a guest. By designing accessible and responsive sites that inspire and trigger emotions, hotels can convert casual web surfers into paying customers. And sure, the user experience is also crucial for direct bookings.
Not having a proper booking engine on a hotel website may impact the user experience negatively, resulting in poor conversions. The ideal booking engine should have responsive design too, to be seen clearly on various devices across mobile, as well as on PCs. Guests should be able to see, at a glance, room availability, pricing, and rates, for the dates they are interested in. Other features like mobile-specific pricing, automatic language detection, international currency, and so on, are important to deliver a great user experience too.
SEO is a priority for every online business today, and very few site owners understand how user experience impacts search engine optimization and rankings. Design alone is not enough for a good user experience. Content, navigation, and compelling visuals are as relevant as technical factors like site speed, HTTPS, URL length, and mobile friendliness. There are over 200 ranking factors used by Google to position a site in its search results, and many of them have a strong correlation with UX. This is because Google has always been focused on delivering the best possible user experience. Google admits to modifying search results based on user feedback. This Google patent reveals just how this works:
“For example, user reactions to particular search results or search result lists may be gauged so that results on which users often click will receive a higher ranking. The general assumption under such an approach is that searching users are often the best judges of relevance, so that if they select a particular search result, it is likely to be relevant, or at least more relevant than the presented alternatives.”
Google has a patent for “evaluating website properties by partitioning user feedback.” This patent states clearly that user actions, over time, will impact search engine rankings:
“User actions concerning each result document presented in response to a search query submission can serve as feedback that is indicative of the relevance and quality of the result document with respect to the search query.”
UX and SEO Cannot Work Separately
It is already clear that SEO cannot work without UX, and user experience alone cannot work without SEO. Search engines consider user signals and user experience factors to rank websites in SERPs. Technical SEO elements links are also vital to improve the user experience. Google changes the way it evaluates sites and rankings often, based on new factors. For example, Searchmetrics’s Content Relevance is a new, significant ranking factor that affects SEO and UX equally. For instance, content may influence time on site, bounce rate, and CTRs. 300 words are no longer enough to optimize a website for good rankings. Google wants more high-quality text, with useful, relevant information, written for the user and not for bots. In essence, when you respect all Google’s guidelines for good websites, and you design your site to offer a unique experience to your potential guests, you employ both SEO and UX.