The weather forecast in the realm of SEO is as unpredictable as ever. At one point we see the storms of Google’s algorithms roaring over search results, striking hard at rankings and slapping some to 100s of pages away. And at times, we see the same updates causing no more than an itty-bitty bruise.
Regardless, such endless changes or additions to the algorithms appear to some as a countermeasure by Google to wipe low-quality results off the face of the earth – in our case, SERP. However, it is in fact not entirely true.
In contrast, Google has an entirely different agenda behind the ceaseless sanitization of its result page. Truth be told, that purpose has always been in front of us and it is very simple: “Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant results and a great user experience”.
A Simple Breakdown of What Google Strives To Accomplish
Upon a single gaze, it is obvious that Google has broken down its goal into two steps: show relevant results and offer excellent user experience…
Of course, who wouldn’t want to get relevant results when they search a query? After all, it is the very purpose for which one would use a search engine. Needless to say, Google is doing great in keeping search results pertinent to the users’ query.
However, the main tension arises when it comes to users’ retention on a website. Would the user want to stay on a page that is crawling with ads, crammed with unorganized content, and contains lack of pagination or fonts that require squinting, ultimately exuding a bad user experience? I don’t think so…
Instead, the user would feel irritated with the result and bounce off immediately. This is where Google comes with its second objective: to provide an experience that would make the user feel comfortable interacting with the website or sailing across its pages smoothly.
Google’s Been Working on Improving the UX for Ages, But You Never Knew It!
Although Google has been churning out updates since 2002, the critical update that shook the sphere of SEO was released not until 2011, and it was dubbed Panda. With updates like Panda and Penguin, Google kept the attention of the SEOs limited to a certain sphere, while spewing out more updates quite silently to improve its results.
Those updates include the ones that were not in any way related to mass optimization or link building, but were definitely linked to enhancing user experience. Let’s take a quick look:
Google Suggest (Changed To Google Instant) – Show Recommended Query as the User Types
In 2008, Google introduced its Google Suggest feature that would show users recommended query in a dropdown as they type. This helped Google to improve the User Experience by allowing the user to avoid the hassle of typing incorrect queries and immediately search the ones they want.
The same update was later expanded to Google instant (in 2010) that now immediately shows results as you type. This feature made it more convenient for searchers to avoid writing the whole query and instantly search the auto-suggested query.
Social Signals –More Likes, Retweets or Social Engagement Means Improved Ranking
If a website offers good User Experience to its visitors, they tend to share that experience with their friends and families. In the real-world, we call that “sharing-of-experience” word of mouth publicity. In the digital world, we call it “viral content”, which is measured by Likes, Shares or Retweets. Taking that into account, Google confirmed in 2010 that it uses social signals to assess the user engagement on the web page and thus gauge its rankings on the SERP.
Freshness Update – The Fresher the Content, the Better the Results
Would anyone be satisfied with a search result that is months or years old? I daresay, no one! In 2011, Google introduced its Freshness update to improve the User Experience by fighting off the old content and displaying up to date results. The updated results allowed the users to avoid skimming through the SERP to find recent updates or news on their desired queries.
Ads Above The Fold –Google Slammed Sites With “Top Heavy” Ads Cluster
It is perhaps the best update yet that was purely intended to enhance User Experience by slamming websites that became the bane of every website visitor. Rolled out in 2012, this update targeted and smashed all those websites that contained excessive advertisements or ad banners above the fold that were disrupting both the UX and user engagement of a website.
Apart from the aforementioned updates, there is Knowledge Graph, Site Speed, Mobile First and many more, solely created only for what…to improve and deliver the best UX.
UX & SEO Is a Bond Made In Heaven, Don’t Ruin It!
Although Google is trying its best – let me rephrase it, Google is doing its utmost –to deliver the users ideal results that they come seeking on the search engine. However, many SEOs are rather ignoring those hard efforts, and trying endlessly to “game” the algorithm to increase rankings.
Their main problem is that they are not thinking beyond the ranking. They are not looking at what the users actually want, but rather what the “dumb” search-engine-bot (a.k.a Crawler/Google Spider) wants. They are bluntly ignoring the fact that humans cannot be replaced with robots. After all, bots don’t have emotions and so they can’t experience the same feelings as humans do upon visiting the webpage.
There are many instances where SEOs tend to ignore UX for higher-ranking but for the sake of our debate, let’s check out the following points:
- Use of keyword stuff was at its peak until 2012 when Google gone crazy over hitting sites with keyword-focused content. Keyword stuffing isn’t only bad for SEO, but also for the visitors that come to the site while searching for a product or information.
- Those who understand that keyword stuffing doesn’t work anymore but in contrast hurt the overall score use an ingenious alternative to game Google, i.e., synonyms. It is yet another bane of a good UX that make users feel irritated with “high” or “fancy” words.
- Some tend to use excessive visual content, believing that it would improve user engagement. On the contrary, this strategy of theirs does the exact opposite.
All in all, we can safely conclude that if SEOs can put their keen focus on the UX of their site (along with on-page optimization, which is something Google still holds dear), they will see a huge improvement in their ranking and conversions.
The Barebones of a Good UX
Let’s wrap up our discussion by checking out some of the ideal components (along with examples) that make a Great UX:
- Responsive Designs (Mobile-Friendly)
- Quality & Roadworthy Content
- Intuitive Design (Clear Menus, Directional Cues, Etc.)
- Simple Forms