Nader Houella, contributor
Optimizing your website’s search engine results goes beyond a few keywords. Ensuring a user experience (UX) and website atmospherics that are enjoyable, easy to use, and navigate through will not only boost your site visits. It will increase the time visitors spend on your website, their repeat visits, and their overall attachment to your brand. In turn, this boosts your SEO rankings.
Let’s begin with User Experience (UX): how your web visitors feel about your website. How they interact with the different sections. Is it easy or confusing? Enjoyable or boring? Fast or slow? How does all that affect your search rankings?
Here’s what to consider:
Content: Less is more
Content is king. Even in websites with a not-so-fancy design, content that is interesting, new, insightful, and relevant to the users will give them more reasons to spend time on these websites. Use infographics. Limit the amount of text. Be straight forward. Include factual content that is new, original, and well-researched. Include stories and personal experiences. All of these are a few tactics to make your content worth a read.
Loading Time: Every second counts
“When is this thing going to load? Wait, let me refresh. It is still loading?! Okay, I’m out!” This is a very common reaction by users experiencing a frustratingly slow website loading time. In today’s increasingly limited attention span, every second matters for online users. In fact, according to surveys by Akamai and Gomez.com, almost 50 percent of web users expect websites to load in just two seconds or less. As much as 79 percent of online shoppers said they will not return to a website if it has performance issues. Seriously, a slowly loading website will reflect negatively not only on the time users spend and the number of visitors that will visit.
Here are a few ways to optimize your website’s loading speed:
- Use optimized image sizes
- Limit the number of visuals you have on a single page
- Limit your website server requests.
- Use pagination if your website has a comments section: this spreads the comments away from the first page
- Upgrade your website’s script regularly
Your Site’s Navigation: Keep it Simple
Your website’s design architecture should have a simple, straight forward navigation. Limit the number of pages, the buttons that need to be clicked and avoid tight keyword groupings in every single page. Ahref conducted a study of 3 million searches and found that you do not need to have multiple pages full of keywords. Gathering all your keywords in one single, content-page is enough to get you across search queries. Filling up all your pages and sections with wordings will increase their complexity and make them less accessible to users. Keep it simple, put yourself in your visitors’ seat and test your website’s navigation yourself.
Your Menus: Streamline Them
“Where do I go now?”
“How can I get back to the main page?”
“How can I contact you directly?”
“Where do I click to find your social media?”
Those are just some of the common questions from confused web visitors. Your website menus play a key role in guiding your visitors’ navigation experience, allowing them to always have access to any main page or option, anywhere they may be on the website. Streamlining the structure and design of your menu is primary element of an effective UX design: limit the number of main menu buttons to avoid clutter. You can add more items in the drop-down menus if your website is very detailed but keep the main ones simple. They should reflect your business priorities. Here’s an example from Enserum
A non-complicated website structure boosts your SEO results because it allows search engines to better detect and understand the entire website map. It is recommended to keep all your website content within four main clicks from the landing page. Anyone who is surfing your website can navigate from top to bottom pages smoothly. So, make sure you include “top” buttons at the end of every page, especially if your pages are long, besides an easily accessible “home” button. Keep your pages monitored and remove deadlinks whenever you detect them.
Get Personal: Include Call to Actions (CTA)
Including a Call to Action in your website will allow your visitors to go beyond the ‘browsing’ experience, to actually taking an action, whether it was attending, downloading, buying or maybe signing a petition. It is an easy way to get your visitors actively engaged and directly interacting with your brand with a click of a button. More than that:
- It increases the time spent on the site
- It decreases the bounce rate
- It creates a customer feedback loop
- It collects customer data (useful for future engagement)
- It can potentially convert website visitors into customers
Being Mobile-Friendly: A boost to your user-engagement
With 91 percent of college graduates in the U.S alone owning a smartphone, mobile devices can bring at least 50 percent of all web traffic. This is the number of potential visitors you would be losing if your website is not responsive to smartphones. This matters to your SEO results too since Google uses the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, which then affects how well it ranks your website. So a website that is not mobile-friendly will see very low user engagement.
How would a mobile-responsive website look like? Here are a few pointers:
- Big text that is easy to read
- Content that fits the smartphone screen
- Clickable elements that are not too close together
And this is what you need to consider as part of your UX design.
Here’s an example of a website that looks good on mobile (on the right) and a bad one (on the left):
Both websites were a screenshot from a smartphone. See the difference?
Now let’s move to your website’s atmospherics.
Memorize this: Less than 15 seconds. This is how long most visitors will spend on a given website, according to data by the TIME magazine. For web designers, attracting and keeping their visitors on the website becomes a major challenge. This is why your website’s atmospherics matter: how well your website feels, what colors it uses, where menus are placed, how entertaining the overall experience is. Website atmospherics can prolong the online buyers’ time spent on the website, encourage their engagement, and return visits.
Colors, Images, Links – Without Clutter
Online consumers are attracted by messages in proper visuals: vivid, uniform colors that reflect the brand’s colors. Well-organized text and relevant, high-quality images that are not cluttered. In other words, the information needs to be colorful, but not disorganized, irrelevant, or congested. This surely differs from one business to another. Take publication companies such as Harvard Business Review, which create website atmospherics that is banded with the Harvard logo and brand colors. This helps in distinguishing the brand from its competitors. In this way, the atmospherics would have a positive effect on the conative and cognitive responses of the buyers, encouraging repeat visits and purchases. Researchers adopted an S-O-R framework that tests the impact of website atmospheric cues on the consumers’ emotional state. They found that “online atmospherics such as graphics, colors, and links have an impact on customer emotions such as pleasure and arousal, both of which have subsequent effects on intention”. Another researcher adds that informational content, pictures, and structure are the most important atmospherics that can encourage consumers to get positively involved in a decision-making process especially on websites of tour operating companies. So, marketers, pay specific attention to the way the colors, content organization, graphics, and links are chosen on your website.
More Shopper Visits
Proper website atmospherics can encourage online to visit the website more frequently. This is proven by science. A group of researchers who explored the impact of website atmospherics on the consumers’ emotional state and behavioral response took a closer look at the changes in the levels of pleasure and arousal and the consumers’ intent to purchase while visiting a sample of eight different apparel stores. Looking at the impact of graphics, layout, and color, they found that 40% of e-commerce impulse purchases are influenced by the site’s category links and overall design. So here, online marketers develop web stores which are esthetically attractive and user-friendly to ensure regular traffic to their website. Your team also needs to be culturally sensitive. Websites that include images that are unique and relevant to the consumers’ overall social and cultural environment can be memorable in the consumers’ minds and allow them to feel at ease in re-visiting the website and interacting positively with it.
Make no mistake: your website atmospherics can attract revenue and consumer loyalty to your business. They can increase the time online buyers spend on the website, the number of times they visit it again, and their level of engagement. In today’s world where the online user’s attention is scarce, it is a must for online marketers to invest efforts in providing website atmospherics that are user-friendly. Colorful. Attractive. And of course, organized in their layout while communicating your company’s value proposition.
Is it working? Measure your website’s success
Now that you’ve your website user experience and atmospherics, how do you measure success? A study by SEMrush which analyzed more than 600,000 to identify the most important ranking factors found that affect search rankings. Time on site, pages per session and bounce rate were the top three.
Time On Site: The More, The Merrier
Picture it like a customer entering your physical store: if you have a fancy design and a neatly organized interior with relevant products, your customer is most likely to spend more time moving around your shop. The same applies to your website, and this is where UX design kicks in: confusing navigation, poor choice of visuals, too much text and uninteresting content will surely cut your visitors’ journey short. This matters to search engines too: they factor in the time spent by users on a certain page and rank your website pages accordingly.
Pages Per Sessions:
When visitors browse more pages in every session, this is evidence that your website’s navigation system is working: it is clear, easy to use and creating a “flow” that is prolonging and enriching the visitors’ experience. A low number of pages per session may indicate that your visitors are finding it difficult to reach the different pages of your website, either because of a confusing navigation system or simply having too many pages to go through.
Bounce Rate: The amount of time the visitors spend on your pages.
The ‘bounce rate’ is the metric that shows you how many visitors leave your website after surfing one page. A high bounce rate means that your users either could not find what they were looking for after visiting that page, or that they got repelled by the website’s design, content, or speed. A low bounce rate is evidence that your users found the content appealing, the UX design less confusing, could navigate to different locations through your website from that page itself and were not frustrated with any slowness in site loading speed.
Note that a high bounce rate will affect your SEO results, as they are integrated into the search algorithms of Google and Bing search engines. Make sure the bounce rate is low to get better placement in the search results.
The Bottom Line: Happy visitors = Happy rankings
Your website visitors are a treasure to hold on to. But you need to attract them, engage them, and give them a reason to visit your website again and again. It all boils down to the kind of surfing experience you provide them with through your website. Speed, menu layout, color, mobile-friendliness, and your overall website ‘feel’. Whether you make it or break it, your SEO rankings will get affected. This is because keywords are no longer enough for better rankings. Search engines track user engagement, time spent on site, and page friendliness too, before deciding whether your website is worth a visit. Your marketing and design teams go hand in hand because simple design considerations can indeed go a long way in giving your website the visibility it deserves.