7 User Experience Issues that Could Keep You from Ranking Well

Matt Crowley - September 16, 2015

Search engines are constantly updating their algorithms in order to ensure that the pages they rank highly offer a pleasant user experience. That means that if your website has significant experience issues, your ranking could be negatively impacted.

If SEO is important to you, here are seven user experience issues you may want to address:

#1: The Use of Interstitials

Interstitials, the most recent version of the “pop-up” displayed before an expected page (usually for the purpose of advertising or lead generation), are becoming more and more common. Interstitials may interrupt the content that the user is attempting to interact with. Though they’re commonly deployed, search engines have stated that they could potentially become a negative ranking factor in the future. Additionally, search engines are continuing to become more adept at rendering a page much like a user would. As search engines progress in their capabilities, they are increasingly able to “see” an interstitial that hides much of the pages content behind an advertisement or form.

If you make use of interstitials, you should limit their use to key pages and / or times that are truly relevant. For example, an interstitial could be loaded when a user scrolls to the very bottom of a blog post for the first time, and it could provide the user with the ability to enter their email address to receive updates when you post new content to the blog. Should you decide to use interstitials where relevant, we recommend monitoring the performance of those pages to identify if the interstitials may be causing a negative user experience. If your tracking is set up properly, you can use your analytics platform to identify this problem by reviewing metrics such as bounce rate and time on page. If the pages using interstitials have a higher bounce rate, you could be doing more harm than good.

#2: Page Load Time

Not only do slow loading pages keep search engines from crawling your website efficiently, they detract from user experience – particularly for mobile users. Whether you already have a mobile friendly website, or are considering responsive design, page load time is a very important consideration for both SEO and user experience.

If you want every advantage to help your pages rank well, make sure your pages load quickly by implementing best practices such as:

  • Editing out excess and unnecessary code
  • Combining / condensing files, such as JavaScript and CSS, when it makes sense to do so
  • Eliminating unnecessary redirects
  • Leverage caching practices for static resources
  • Optimizing your images

If you are wondering how your pages are performing with regard to page load time, use Google’s site speed tool to find out.

#3: Page Formatting

For years we’ve been talking about ways to make pages scannable (and readable) for users. Now, search engines are paying attention too. Search engines like pages that are well organized, with headers and sub-headers, and that can be easily read and understood. This improves the user experience of the page, and can also increase the quality and relevance of your content as determined by search engines.

This issue can be identified by reviewing bounce rates and time on page of organic visitors within your analytics platform. If users are finding your content within search engine results pages, clicking on your result, and then bouncing back to the search engine results very quickly and selecting another web-page, it may be an indicator that the user didn’t find the information they were looking for. Search engines can identify when users select your result, bounce back to the search results page, and then select a different web-page. This sub-optimal user experience can also result in lower organic rankings.

#4: Tabbed or Hidden Content

Users shouldn’t have to do a lot of work to find the important content on each page of your website. If a user has to pick through various tabs to see find the information they are looking for, or click “read more” simply to see the end of your article, you could be hurting yourself from an SEO perspective.

As mentioned in the interstitials section of this post, search engines are becoming increasingly well-versed at rendering pages much like a user would. If there is content hidden to users, search engines are likely to take notice. This could lead to “hidden” content holding less value than the content immediately visible to users. This is not to say that you should get rid of all tabs, “read more” links, or other related elements, but you should ensure that the most important content on the page is visible to users without requiring them to click on anything.

#5: Irrelevant Content Above the Fold

Ads and other irrelevant elements above the fold are a particular nuisance, and a huge no-no when it comes to user experience. If you want your pages to rank well, make sure your ads, or other calls to action, don’t detract from the overall user experience of your website. Similar to the section on tabbed or hidden content above, ensure that the most relevant and important content is immediately visible to users who visit each page.

#6: Mobile Experience

This past spring, Google updated its algorithm to favor websites that are mobile friendly for users searching via mobile devices. If you don’t have a mobile version or a responsive website, your mobile search traffic could be negatively impacted. This negative effect appears to most commonly occur when a company’s competitors have a mobile friendly website, but the company does not. The mobile friendly signal can be a “tie-breaker” of sorts and push one website ahead of the other.

Additionally, maintaining a mobile friendly website can greatly improve the user experience for those users on mobile devices. Given that mobile traffic is increasing at incredible rates, it is more important than ever, and not too late, to redesign your website to be mobile friendly.

#7: Site Security

Last year, Google made site security, specifically serving a website over HTTPS, a ranking factor. This means that serving your website over HTTPS may help you out-rank sites that are served over HTTP. Similar to the mobile friendly benefit mentioned in the mobile experience section of this post, the HTTPS ranking signal can be a “tie-breaker.”

However, this doesn’t mean that you should rush right out and switch to a secure website. There are many other considerations to weigh, including the resources, time, and cost it takes to move from HTTP to HTTPS. This change is beneficial on many fronts, but should be considered carefully.

Should You Make Changes to Your Website?

It’s extremely important to consider both user experience and SEO holistically rather than viewing each as a separate consideration. Think about your users’ needs and how they relate to the aforementioned SEO considerations over any single ranking factor. More than anything, it’s important to have an expert weigh in to help you make these changes thoughtfully – so that a change intended to be positive, doesn’t create negative repercussions.

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