How Poor Content Presentation & User Experience Can Kill Your Search Rankings

Patrick Coyne
Patrick Coyne Director of Organic & Local Search

Did you know that Google considers hundreds of Rankings Factors when determining your website’s Search Engine Rankings? And new factors are occasionally added to the list (for instance, SSL Certification and Mobile Optimization were added in the past few years).

While major factors like Content and Backlinks remain the most crucial to SEO success, secondary Factors like Webpage Usability, Accessibility, and Engagement Metrics can have huge ramifications on User Experience, resulting in lower Search Rankings. While Content is King, as the old cliché goes, what good is content that users can’t properly access?

Content Presentation Affects User Behavior…

Users want a website that is easy to access and navigate, provides them high-quality information that is relevant to their search query, and is aesthetically pleasing to look at. Every one of these attributes is important to creating successful content.

For instance, even if your content contains the exact answer users are looking for, if they can’t easily find it, they’ll leave your website and possibly never come back. Search Engines understand this. Which is why Search Engines consider content presentation when determining Rankings.

…And User Behavior Affects Search Rankings

User behavior has an indirect effect on your Search Engine Rankings, although this topic is hotly debated. Google claims that Engagement Metrics such as Bounce Rate, Time on Site, and Pages Per Session are not Ranking Factors, while several studies have shown a correlation between improved Engagement Metrics and improved Search Rankings.

This may be because users are more likely to link back to content that they find useful, which is what actually results in the improved Rankings, though not all engaging sites automatically result in significant links. So, while Engagement Metrics as a Ranking Factor is up for debate, what is not up for debate is the value of improving your Engagement Metrics. When you are able to keep users engaging with your content longer, only good things will come from it.

How to Improve User Experience

  1. Check Out Your Engagement Metrics: We recommend viewing your Analytics data to better understand where you can improve on-site engagement. Additionally, make sure you understand what the data means, and whether it necessitates you taking action to improve it. For instance, a low Pages Per Session metric may not necessarily be a bad thing on certain pages. It may just be that your pages drive a high number of Organic Entrances and Conversions and is therefore already achieving its goal. In a specific example like this, changing your content may actually hurt your website performance.
  2. Write Content that Delivers Answers: The internet has a writing style that differs greatly from, say, a term paper or a short story. Sure, you can find plenty of online content that fits these molds, but for your business goals there is a very specific style of writing that is more likely to lead to improved Engagement, better Rankings, and more Conversions. Users turn to Google because they are looking for something. It’s a solution or an answer to a question. If a user lands on your webpage, they usually will scan your content looking for that answer. And if they don’t get it, they’ll leave your page and go right back to the Search Results. It is our job to present them with that answer in the easiest, most efficient way possible. Internet users don’t want to stare at huge blocks of texts and struggle to find the information they are looking for. Instead, break up your content using headers, bulleted lists, images, and videos. Breaking up your content in this way makes it more digestible, and increases the likelihood that a user will find the answer they are looking for – resulting in improved engagement.
  3. Get a Second Opinion on Site Navigation: It can be difficult for a website owner to recognize the problems of their website. In particular, if it is difficult to navigate the website and find the content needed. Obviously you know where everything is located, but what about someone who is coming into your website totally fresh? The fact is, if they don’t find what they’re looking for within a few seconds, there’s a good chance they’ll just leave your site. Luckily, there are ways you can test the efficiency of your site navigation. Try asking someone to navigate the site. It shouldn’t necessarily be someone web-savvy, as you want the opinion of the average person (that’s who will be browsing your site, after all). If you’d prefer, there are also several paid services online that will do exactly this for you. Here is an example of one such website.
  4. Check Out Your Mobile Presentation: Remember how we mentioned before that Mobile Optimization is now a Search Engine Ranking Factor? Google is making a big push into the world of Mobile Search, and will eventually be moving to a Mobile-First Search Index, as opposed to Desktop-first (although an exact date of when this change will occur remains to be seen). Considering more people are searching on their mobile devices than desktop computers, you need to make sure your content looks great on every type of device. One of the most efficient ways to do this is by implementing responsive website design. Start by checking out your website on a tablet, mobile phone, and desktop computer. How easily can you access all of your content? Is it possible to fill out a form on a mobile device, or is it simply too difficult? Implementing mobile-friendly site design is crucial to the present and future success of your website.

Search Engine Optimization is so much more than producing great content and building links. While this may seem daunting, consider it a previously unforeseen opportunity. By better understanding how users interact with your website, and how you can make their experience more pleasurable, you can vastly improve your Rankings, and ultimately your Traffic and Conversions.