User experience (UX) is a term that was coined by an academic named Don Norman in the 1990s. It is the psychology behind the subjective experience a user has when they interact with a website or digital application. It is the form behind the function as it applies to digital marketing and it is a term and a concept that is continuing to evolve. A website with good user experience will outperform a website with poor user experience, which is what I intent to show you here.
Why is UX important?
Whether they know it or not, users that visit your website are forming opinions about you and your business almost immediately. We are at a point in the evolution of the internet where simply having a website is not enough. Having a website that gives users the confidence to contact you is extremely important in today’s competitive business atmosphere. Remember, the users are on your website for a reason – they are looking for a solution of some kind.
User Experience is subjective; UX Metrics are Objective
Most people, when presented with the concept of user experience, think of it as a subjective topic. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they tend to reason. But UX metrics – the standards by which Google and other search engines are evaluating your website – are not subjective. They are objective. Measurements like dwell time and bounce rate are quantifiable measurements Google is using to rank your website’s pages. In this way, the search engines have found a way to quantify the qualitative, or to objectify the subjective.
Why does User Experience matter?
A website with positive user experience is more likely to create new business. People are emotional creatures and creating positive emotions is a tremendous catalyst for converting potential clients into paying clients. For most users, simply displaying facts and statistics is not enough. User experience focuses on how that information is presented.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about…
Let’s suppose there is a new restaurant that just opened its doors where you live. You hear about it from a friend and decide to give it a try. After arriving at the restaurant, no one is at the front to greet you despite the fact that there are very few customers inside. Then you wait for ten minutes and finally someone shows up, but they seem unpleasant and do not offer any apologies. Finally you make it to your table and after half an hour you are being served. The food is good, but you leave the restaurant with a negative opinion of your dining experience. You will not go back to that restaurant any time soon.
This is user experience. Most people do not judge the restaurant based solely on the quality of the food they were served. The quality of the overall experience is much more than just the food. It’s about giving people what they really want.
Good User Experience Gives People What They Want
So what is it that people really want?
It’s simple really. People want to be doing business with other people that they know, like, and trust. This is basic human nature and it can be used as a means to an end when it comes to new business procurement. If the users that are coming to your website are not confident that you can help them with the solution they are seeking, your user experience is lacking. And if your user experience is lacking, you are going to be behind the curve in terms of gaining their trust.
So back to the original question, why does the user experience of your website matter? It matters in a subjective way because it engenders trust and confidence, or lack thereof. If people are not clicking the “contact us” button, you have a problem. Good user experience will increase the number of users that click the “contact us” button. This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of search engine optimization.
User Experience and SEO
What is the end goal of SEO?
Increased business conversions. So the bottom line is this: improving your UX will lead to increased business conversions.
UX also matters in an objective way because Google is keeping tack of how many users bounce from your website immediately upon seeing it. The search engines are also watching the amount of time users are spending on the individual pages of your site. Google knows that the longer a user spends at a given URL, the better their user experience, and they will give preference to those pages in the form of higher rankings.
Use yourself as a guinea pig.
Ask yourself, would you spend much time on a web page that did not offer a solution to the problem you were trying to solve? Probably not. Pages with good user experience have two things in common. One is that they provide users with the solutions they are seeking. The second is that they do it in a way that instills trust and confidence in the solutions being provided.
User Experience Example
I recently ran a search for a natural doctor in the Fort Collins, Colorado area, where I live. Below is a graphic showing two websites that were listed on the first page of results.
Which one do you think has a better user experience? Which one engenders more trust and confidence? Which one would you be more inclined to contact? And last but not least, which one do you think was ranked higher?
Here’s the scoop…
Without knowing either of these website owners or having access to their web analytics, I can tell you why site #2 was ranked above site #1. The user experience of site 2 is way better than that of site 1. When the UX of a website is lacking, people don’t stick around. If people don’t stick around, Google interprets that as a big red flag that user are not finding solutions. What does Google do as a result? You guessed it, they reduce the page’s rank.
Good User Experience Creates Action
Getting users to the web page is only half the battle. Once there, they have to be compelled to take some form of action. In most cases this means contacting the owner of the website.
Back in the day, the number of “hits” to a web page was all that people focused on. But hits do not pay the bills, business conversions do. It sounds simple, but it took SEOs a long time to figure that out. Today, user experience is the concept being utilized to compel users to contact the business owner and start doing business together. It goes without saying that this is done AFTER the user reaches the web page. So objective number one is getting targeted users to a specific web page. This is an imperative step, but so is what comes next. Objective number two is converting them into clients.
User Experience Metrics
There are a ton of UX metrics available to look at, so which ones should you focus on? The truth is that each business is different, so giving a generic answer to that question is not something I can do. However, in the work that I have done for most small businesses, I have found that the following metrics are extremely important.
The number of unique visitors coming to your site on a monthly basis can give you an idea of how well your SEO campaign is doing. As the name implies, this is the number of individual users finding their way to your website during a given period of time. The more unique visitors you have, the better your chances of expanding the reach of the services that you offer and bringing in new business.
It is important to keep in mind that most new users are going to interact with your website differently than their more experienced counterparts. Having a clear goal in terms of what you wish to accomplish with new visitors is quintessential. For products and services with larger price tags, you may want to apply sub-goals. Signing up for a newsletter will allow you to bring them back to the website. You know from previous experience that most people are not going to pull the trigger on their first visit. Slow and steady wins the race.
A bounce is a visitor that reaches your website, through a link provided by a search engine results page (SERP), who then leaves your website immediately. Someone that arrives on a landing page of your website and then leaves without exploring the website further is a bouncer.
High bounce rates are another way that the search engines are able to gauge the user experience. The logic behind it is simple – the user did not receive the information he or she was seeking. It would be akin to a potential customer walking into a restaurant, taking a look around, and then leaving without purchasing anything. If the bounce rate is high, Google is going to interpret that as a negative indicator in terms of UX. It is one factor that the search engines use to determine and adjust the rank of your site’s pages.
If you have a high bounce rate, it is something you need to address. Do you need to improve the overall user experience of your website? Why are these people bouncing? What are they seeing, or not seeing, that is causing them to leave? What can you do to encourage them to stay and spend more time on your website with a higher number of overall web pages viewed?
Time on Page
The amount of time the average user spends on a particular page is recorded by Google as its “time on page” metric. If users are finding the information that they are searching for, logic dictates that they are going to spend time consuming that information. If they are not, they will leave.
A low time on page metric is an indicator, in most cases, that there is something wrong with that page. Time is people’s most valuable resource, so we all want to spend it wisely. This is yet another way that Google and the search engines have found a way to objectify the subjective. If you can find a way to retain users after they have reached a landing page and hold them on that page for a significant period of time, your overall rankings for that page are going to improve.
Here’s the rub…
If you want to increase your time on page UX metric you have to give the user something of value. Simply putting words down on the page is not enough. It used to be, when Google was basing rankings on quantity rather than quality, but those days are long gone. Giving users what they are searching for is going to keep them on your pages for a longer period of time and as a reward your rankings are going to increase. As your rankings increase you are going to be bringing more visitors to your site. And as you bring in more visitors, your sales are going to increase. The wheels on the bus go round and round.
Time on Site
Your time on site UX metric is a culmination of all your time on page metrics. Again, Google and the search engines have found a way to determine the overall value of your website based on this metric. Do you have good time on page metrics for a few of your pages with the rest being rather poor? This is going to affect the rankings of each of the pages on your website.
Time on site is the big picture metric, related to time, that Google records. So how do you increase the overall time on site UX metric? By increasing the individual time on page for each of your web site’s pages. By doing that, your overall user’s average time on site is going to increase. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Most SEOs probably wouldn’t include load time under a list of UX metrics, but it really does deserve to be mentioned here. The time your user has to wait for the page to load could be the difference between converting them into a paying client and having them leave your website with a negative opinion of your brand.
In today’s world, people just don’t have the time or the patience to wait for a web page to load. Google has again taken note of the correlation between load time and the overall quality of a web page and has made it part of their ranking algorithm.
One of the biggest variables that will affect your web pages’ load time is the quality of your web host. Most people, when they think of web hosting, really only consider the cost of their hosting package. But paying for a higher quality host, such as a VPS server rather than a shard hosting server, can pay real dividends in the long run. If Google is ranking your pages based in part on the UX metric of load time and your host is not up to par, it is costing you business. Upgrading to a faster web host will actually increase your bottom line.
If you would like to know how quickly a particular page of your website is loading, the Google PageSpeed Insights tool is a tremendous resource. After grading the URL you have entered, it will also give you suggestions on how to improve your page load speed. Pretty cool.
Form submission percentage
The fifth and final user experience web metric that I will be discussing here, which can be a dramatic indicator of your web site’s overall search engine visibility, is form submission percentage. If you have 1,000 visitors coming to your contact page per month and only 3 of them are clicking the “submit” button, you have a problem. This is something I see quite frequently. What is it that is keeping your users from filling out the form? Is it too long? Is it not visually pleasing? Is there a technical error occurring? These are all very common occurrences for small businesses trying to bring in business via the web.
Other User Experience Improvements
What else can you do to improve the UX of your website? Here’s a list I put together that can give web site owners ideas on some of the easier ways to improve overall user experience. You don’t necessarily need to re-create the wheel. Again, slow and steady wins the race. Some of these suggested improvements can be made in very short order.
- Fix broken links
- Fix broken images
- Use proper grammar and usage
- Add a Favicon
- Consider using a CMS, such as WordPress
- Use images to break up the page
- Avoid spelling mistakes
- Update your website regularly
- Focus on readability
- Make forms easy to fill out
- Create content that will benefit your end user
- Always give before you take – provide value and THEN ask users to contact you
- Always make your website mobile responsive
- Make navigation clean and easy
- Make sure your website is searchable
- Recognize that UX is not a one-and-done task
Bringing it full circle, user experience is critically important when it comes to the success of a website. Web site owners that overlook or disregard the user experience are facing a very daunting and uphill battle when it comes to new business procurement via the web. For most small businesses, getting potential clients to click the “submit” button on their contact form is the firs step to bringing in new business. Websites with poor user experience are going to have a very difficult time achieving this task.
The UX metrics that I have discussed above barely scratch the surface and each business is unique in its end goals, so creating a valuable user experience is going to be a custom job for each new and existing website. It is also critical to keep in mind that UX is not a one-and-done task. It is something that needs to be evaluated, assessed and refined over time.
I hope you have found this information valuable. At Northern Colorado SEO, we create websites with outstanding user experience. Please contact us for more information.