User Experience, or ‘UX’, is a buzzword that many digital marketing agencies love to throw around. But what does it actually mean? To answer that question, we must first discuss search engine optimisation (SEO).
Up until recently, webmasters would use a range of highly technical SEO techniques in order make their website conform to search engine standards. We do this by allowing Google (and other search engines) full access to crawl our websites, so that the Google algorithm understands the websites’ content and matches search queries to the relevant web pages. In short, Google is smart, and will find the very best content for the person making the search. Without dwelling on this too much, the basic idea is if you can make your website ‘Google Friendly’, Google will honour you by giving your site a boost over rival websites, thus appearing higher in the search results page.
Yet this is only half of the solution. The above describes on-page SEO, and in fact only contributes to a relatively small SEO advantage. Off-page SEO is widely known to be much more effective in giving websites a huge boost in search position. If we break down off-page SEO to its nuts and bolts, we have:
There is more to it of course, but essentially, incorporating everything we’ve discussed above into a digital marketing strategy leads to a well optimised campaign that will raise a brand’s digital profile and help break through the noise. This translates to a high ranking site that will easily be found online. It’s important to understand this going forward with UX.
I use ‘Google’ instead of ‘Search Engine’ deliberately because as of January 2016, 85.71% of search engine users in the UK use Google as their main search engine (Statista, 2016). The top three positions in Google search results get on average 55% of all the clicks, as seen in the graph below, and page two of search results get a combined 3%. In summary it pays to be on page one, and preferably in the top half.
It’s important to note that any website can appear in the top position for its brand name, however it is far more challenging to appear in search results for service or product related search queries. This is why a solid SEO strategy is crucial to maintain growth in traffic to your website.
UX means different things to different people. But now that you have an understanding of SEO you’ll already have a good grasp of what user experience actually is.
As we’ve discussed, SEO is about matching search queries to relevant web pages. We ensure our web pages are the most relevant by ensuring Google understands our website.
So now we have ensured a user finds your site online, but how do we ensure the user has a great time interacting with your site? How can we measure this, and why is it important? Well the ‘Why’ is easy but the ‘How’ is a bit trickier.
We do UX because Google has become wise to the fact that SEO can be manipulated to get lots of traffic to your site, regardless of the quality of the content. So Google released the Quality Update ‘Phantom 2’ on 3rd May, 2015 to ensure that best quality and experience takes precedence.
Improving a website’s user experience is no small matter. It takes a lot of research, but ultimately boils down to crafting an ‘online experience’ that is intuitive, relevant to each end-user persona and enjoyable. There is nothing worse than clicking onto a website and not being able to find the content you’re looking for because of poor design or bad coding.
The art of UX is about bringing technology and design together in order to plan the user journey through the site so that our users can effectively navigate from page to page and have a great time doing it.
Going back to ‘Google is Smart’, Google uses a cascade of metrics to build an incredibly accurate picture of how people interact with websites. Google knows how long you spend on a site, whether you find what you were looking for, what you clicked on and a whole host of other metrics which we won’t go into. But it’s safe to say that Google knows everything, so there’s no point in trying to manipulate the search engine for a higher page rank.
It’s impossible to distil this in a few paragraphs, we’ll save a more in-depth UX article for another time. For this article we’ll provide you with a snapshot of our process.
We kick off the project by having discussions with our clients and stakeholders to discover their business goals. Then by using either analytics or by actually talking to the end-users of the product or service, we uncover the users’ needs as well as building a profile, or ‘persona’, of the people using the site. We do this to optimise the site by placing the user at the heart of it. This is known as the user-centric model.
Having this deep understanding of our users forms the basis of the UX. We now have the insight needed to create a hierarchy of website information (gathered from internal and external sources) which later informs the sitemap, before moving onto wireframing and prototyping. At this stage it helps to have a clear vision of how the content presents itself in order to be relevant to each persona at any given stage of the user journey. This is a complex process to describe, but involves streamlining the user experience depending where they are on the site.
An example of this is when a user has shown a high propensity to purchase. We scale back the website’s design to remove the noise, so that the user has a clear sense of what they must do next. We apply this thought process to every page and every section of the website, so we can ensure the user knows exactly what to do and where to go.
The lesson to be learnt here is that the user experience is crucial to businesses. It’s a lesson which has become evermore prevalent in 2016 as more and more companies are enlisting the help of marketing professionals to improve their UX. Soon, online businesses that fail to wake up to the benefits of UX will pay the ultimate price, buried deep down in the dark depths of Google’s page 2, 3, 4…