Editor’s Note: This is a section of our completely redone SEO Guide. Enjoy!

I’ve been in the web marketing industry so long that I get to tell “back in the day” stories that leave today’s younger generation of SEOs scratching their head wondering what the heck I’m talking about. It’s kind of like explaining to your children that cartoons used to air on TV for only three hours a week! And you had to get up at 7 AM to watch them live!

Just to prove my point, when I started doing SEO (“back in the day”), rankings were the only thing that mattered. I’m ashamed to admit it, but in my very earliest days, my optimization practices constituted getting the keyword on the page as many times as possible without ruining the visitor’s on-page experience.

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It’s heartening to know that I, and the industry at large, have come a long, long way since then. In fact, if there was just one very significant evolution that has happened over the years (and there have been many), I would say it would be the transition of SEOs (aka digital marketers, web marketers, inbound marketers, etc.) growing up to be real marketers. We realized things like search engine rankings were important, but what was even more important was helping businesses do a better job at reaching, attracting, and converting their target audience.

But SEOs aren’t the only ones who have grown up; search engines grew up as well. In an interesting pattern, search engines grew up because “SEOs” forced them to (yes, I deliberately used scare quotes.) Spammers have always sought the lowest bar for entry (easiest way to achieve rankings) and brute forced attacked the hell out of it. Search engines were forced to raise the bar, which forced SEOs to raise the bar. This is a cycle that repeated year after year to where we are today.

And for that, the search engines can thank us.

Yet, the smart SEOs are those who got ahead of the search engines long before any new algorithm rolled out. Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and all the other algorithm updates had nary an impact on the web marketers that were focused on marketing their clients’ websites. Those who were still looking for the easy way to get rankings got hit and hit hard, time and time again. Yet, a small handful of SEOs through the years breezed through each algorithm update like it was expected. Because, well, it kinda was.

We were busy working for our clients’ larger goals rather than working for rankings that may or may not help them achieve what they wanted: Growth. And for any business to grow, they have to focus on their customers first.

User Experience is Critical to SEO

There is a whole field of UX optimization that requires its own level of expertise. The typical SEO, however, doesn’t have to be a full-fledged UX expert, but they should have an understanding of many of the basic website UX principles.

UX optimization is nothing more than focusing on the visitor. Everything we do in the sphere of web marketing has to have the visitor in mind. Yes, we do certain things for search engines, but search engines (almost always) require those things because they have learned it’s what their users (searchers) want.

Search engines have some of the most advanced data mining operations in the world. They aren’t just helping people find what they want; they’re collecting data that helps them understand user behavior. From that data, the algorithms get tweaked in order to give searchers more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

Which means websites that do a better job of meeting the needs of searchers have a better chance of landing on the first page of the search results. In this sense, anything we do for search engines we are doing for the searchers.

User experience shouldn’t just be a by-product of SEO, however. We don’t do UX because the search engines tell us to! Wise SEOs are going above and beyond the requirements of Google and Bing and looking for ways to improve their user experience overall. And one really good reason is because search engines can only assess certain aspects of searcher behavior. If they see someone is bouncing back to the search results after hitting your site, they just know they bounced, they don’t really know why.

That bounce could be the result of one or ten things wrong with your site. It doesn’t matter to the search engine; they just see the bounce and, perhaps, factor that into how well you should rank. Your job as the SEO is to determine what’s causing this behavior and then figure out ways to provide a better result for the visitor overall.

SEO / UX Best Practices

As I said above, you don’t have to be a UX expert to take some strong strides in providing a better user experience that complements your SEO efforts. In fact, the best place to start is with conventional wisdom.

Before we get into some semi-universal best practices for SEO/UX, keep in mind that not all “best practices” are going to be the best thing for you, your industry, or your visitors. In fact, something that may work wonders for the website around the corner could end up being disastrous for you. Just because Amazon does it doesn’t mean you should too! (Of course, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, either.)

Keyword Research

The base starting point for almost all online marketing is keyword research. This affects everything from web design to site messaging to navigation to the content of the site. While keyword research isn’t a “best practice” that you can implement into your website, it is essential to for most of the best practices outlined here. Which means this is where you should start.

There is a whole art to keyword research, and I recommend you read up on it. Once you’ve got the hang of how to do keyword research, there are a few other points that are helpful to understand before deciding which keywords will be important to your overall marketing efforts.

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Entice the Click

Optimization isn’t just about rankings, but about getting searchers to click to your site. All things equal, the higher up on the page you are, the more likely you are to get clicked. But there is no reason you need to be equal when you can be superior to the competing search results! It’s entirely possible to get more clicks to your site than a competitor who is ranking higher than you.

This can be accomplished by making sure that your search listing captures the visitor’s attention while using language that encourages them to click your result rather than another. Bland language in the search results leads to poor click-through rate. Give searchers a reason to choose you over the 10-20 other links on the page.

Keep the Scent

Getting visitors to click into your site is a job well done, but not a job completed. There is still a lot more to do. You have to remember that visitors are always in a hurry. They don’t want to take a lot of time trying to figure out where they are or whether or not the page they landed on fulfills their needs. In fact, if searchers don’t find what they are looking for within a few seconds of landing on your page, they often leave. Which means you have to make sure you do everything you can to confirm your page is the right one.

That’s called keeping the scent. There was something about your search result that made them click into your site. They have started down a path based on that scent. Now, you have to keep the scent by quickly confirming that you have what they came looking for, and encourage them to continue engaging with your site until they get a resolution. Don’t let them lose the scent at any point; If they lose the scent you lose them!

Be Fast


Speed is an increasingly important component of optimization. Regardless of what platform (desktop, table, phone) the search is performed on, if your pages are slow to load, the search engines will likely limit your exposure to searchers, especially those working from slow connections. That means you want your site to be lightning fast. Searchers and site visitors are very impatient. They are more apt to leave and start a new search then they are to wait around to see what you offer.

Always be Testing

There is always room for improvement. Just because a change you made works well doesn’t mean it can’t work better. Everything that can be tested should be tested, and it’s okay to fail. Even a test that turns out poorly is a learning experience for what not to do. You’d never know unless you test it, right?

In a perfect world, you’d test every UX change you make to see if the result improved performance before moving on to the next. Unfortunately, we rarely visit–let alone live in–that perfect world. Most sites are in such poor condition that taking one best practice at a time would take far too long to get measurable results. If that’s you, you can probably make good headway implementing the best practices here and then going back to test variations and additional changes later.

What user experience best practices would you add?

 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Stoney deGeyter
In-post Image #1: Image by Stoney deGetyer
In-post Image #2: Pixabay.com/jjj_901
In-post Image #3: Pixabay.com/ceskyfreund36
In-post Image #4: Screenshot by Stoney deGeyter
In-post Image #5: Pixabay.com/Unsplash