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Why do SEO Auditors Obsess Over The Website User Experience?

November 11, 2021

In the old days, SEO was all about keywords and backlinks. The internet was an ugly jungle of spammy websites that optimized search engine traffic while destroying human useability.

Realizing the danger, Google took action and started refusing to rank websites that don't follow design best practices. Page speed, bounce rate, and UI became critical metrics for SEO success.

Today, the Google algorithms are updated continuously to prioritize user experience and excellent content in the google search results. Modern SEO strategies focus on web design and Google's content metrics.

User Experience and SEO are the same things.

Google wants thick, rich content that oozes Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT). Content must be lightning-fast, simple for both humans and AI to navigate, and optimized for mobile devices.

There are over 200 ranking factors that go into Google uses as signals to decide where to rank a page. These are mostly secret, but Google has confirmed that the top 3 are:

  1. World-class content: Your content must dominate in terms of EAT, length, completeness, and UX. There can't be any mistakes if you want to rank on the first page.
  2. Rank Brain (Googles AI): RankBrain constantly slightly adjusts weighting on ranking factors and grades the results against real-world data.
  3. Backlinks: Links from high EAT websites and community members in your niche are heavily weighted, so SEO involves classic public relations. Google's strategy makes sure that the community is getting what they want and that top-ranked websites are endorsed by people who know what they are talking about.

So yes, content is king. But everyone knows that the queen runs the house, and that's true in SEO. Getting ranked on the first page of the search engine results requires investment in UX design.

Page load time, mobile friendliness, and ease of navigation are the differentiators that decide who wins and loses.

It's kind of like being an athlete at the Olympics. Content gets you to the games, but UX gets you to the medals podium.

Page Load time

Google tries to hit load times of one-half of a second.

Studies have shown that by the time you've hit 3 seconds, you've already lost one-third of your traffic. This lost traffic adds to your bounce rate, which lowers your SERP ranking.

Googles Load TIme Field Data Metrics

Googles Load TIme Field Data Metrics

1. First contextual Paint: FCP is the point when your browser renders the first content. The first content could be text, images, or non-white canvas. To increase your FCP score, you need to get something on the screen fast.

Users are more likely to stick around if they see something happening.

FCP is a crucial signal to visitors to stick around another half-second for their content to finish loading.

2. Largest Contful Paint: LCP refers to the time it takes for the largest piece of content to load. LCP is the primary metric that Google uses to measure website speed.

Even though this is the primary speed metric, Google also measures site visitor pogo-sticking and bounce rate. It's critical that each visitor that Google sends you sticks around and converts.

3. Cumulative Layout Shift: CLS is the ugly movement that page elements can make as they load. Google will lower your ranking if things move around because of janky coding. You need to code your website correctly so that elements know where they are supposed to end up.

4. First Input Delay: FID measures the delay between a user's website interaction and when the website begins to fulfill the request.

But wait, there's more! Google's Lab data Load Time metrics.

1. Speed Index: SI measures how long it takes above the fold visual elements to load. Above the fold elements is the part of a website that you first see before you scroll down. The analogy is the front half of a newspaper's front page.

2. Time to Interactive: TTI measures the time it takes for your website to become interactive and functional. To be clear, this is when your website is durably interactive. Cheating by making the content temporarily interactive won't work.

3. Total Blocking Time: TBT is very similar to TTI. It measures the time when a website is blocked from user interaction. TBT is calculated as the time between First Contentful Paint and Time to Interactive.

Page Load Speed Optimization

Page load speed is critical, but how you do it is also essential. Janky shortcuts will get you in trouble later with Cumulative Layout Shift and broken site elements.

Using Web design best practices will result in the best possible optimization. Good, fresh design equals good SEO.

Here are some things you can do to help optimize an older or under-performing website.

How Page Speed Effect SEO and Ranking

Choose a good WebHost

Your choice of web host will depend on what your goals are.

Shared hosting is cheap but isn't optimal unless your site is small and limited in distribution. Shared hosting might make sense if you're a local business or institution and can't scale your website to a national level.

Many businesses simply can't and don't need to scale on the web. Hospitals, construction contractors, schools, and local governments can afford to make you wait a couple of seconds. (Keep it below 3 seconds, though!)

Even the smallest websites should still be designed well and practice good security. But if your child's elementary school website loads a little slow in the afternoon, it'll probably be fine.

VPS Hosting is more predictable than shared hosting, and it's still very affordable for businesses and institutions. VPS works by logically separating system resources so that each website on the shared server can't interfere with other websites. VPS is a good solution if you have a small website and shared hosting doesn't provide the stability you need.

Dedicated server hosting makes sense for more extensive regional distribution. Dedicated server hosting will optimize your speed if you already know that you don't need to scale globally.

Dedicated server hosting makes sense sometimes, but generally, if shared hosting doesn't serve your needs, you should probably be considering cloud hosting.

Cloud hosting costs more to get started but makes sense if you are scaling up. AWS, Microsoft, and other cloud providers can scale to handle any conceivable load, and you only have to pay for the infrastructure you use. The stability and scalability make cloud hosting a must-have for many medium and large websites.

Enable Compression

File compression reduces the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files.  Gzip is free and widely used.

Optimize images

Don't use Gzip on image files. Use photo compression software instead.

Ensure that your photos sizes are under control and appropriate for the content you are trying to serve. High-resolution images aren't necessary in all cases.

Make sure that photos are in the correct format too. JPEG works well with complex images like photos, while PNG is appropriate if your image has 16 or fewer colors.

Use a CSS Sprites template and download your UI elements all at once as one large image. That will save you from making lots of micro requests that can slow performance to a crawl.

Include the trailing slash

It's easy to forget to add a trailing slash to your links. Trailing slashes tell the browser to stop looking for additional directories.

Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML

Good, commented code with proper whitespace and variable names is critical for human readability, but it's slightly slower than ugly, minimal code.

Use a preprocessor to optimize the code for machine readability before uploading it to the live server. Google recommends that you use CSSNano and UglifyJS.

Reduce redirects

There are all kinds of legitimate reasons why you might need to redirect traffic. Correctly redirected traffic won't hurt your SEO but will slow you down.

Sometimes you need to redirect to migrate links from deleted content into your new content. You should also request that the link points to your latest content to shorten redirect chains.

Remove render-blocking JavaScript

Google suggests that you avoid putting JavaScript into places where it will block your rendering because rendering will pause while the JavaScript executes.

If possible, execute Javascripts after rendering. If you have a script that needs to run in the middle of rendering, keep it short and inline the javascript file contents.

Leverage browser caching

Leverage your site visitor's browser cache to store image files, stylesheets, and Javascript files. Browser cache reduces data usage and transfer costs and can dramatically improve loading times for subsequent visits. Caching for up to a year is appropriate if you have static assets that rarely change, like your logo.

Improve server response time

Locating your server near your customers and optimizing the server architecture for speed will dramatically improve your results.

Make sure you aren't making a lot of slow database queries or running bloated code.

Use a content distribution network.

Content Distribution Networks are modern website hosting options like AWS, where your site is stored and delivered from local servers at locations worldwide.

Your website should deliver content from servers close to your viewers. Some websites only serve a limited geographical area so that they can get away with a local server.

Make sure that you've optimized for mobile search.

Having a mobile responsive design is critical.  Google won't put your website onto Search Engine Results Page unless you have a mobile version of your website.

Google looks to make sure that your  site’s navigation, fonts, and user interface are optimized for a great mobile experience.

Final thoughts

Clean, optimized code is critical for site speed. Talk to an SEO auditor about your site design and code, especially if it's been a while since you've updated your website.

Search engine optimization agencies are also digital marketing agencies.  SEO auditors consider every part of the website, including user engagement metrics, UI design, and core web vitals.

Best practices and site design change very quickly, so it pays to talk to an expert specializing in SEO web development.

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