User experience is the collection of expectations, feelings, perceptions, and responses generated from the use of a product, service, or in this case, a website. This discipline takes into account every step of a web visitor's experience, from the avenue by which they found the site, to the use of the site, and finally the completion of their intended task. User goals may vary from person to person, or from the same person in different stages of a sales funnel. Of course, you can't make everyone happy all of the time, so the goal is to maximize the positive perceptions of your site as much as possible.
A Happy User Experience Makes A Happy Customer
Have you ever been to a website with the intention of seeking out specific information, for example hours of operation, and cannot seem to find it easily or not at all? After experiencing that negative or challenging experience, it is likely your desire to visit or do business with that establishment has diminished. As SEO practitioners, we consider the user experience to begin even before a visitor reaches the website - in the search engine. A positive experience must begin as soon as an individual begins searching for your product, service, or information in order to nurture leads and happy customers.
How Do You Create A Good User Experience?
In order for your website to promote a positive user experience, it must be:
- Logical - What is the point of the web page and the most important point on it? Make it easy for the user to know what actions they can take, and how they can accomplish their goals. Examine your web pages as if they were an informational race track. Where do they begin and end? Is there a finish line? Or is it more like a dead end?
- Engaging - This comprises mostly elements of design. People like fun, entertaining interfaces which aren't boring or ugly. Of course, your definition of "engaging" will vary according to your target audience. For example, a website for children might be colorful and animated, while a site for older generations might be more monochromatic and feature large text. It is important to remember that the page's content is the most important feature, and should not be made illegible at the expense of design.
- Action-Oriented - What actions or events are possible on any given page? Again, don't leave your users at a dead end. Make sure your page elements incorporate action, either in their design or their verbiage.
- Efficient - Is the site easy to use? Does the user feel satisfied in the accomplishment of their goals, the time it took to do it, and the journey in doing so? Efficiency also depends on the user's goals, but each can be tested and continually optimized for.
It is also important to consider the emotions which your users may experience. Machines and algorithms (as smart as they may become) cannot truly understand human feelings like we can. When testing your sites, listen to the reactions of users and ask questions about their state of mind. If appropriate, collect feedback forms which include questions about their web experience. Put yourself in their shoes, and navigate your site with the same goals in mind.
The most common caveat I find in user experience is the phenomenon of being "stuck" from the business' point of view. After working on a site for a long period of time, you become accustomed to the architecture, content, and conversion goals. Much like an optical illusion, once you see the solution it is almost impossible to perceive anything else.
In the context of a website, it is crucial to acquire outside resources who can remain unbiased and inexperienced to your site. Usability testing is the piece which you, the site owner, simply cannot do alone. User experience experts have an excellent sense of best practices, and even after working with the same client for a substantial amount of time, can remain unbiased. At the very least, test your redesigns before putting them into production. Ask your friends, family, or acquaintances for their feedback. Ask simple questions to gather data, such as "What is the point of this page" and "How hard is it to accomplish the task for which you came here?" User experience is everything from the aesthetics of your site, to the actual content, to the information organization, and even the functionality it provides.
Why Does Google Care About The User Experience?
Now, you may be asking yourself why we, as SEO professionals, care about user experience. After all, if a customer tries hard enough, they'll eventually do what they came to your site to do, right? Wrong. Consider this: Google can see what search queries you use, and what result you clicked on. While they can't see what you're doing on the site you chose, they CAN measure how much time you spend there before returning to the search engine to try another query. While this has not been a confirmed functionality, it is highly suspected that this type of data is being used to rank sites and assign their relevance with any given search term.
In light of this, if a user is on Google, chooses your site, and the experience is so terrible that they immediately hit the back button, Google interprets this quick reaction as a sign that your site was an unsatisfactory answer to the user's search query. If you create a good user experience, people will stay on your site longer, consume more content, and never go back to Google for more answers; thereby indicating a satisfactory result. Under this hypothesized model, your site will rank higher due to these positive engagements with your site.