Search engines have always espoused the value of the user experience. For years, Matt Cutts and other engineers at Google have been encouraging webmasters to “write for people, not for search engines“. This call-to-action is just as relevant today as Google plans to penalize low-quality websites and content farms benefiting from over-optimized pages.
With the help of human “quality raters”, Google is starting to take user experience queues into consideration. Qualitative traits like ease of navigation, trustworthiness, and consistency are becoming meaningful and important ranking factors.
To appease search engines (and users) that evaluate the user experience, web designers and search engine marketers need to make sure that content follows these principles of good web design:
- Easy to read
- Easy to navigate
- Easy to find (before and after arriving)
- Consistent layout / design / labeling
- Quick to download
In today’s blog, I will focus on how these principles affect a website’s information architecture (IA) and search engine optimization (SEO).
Making Easy-To-Read Content
As you review your site’s content assets, ask yourself some questions to gauge how search-engine friendly it is:
- Is it well written?
- Is it easy to scan?
- Are you using the language of your customers?
- Does the content make sense within a search listing?
While writing your keyword-focused content, make sure visitors can quickly read and understand it to encourage positive engagement. If users see language that they are comfortable with (i.e. keywords from their search), they feel validated and more likely to complete a successful visit.
Making Your Site Easy to Navigate
The information architecture and website navigation should play a strong role in a website’s search engine optimization strategy. Users should be able to figure out where they are quickly and whether they can find the information they’re looking for. Because users rely on first impressions, the landing page needs to match what their intended query implies.
“Orientation” in Half a Second
When a user lands on a webpage through a search engine, they will attempt to “orient” themselves to determine a page’s usefulness. Breadcrumbs, contextual links, and other helpful navigational queues will help validate the visit and encourage greater rates of conversion.
Ideally, the orientation process should happen within half a second. If it takes longer to learn how to use your website, they are likely to abandon due to frustration.
Designing the Navigation
One way to make your site easy to navigate is to make sure the navigation is prioritized according to how the user sees your brand or product, and how it applies to them. Regardless of the type of website (e-commerce, informational, news or blog site), make sure information architecture matches the user’s search patterns.
Making links as plain and obvious as possible can also help make a site easy to navigate. If a link doesn’t look like a link, users may find themselves confused and unable to find their way around. Once they leave, they will likely go back to the search results and hit the competitors’ site, and only a small percentage of visitors will return after abandonment.
To make sure users can easily find the right content, make sure navigation items have the following characteristics:
- Distinguishable from body type
Making the navigation obvious and guiding users through your site allows your website to encourage more conversions, increase engagement, and retain more users for longer visits.
Architecting Easy-to-Find Content (Before and After Arrival)
It is important to ensure that content is easy to read and navigate; however, the value of these qualities will be lost if content isn’t also easy to find. How to you implement smart information architecture, influencing visitors both before and after arrival? Here are some recommendations.
Promote Content Properly
To get the most out of your content, make sure it’s being promoted in all the proper channels, and also make sure the on-page content is marked up in a way that will satisfy a user’s visit quickly.
Make sure you’ve covered your “content discovery” basics by doing the following:
- Indexing the right content in search engines, optimized for verticals like “image” and “video”
- Submission to relevant, niche directories
- Submission of local listings for third party citations
- Promotion through press releases, news websites, and blogs
Ensuring visitors can find content after they’ve arrived at the site is important as well. The main reason customers will abandon a website is because of navigation difficulties. Once they’ve left, there’s an extremely low chance of winning that visitor back; while retargeting advertising may be one reasonably successful approach, it’s more cost-effective to ensure visits are efficient and valuable.
By making your navigation and information architecture reflective of what the user needs, you can increase the odds of retaining that user and producing a successful visit
Consistent Layout, Design, and Labeling
With perceived trust being considered as a ranking factor, consistent layout and navigation becomes important to SEO. Consistency helps users feel confident in a website, as they can reliably find their way around and understand the content more quickly. It also contributes to a coherent and meaningful experience that helps strengthen the brand.
Consistency in design also helps strengthen a website’s rate of conversion. When users can reliably find their way around, visitors are more likely to complete their goals as visits become more efficient and less confused.
Strong Labeling of Items
Labeling (i.e. the words used to connote navigation items and product lines) should be consistent to how the user approaches your niche. By using the same language (i.e. keywords similar to those used to find the site), visitors can feel validated and more confident in a transactional experience.
Quick to Download
While a site’s download speed is considered a ranking factor, there is not a great amount of perceived weight associated with it. That said, a site’s download speed is important to a user’s experience, and if they cannot find what they want quickly, the website is regarded as “slow”. Slow sites do not gain confidence from users, and hinder a user’s prospective transaction.
Download speed is easily tracked within Google Webmaster Tools, a free and easy-to-setup web application that provides a number of helpful alerts, including server errors, search engine click-through rates, Sitemap management, and more. Use this tool to make sure you are successfully monitoring download speeds or potential problems.
Focus On The User
A well-constructed information architecture should result in a site that effectively guides more users to complete their intended goals, as well as ranks highly in search engines. Because the architecture of a site affects the internal linking structure and prioritization of content, it heavily impacts a site’s SEO. To save time and money, it’s important that site owners get it right from the start.