In SEO, there’s always a lot of discussion around Google’s algorithms and how they impact the work we do.
SEO professionals have a tendency to forget about the other algorithm we face with our sites – the human algorithm.
For my money, I’ve always been a believer in finding common ground between the technical elements of a site that helps drive rankings based on the search engine’s algorithms and creating an experience that works for users.
While Google has said that user data doesn’t directly impact rankings, delivering an experience that proves valuable to users time and time again will give Google even more incentive to rank your site better.
Think of it this way:
If your site is ranking but it delivers a subpar experience for the user, then why would Google want to rank you high in results?
To the same point, if you are only focusing on the user and not hitting those basic foundational SEO elements then you will more than likely not see as much organic performance in SERPs.
It’s all about striking a balance between these two factors.
So, how does an SEO adopt a more user-first approach to their work?
1. Learn Design Fundamentals
While the goal may not be to become a designer, having a better understanding of the principles that comprise a good design is an incredible tool to keep in your tool belt.
Understanding these principles will allow you to make decisions that will give your site’s users an even better experience.
When looking into design classes, try to ensure you’re going to be working with a professor/instructor that helps explain the psychology behind what they’re teaching you.
Understanding the psychological impact of design is the most crucial element of what you should be learning – the “why” behind what you’re putting in place – so your decisions have the desired effect on your users.
2. Address Existing User Pain Points
If you’re working with a site that has already existed for a while and you’re concerned that you’re running into user issues, don’t be afraid to use your hunger for more data to your advantage.
The first place you should start is Google Analytics. Assuming you have this set up correctly for your site, you can determine where major drop-off points are occurring on your website.
Then, my favorite thing to do once identifying these pages is to set up heat-mapping and recording.
Using heat-mapping software gives you the ability to see precisely how people are interacting with your pages.
Some systems even allow screen recording so that you have a first-hand view of how users are moving through your site and what’s stopping them from converting.
Once you have this data, you can make better decisions on ways to improve your pages and give your users the experience they’re looking for when visiting your site.
Having this data might even help you reevaluate exactly what it is that your users are hoping to get out of your website.
3. Test All the Things
Once you have collected your data, you shouldn’t just jump straight into making changes to your site. While this data helped you identify potential problems, it wasn’t meant to give you all the answers.
When I’ve identified a problem or want to make a significant layout change on a page, I always set up an A/B test to make sure this change is right for my users.
If you’re unaware of A/B testing, this is where you take two variations of a page and split the traffic between the two.
Then, over a given period-of-time and number of users you analyze which version of the page performed better for the goal you’re trying to improve, which is usually related to conversions.
If you found yourself super interested in that statement, it may be time for you to learn more about Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).
The data you’ll gather from your A/B testing efforts will inform you whether your hypothesis is correct as to addressable pain points, while also demonstrating if you’re heading in the right direction to solve the problem.
If your new page variation doesn’t pass the test, you may need to go back to the drawing board and try something different.
While you aren’t going to win every single test you try, you’ll at least be taking steps to improve your site, with the data to back your actions up.
That’s why testing is so important – you want to ensure the changes you implement are helping – not hurting.
4. Give the People What They Want
In the long run, it’s all about balance. If you’re only focusing on pleasing the search engines, you might be missing the mark with your audience.
If you’re only working on your site from the user perspective, you’ll more than likely miss the elements that please the search engines.
Once you find that happy middle ground that lets you keep both users and search engines in mind, I’m confident you’ll see positive returns from your efforts from both sides.
5. Never Stop Learning
In any form of digital marketing, it’s important to maintain a hunger to continue learning and improving.
The expansion of knowledge, not just within your field but in other areas that can make an impact on your work, is one of the most crucial skills a professional can have.
While user-focused work isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I would still encourage anyone who has read this to go out and find something that they can dive into that will make a positive impact on your work and make you better from both a professional and/or personal perspective.