Page Usability—the new SEO explained.
The trust and relevancy of sites has become increasingly important for Google. Market share for mobile and tablet Internet users skyrocketed to over 29% in 2015—to keep search a good experience for all users, Google has started to give preference to sites providing a good user experience for users on all devices. Usability has taken an increased importance in the SEO industry as a result, as SEO pundits found you can get an advantage by making your site easy to use.
For example, let’s say a mobile user is searching for late night pizza delivery in Los Angeles. One local business has a site with a large amount of backlinks but no special support for mobile users, it’s difficult for the user to navigate around the site because it doesn’t automatically ‘fit’ to the screen, and the navigation text is small and hard to use on a touch screen.
Another competing local business has low amounts of backlinks, but good support for mobile users. Its design fits perfectly to the screen and has special navigation for mobile users, making it easy to get around.
In many cases, the second site will rank higher than the first, for mobile users. This is just one example of how usability can have a significant impact on your rankings.
While a term like ‘usability’ can understandably seem a little vague, let’s look at practical steps to improve your usability and the SEO strength of your site.
1. Make your site accessible for all devices.
Make your site accessible and easy for all users: desktop, mobile and tablet. The simple way to do this is to make sure your site is responsive, which means it automatically resizes across all devices and has mobile-friendly navigation for mobile users. Mobile support is covered in more detail in Bonus Chapter 2 in the Mobile SEO Update section, but you can enter your site into the below tool to quickly see if Google registers your site as ‘mobile friendly’.
Mobile friendly Test.
2. Increase your content quality.
Gone are the days of hiring a bunch of writers in India to bulk out the content on your site. It needs to be proofread and edited, and the more ‘sticky’ you make your content, the better result you will get. If you provide compelling content, users will spend more time on your site and are less likely to ‘bounce’ back to the search results. Users will also be much more likely to share your content. Google will see this and give your rankings a boost.
3. Use clean code in your site.
There’s a surprisingly high amount of sites with dodgy code, difficult for both search engines and Internet browsers to read. If there are HTML code errors in your site, which means, if it hasn’t been coded according to industry best practices, it’s possible your design will break when your site is viewed on different browsers, or even worse, confuse search engines when they come along and look at your site. Run your site through the below tool and ask your web developer to fix any errors.
Web standards validator
4. Take it easy on the popups and advertisements.
Sites with spammy and aggressive ads are often ranked poorly in the search results. The SEO gurus have reached no consensus on the amount of ads leading to a penalty from Google, so use your common sense. Ensure advertisements don’t overshadow your content and occupy the majority of screen real estate.
5. Improve the overall ‘operability’ of your site.
Does your site have slow web hosting, or a bunch of broken links and images? Simple technical oversights like these contribute to a poor user experience.
Make sure your site is with a reliable web hosting company and doesn’t go down in peak traffic. Even better, make sure your site is hosted on a server in your local city, and this will make it faster for local users.
Next up, chase up any 404-errors with your web developer. 404 errors are errors indicating users are clicking on links in your site and being sent to an empty page. It contributes to a poor user experience, in Google’s eyes, when we have broken links on a site sending users to error pages. Fortunately, these errors are easy fixed.
You can find 404 errors on your site by logging into your Google Webmaster Tools account, clicking on your site, then clicking on ‘Crawl’ and ‘Crawl Errors’. Here you will find a list of 404 errors. If you click on the error and then click ‘Linked From’ you can find the pages with the broken links. Fix these yourself, or discuss with your web developer. You can usually clear a website of 404 errors quite quickly.
Google Webmaster Tools
If you want external tools to speed up improving your site’s usability, I have found these two resources helpful:
BrowserStack. Free to try, plans start at $29 per month.
BrowserStack allows you to test your site on over +700 different browsers at once. You can preview how your site works on tablets, mobile devices, and all the different browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and so on. It’s helpful for making sure it displays correctly across many different devices.
Try My UI. Free to try, additional test results start at $35.
Try My UI provides videos, audio narration, surveys of users going through your site, and reports on any difficulties they uncover. Usability tests are good for larger projects requiring objective feedback from normal users. The first test result is free, making Try My UI a good usability test provider to start with.