Prioritise the user experience
Grace says: “That’s a very exciting question. My number one SEO tip for 2023 is to prioritise the user experience in your SEO strategy, and there are two main reasons for this.
The first reason is that Google has been focusing on the searcher experience, which is reflected in its core algorithm updates, new features, and new products - including PageSpeed, Core Web Vitals, product reviews, and the most recent helpful content update. These are all about delivering the best page experience, or user experience, to searchers - and this trend will continue in 2023.
The second reason is that, given the current economic climate, businesses have shifted towards profitable growth rather than growth at any cost. Turning traffic into conversions and achieving a higher lifetime customer value have become more important than ever. It’s not just in SEO - it’s in every other marketing channel as well - and user experience is a key component in achieving profitable growth.”
What does prioritising user experience look like when you’re putting your SEO strategy together?
“Conventionally, when we plan an SEO strategy, we tend to look at the different aspects of SEO: technical, on-page, off-page, etc.
However, I want to recommend some tactics that I think all SEOs should consider testing out. The first is very simple (it is easy to achieve, but it is very powerful): communicate with your users and ask for feedback. Let the users tell you what they like and what they dislike on your site. Then you will understand, in a straightforward way, what you should continue doing and what you should stop doing or improve.”
What is the best way to communicate with users? Can it be done virtually, or should it happen in person?
“This kind of communication can be done through direct user research, such as interviews and surveys. I’ve used both methods and they are really very helpful.
Another way for your users to communicate with you is indirectly. There are a lot of insights that can be discovered by talking to the customer-facing team, i.e., the sales and customer service team. All of these methods of communication are very effective, based on my experience.”
When you are carrying out direct user research, how do you decide what questions to ask your customers? What kind of format do those conversations have?
“Let me share a recent user interview experience that I have had. Recently, we have optimised (or localised) an English eCommerce site for a different country – in a different language. Luckily, we’ve received some traffic and conversions from that target country. This made us interested in communicating directly with the real customers on that site.
Before having those conversations, my user experience designer and I had a discussion about the goal of this interview, and what we really wanted to get out of this direct communication. We wanted to make sure that we asked the right questions and ensure that we could actually implement whatever we got from the customers with our tech bandwidth. We didn’t want to be finding answers that we would never have the resources to implement.
Once we had determined the scope of what we wanted to achieve, we introduced those questions in the flow of a natural conversation with the users.”
What kind of goals did you have for those interviews?
“One of our goals was to understand the localisation of the content on the eCommerce site. I asked all the customers what they thought about the product descriptions on the localised version of the website. They gave us some of the most important feedback for helping me to shape our strategy, and for us to give to the client on what they should prioritise at the top of the list.
One user said that it looked like the content on the product description page had been translated by a machine. They could understand all the words, but it didn’t help them in the conversion process. They actually had to rely on the product description from a third-party eCommerce platform that was selling the same product to understand how it worked. It was only the price that attracted them to convert on the brand’s eCommerce site, which is a bit unfortunate. That was some really important feedback for the client.”
How do you respond to marketing directors that believe the role of the SEO team is to focus on links and the technical health of the website, and not on conversion rate?
“If a director said this a few years ago it might have been valid, but the world of SEO and the whole of the digital marketing industry is evolving. Now, conversion has become an objective for every marketing channel.
Why would Google want to send traffic to a website where users can get information, but they don’t have a really good user experience? Where there will be no conversions, and the users will be disappointed?
There is a strong trend that already exists: Google wants all websites to provide a first-class user experience. If a website provides that excellent user experience, eventually they will get conversions. Why wouldn’t they get conversions, if they are working really hard on the user experience?”
Is conversion rate the best way to measure a positive impact on user experience or are there other metrics that you also look at?
“In terms of the success of user experience, from an SEO perspective, there are two ways that you can measure: quantitative and qualitative. For your quantitative measurement, you can use the data in your analytics tools, such as organic conversion rate, bounce rate, session time, returning users, etc.
Your qualitative measurement can be done through user surveys, customer reviews, feedback, and even direct conversations that you have – where, after three to six months, you revisit the users you have interviewed before and ask for their feedback again to see the difference. I believe these measurements are super important now. It’s not about just getting a lot of traffic, but knowing whether you are getting effective conversions.”
How is user experience going to evolve? Are there any other aspects of user experience that Google will focus more closely on in the future?
“Of course, Google has rolled out the helpful content update recently. In terms of the content, this is an ongoing effort from them: to reduce low-quality content and make it easier to find content that feels authentic and useful in search. Google wants us to focus on people with our content, rather than making content for search engines.
Another aspect of user experience I would address is not new, but it is very important. You’ve got to make sure that your site is loading fast. Ideally, you want your website to load within three seconds - or two seconds if it’s an eCommerce site. Reports show that 40% of consumers will wait no more than three seconds before they abandon a site. It’s very, very expensive to have a slow site, and it costs retailers around $2.6 billion a year in lost sales.
Monitor and test your page speed regularly. This will help you to discover and fix loading issues, such as unnecessary scripts, images that are too large to load, and redirects that slow down the loading speed.”
What does Google mean by authentic content?
“One thing that many SEOs do is copy the content of their competitors – they try to optimise it and outrank on keywords against those competitors. This kind of content is not authentic, because the drive behind it is primarily gaining impressions and keyword rankings.
Authentic content should primarily be addressing the user’s needs, and their pain points. It should solve a problem they have, instead of working on rankings and traffic.
Google’s AI technology is only getting more and more intelligent. They are using AI to decide what to rank, and some content creators are using AI to generate content. It will be very interesting to see how these compete with each other over the next 12 months.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“Linked to what I’ve just said, I think that SEOs should stop creating content that is primarily driven by impressions and keyword rankings, instead of addressing people’s needs and pain points.
A great tip for creating helpful content is to ask questions, and really put yourself in the shoes of your users - to see exactly what they are looking for from the content that you create.”
Grace Wei Hou is a Growth Product Manager at Samarkand Global, and you can find her by searching ‘Grace Wei Hou’ on LinkedIn.