In past years, the primary concern for business owners building websites has been SEO. Build a site that ranks well in Google and the money flows in right? It doesn’t matter what the user’s experience is as long as they’re on the site.

Sadly that’s not the case – bad UX can cost businesses a lot of money if visitors are dissuaded from purchasing due to bad experience.

Not only that, bad UX can also have a very damaging affect on how your site ranks. Here are 4 ways that bad UX is hurting your SEO:

1. Your Site is Violating Webmaster Guidelines

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is chock full of references to usability, including the most basic:

Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.

They don’t always do the best job at serving the most user-friendly site, but that’s their aim and updates to the algorithm show they’re always improving. Google’s Panda update (first rolled out Feb 2011) was created to target low quality webpages and the most recent Hummingbird update allows Google to better process signals and understand intent.

So search engines have two goals for serving good organic results:

  • Better understand searcher intent
  • Better understand if a page serves that intent

If your website is not providing a good experience for users then it is not serving the searcher’s intent as it is likely that they can’t find the answers they are looking for.

Google is getting better at identifying bad websites through technical setup (see the Webmaster Guidelines for an idea of what they are looking for) and also through user metrics. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Low Dwell Time

Way back in 2011, Duane Forrester (Bing) mentioned a metric he called ‘dwell time’. This is time between a user clicking on a search result and then coming back to SERPs. If the dwell time is very low (one or two seconds) then that is a signal that the web page did not satisfy the searcher.

On the flip side, if the dwell time is longer (one to two minutes or if the searcher does not come back to the SERP) then that is a signal that the searcher was satisfied by the result.

Likewise, Google also uses a similar metric to measure SERP quality as explained in AJ Kohn’s post ‘Time to Long Click’. In the post, AJ Kohn describes how Google wants to get the searcher to the right result as quickly as possible and that long click is one indication that the searcher has found the answer to their query.

So where does UX come into this?

The job of your landing page/website is to solve problems for your visitors. Doing this well results in a long click, doing this badly in a short click. If a user can’t find the information they’re looking for quickly then they will head straight back to their search engine – sending a signal that your site did not satisfy their search.

3. Google Knows How Visitors Use your Site

Last year at BrightonSEO we heard from ex-employees of Google’s webspam team that Google uses Chrome user data and can track every click – we even filmed it if you don’t believe us!

This revelation sparked a huge amount of discussion in the SEO industry as for years Google have denied using Google Analytics data – mostly because not everyone has Analytics code on their site. Chrome data gives a much more accurate picture of how people use the web.

It’s a sore point for marketers because Chrome was the first browser to hide keyword data for webmasters by switching to SSL search, implying that privacy is important except when it comes to what Google can track themselves.

Because Google can track Chrome user activity, they can see how people are using your website – are they clicking through pages quickly then leaving? Do you have a low pages-per-visit average? Are users getting lost on your site? These are all signals of bad UX that Google can see and penalise your site in favour of a better performing competitor.

4. Nobody is Linking to You

My final point is one that potentially has the biggest impact on search visibility – if your site’s no good then people simply aren’t going to link to it and your content won’t pick up the juiciest natural, earned links.

Are people going to link to your site if they can’t find their way around? What if they can’t digest that amazing content that you spent weeks creating because it doesn’t work on mobile or smaller screens?

Stable, pretty URLs can make a huge difference to how people link to your site and good site architecture ensures that the value of links is passed through the whole site.

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