The Relationship Between Tech SEO and UX
It might seem odd, at first, that Elementive specializes in both technical SEO and user experience. The two don’t seem very related—one is hyper-focused on what users want and considers factors like design and content while the other is all about bots, servers, and code. But, technical SEO and user experience serve similar purposes and it is really only in the tactics where there are some differences—and even the tactical differences are minor. Here are some of the various ways these two disciplines relate…
Let’s start out basic with speed. Websites that load faster are great for humans. The faster the website loads, the more likely people will visit your website and the more likely people will be able to do something meaningful during that visit. Nothing discourages sales faster than a slow ecommerce website. Along with the benefit to humans, Google likes this too. In part, that’s because Google, to varying degrees, uses the website’s speed as a ranking factor. Along with Google giving priority to faster websites, the other reason speed matters is because it improves Google’s ability to crawl through your website. The faster Google can access everything on your website, the better your odds all of that stuff will be indexed by Google.
Speed is only one aspect of creating a great experience. Another aspect of creating a great experience on a website is ensuring the way people interact with it is simple—not simplistic, it can be crowded with features and functionality but those have to be simple to interact with. This obviously helps people be able to more easily do whatever they came to your website to do, but it also helps bots. After all, bots also come to your website to do particular things too—in the case of Google, their bots are coming to your website to find and read through your content.
Both bots and humans will benefit from tactics that make your website’s simpler. That could include reducing clutter, especially on smaller screens, to make it easier for people to click on links and to ensure Google doesn’t think your website is overly confusing or difficult to use. This could also include making content easier to read by making the font size comfortable for people to read and having enough contrast between foreground and background colors. It could also involve placing critical content higher on the page so that people and bots can quickly understand what your website is about and what they should do (or could do) during their visit.
One of the many things that will reduce simplicity on your website are errors. None of us want our users to encounter errors on our website, but inevitably they will. So along with fixing the errors, creating a good user experience requires finding ways to handle those errors. This obviously helps users out because they no longer run into problem areas or if they do, the problem isn’t detrimental to the overall experience. This helps Google too. In technical SEO terms, Google can spend their time crawling through your website looking at errors or looking at the actual content you’d like them to find. Naturally, we’d prefer they look at things that aren’t broken since those will be far more likely to rank in search results.
When designing your user experience, you also need to help people navigate through your website. In general, the more freedom and flexibility you offer the better—but you want to put in enough guideposts to keep people from getting lost along the way. Along with the main navigation, other navigation posts can be used too—from sidebars, footer links, breadcrumbs, and in text links—all to help people find their way from one part of your website to another. But Google needs to navigate your website too and while some of the tactics for helping them navigate your website include technical things like XML sitemaps, Googlebot uses your navigation too.
Navigation also reveals another aspect of how UX and technical SEO work together. What Google’s search engine really offers is another means of navigating your website. Instead of arriving on your home page and navigating from there, people can search Google for something more specific which (assuming you rank in the search results) will lead a visitor to a deeper page on your website. How does Google know what to show? Through many factors, but one of these factors is what kind of navigation paths are offered helping people to find that deeper page. If that deeper page isn’t well linked to within your website or the navigation links pointing to that page are poorly labeled, then chances are Google won’t know the page exists—and, equally, neither will the people on your website.
One of the areas that trips up even the most organized navigation structures is duplicate content. There are many reasons you can end up with multiple pages that serve the same purpose. Some content management systems (yes, including WordPress) can generate the same exact page at several different URLs. In other cases, two pages were created with the best of intentions but those two pages also happened to serve the same purpose, resulting in duplicated or near-duplicated content. Naturally, this presents issues for human visitors—they get lost trying to figure out why there are so many pages that all contain the same information.
However, duplicate pages confuse Google too. For one, the bots waste time crawling redundant pages instead of crawling other pages you’d rather Googlebot see. This also distorts Google’s view of your website, altering the bots perception of what pages are considered priority (duplication likely could do this for humans too). The worst problem, though, is that Google then has to decide which of the duplicated pages to show and odds are good Google might not choose to show the same page you’d choose to show. This significantly affects your search rankings.
An area of user experience that has been increasingly important over the last several years is cross-device consistency. Many visitors are almost certainly accessing your website from both a desktop computer and their phone. When they do, people naturally expect your website to deliver the same experience, albeit with a slightly altered design. If you hide an aspect of your website’s content from one device but show it on another, users will likely be frustrated—for example, you only show one picture on mobile devices but show twelve pictures on desktop. It won’t only users that are frustrated, Google will be too. With the upcoming mobile-first index, Google is strongly encouraging people to keep their primary content equivalent between devices.
There are far more examples—SSL certificates, schema, code structure, and more—but the general point to all of this is there are many ways where the technical decisions you make about building your website inevitably affect not just the bot’s perception of the website, but the human perception too. Focusing on technical SEO then certainly has implications for your performance in search engines. But, at least to us at Elementive, the SEO benefits are secondary to the benefits technical SEO work can bring to the experience human visitors have on your website.