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Ned Poulter

UX, CRO, SEO: What Does It All Mean And Where Does It All Come Together?

12th Dec 2012 Analytics, Conversion Rate Optimisation 8 minutes to read

User ExperienceNed Poulter looks at where the line falls between UX, CRO, SEO and many other web design disciplines whilst ultimately asking how you can leverage all of these aspects as somebody working in SEO.

Usability = SEO

The lines between UX and SEO are becoming increasingly blurred. Largely this is because many SEO techniques are now also in-line with UX best practice; they go hand-in-hand. Many of us have been aware of this mutually beneficial relationship between SEO and usability for a long time but have chosen to pay little attention to the finer details, either the client’s budget doesn’t cater for it or there are more important changes taking place and UX changes fall by the wayside.

Some top SEO companies like SEOGadgetDistilled, Seer Interactive and Koozai have naturally begun to offer UX and CRO services to complement their existing client offering, the reason for this? The skills to offer this were often already in-house and by optimising the entire process of website conversions, more so than simply getting traffic to the site, this allows us to expand upon the remit of traditional SEO and branch into user experience and CRO and ultimately, help our clients’ make more money. This post will explore the crossing of boundaries between the disciplines, and will aim to provide you with:

  • An insight into approaching these for best practice
  • How to communicate SEO changes in terms of user experience improvements
  • A number of recommended UX/CRO tools that can be utilised to improve user experience on your site

User experience wheel

Google <3s Good UX

When you look closely at some of the algorithm updates over the last 12 months, specifically:

  • Page Layout Algorithm change (read more here)
  • Google ‘Venice’ update – serving more geographically appropriate results based on your location (more here)
  • Even the debate on how page speed is now being using as a quality signal and improvements can help improve a site’s ranking (something that Gianluca recommended in this post)

Taking these updates into consideration you start to realise that ultimately Google’s goal is ensuring that their index consists of the best results on the Internet, both in terms of relevancy and also user experience. If Google serves a website that offers a bad user experience causing a user to go back to the SERPs and ‘try again’, then that reflects badly on them; to Google this can be a vicious cycle and ultimately they want to avoid this!

Communicating SEO without mentioning SEO

One issue that many SEOs are commonly faced with is the inability to communicate why site optimisation recommendations should be applied in terms that the client or developer, can understand. SEOs, more often than not, need to drop the jargon and speak to them like a human, one way of doing this is to describe your recommendations in terms of improving user experience, clients can relate to this. How many times have you found yourself in a situation where even before making the recommendations a client is already looking cross-eyed and is baffled by the mentions of ‘XML sitemaps’, ‘linking root domains’ and ‘robots.txt files’?

I’ve found great successes when working with clients in approaching SEO a bit like an academic discipline, starting a site audit with a series of presentations that I dub ‘SEOSchool’. However, I’ve found that with some clients this doesn’t always resonate, they are time-pressed and more often than not simply don’t care, it’s a bit-part of their overall marketing budget and, after all, worrying about this is what they’re paying me for! So you persevere, make your recommendations, see the on-site optimisation take place, begin your day-to-day of SEO work, site traffic begins to rise and results start to materialise. Next you get a call from your client, you’ve now got their attention and they want to know what you have done to make that happen. Sound familiar? We’re back to square one…

I’ve been in this situation a few times now and personally have found that more and more that when communicating with some non technically-savvy clients SEO is best explained by focusing on how many common SEO fixes for a site are simply a process to create a better user experience. I’d urge you to do the same. Next time you’re trying to explain certain SEO changes to a client or developer, consider approaching the explanation in a slightly different way, like highlighting potential gains like for every 1 second of load time, conversion drops 7%.

Below I have identified several areas that I have found SEO and CRO techniques can be employed in tandem, including mentions of notable tools that can help you do this…

Optimised Page Titles & META Descriptions: Include Relevant and Clear CTAs

This actually lends itself to a conversation I’ve had with a number of SEOs lately regarding optimisation of page titles and META descriptions, and how ‘old school’ examples are dirtying up the SERPs:

  • They completely fail to deliver a good user experience to the end user
  • It offers little to no information of what the page contains
  • Contain no call-to-action
  • This can actually have a more negative effect than positive

While not the worst I’ve seen, consider the example below for a search for ‘cheap car insurance’, More Than Insurance are trying overly hard to optimise their homepage:

More Than Meta Current
  • Truncated page title
  • Use | of | piping | to | separate | keywords
  • Confusion through attempt to target multiple keywords

However this would be much better:

More Than Meta New
  • Clear call-to-action in page title
  • Convincing persuasive language in META description
  • Use of ‘today’ adds immediacy to call-to-action

Many SEOs are turning to others to help write their page titles and METAs, focused on including convincing sales-orientated language with prominent call-to-actions for the user. Try this yourself; once you’ve identified your target keywords, try giving the role of writing page titles and META descriptions to your sales team, or even your PPC team.

Tip: I’d strongly recommend using SEOMofo’s Snippet Optimiser tool to test and visualise recommendations.

Split Test, Then Split Test Again, Then Split Test Again…

Writing page titles and META descriptions in the way identified above is just a start, consider the full journey your user takes through your website once they have reached it. Split testing page titles and call-to-actions allows you to test and iterate to create the optimal experience for your users. There are a multitude of tools out there to help you do this, but I’d certainly recommend looking into three that are incredibly affordable:

Don’t see how this can help? See this example from Highrise where they increased conversions by 30% simply through using Google Content Experiments (formerly Google Website Optimiser).

Worst performer in test

Highrise worst performing page

Conversion increase of 30%

Highrise Best Performing Version

Pay Attention to Information Architecture

Information architecture is a fundamental building block of user experience on your site, ask yourself:

  • Can individuals find what they’re looking for easily on your site? 
  • How were your top-level categories selected? 
  • Did you ask your website visitors/test to form this decision on top-level categories? 

While often overlooked, URLs are a classic example of signposting for the user. Think how many times you refer to the URL in SERPs, or glance at the URL bar in your browser to help you understand where you are on the site. Changing URLs can be an arduous but very rewarding process. Follow simple rules for this and ensure that they:

  • Maintain consistency
  • Support site structure
  • Are intelligible to humans

Information architecture is a vitally important aspect of your website, without a rigorous testing process some areas of your site may simply not be discovered by users. There are a number of tools to help test your information architecture, below I’ve recommended some of the best:

  • TreeJack – ‘Information architecture validation software’, allows you to test your information architecture without visual distractions.
  • Usabilia – Acquire feedback on you site layout and information architecture even when it’s in design/wire-framing stages.

Gather Feedback, Constantly Iterate

Listen to your customers, constantly test and iterate based on the feedback you receive. There are simply hundreds of tools out there to do this, but consider the following tools to approach this:

On-Site/Page Feedback

  • Qualaroo – On-page feedback, try asking purposefully broad questions like ‘what one thing would you change about this page’
  • Olark – On-site live chat, helps you rectify issues users are having when navigating your site and help them to complete their conversions.
  • 4Q – Customer feedback

Session Recording

Recording your user’s journey will allow you to understand better how they are navigating the site and to identify areas of potential improvement, recommended tools:

Crowdsource User Feedback

Much like the on-site/page feedback, you can open this up in a broader way using these tools:

Good News! You’re Probably Already Doing It

User Experience

As marketers, our job is focused on influencing people’s opinion based on an understanding of their needs and wants. Improving user experience helps to remove instances where individuals get frustrated online, which in turn can have a negative effect on your brand as a whole.

The good news is you’re likely to already be aware of this, you just need to secure some time and resources to focus on user testing, split testing and iterating based on this feedback. Trust me, you will not be disappointed. I predict that in 2 years time the best SEO agencies out there will have flourished through offering CRO services and conducting user testing, make sure you don’t miss the boat.

To finish, I could not put it better than StateofSearch blogger Gianluca Fiorelli pointed out in his article ‘What is Google all about now’ (referencing Google’s own company philosophy):

“Focus on the user and all else will follow…”

The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.

Image Credit:

User Experience Wheel and User Experience from BigStock

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