This post will:
- Shed light on the connection between SEO and UX & Usability
- Provide examples of existing travel websites
- Provide useful tips and the tools you need to test them on your website
Understanding the Importance of User Experience and Usability for SEO
Why Is SEO Important?
A survey by Borrell Inc. from September last year shows that SEO is the single most pitched service among small to midsize companies in the US, with a forecasted annual expenditure of $54.32 billion for 2014.
In today’s business environment where web search is the dominant way of gaining new customers, SEO is the natural #1 priority for every online business.
The Connection Between Usability & SEO
Over the years, search engine algorithms have developed beyond the technical side of website optimization, and now more components like user signals are included in the ranking equation. Keeping on top of all of the new ranking factors and search engine algorithm updates can be quite a challenging task for any travel site webmaster. And going beyond the more straightforward technical parameters of a website’s SEO health (like canonicalization, sitespeed, URL length, and keywords usage), factors like human on-site activity may seem even more complex.
To be competitive, search engines strive to provide the most relevant and satisfactory results in answer to their users’ queries. Usability done right is among the most important factors that help engines determine if a website or a page has the potential to provide the satisfactory results users are looking for.
To summarize, winning websites that rank higher have a few traits in common:
- User-friendly, understandable and easy to navigate
- Optimized for most browsers and screen sizes
- Provide high quality, relevant and original content
Let’s review these success traits point-by-point and take a closer look at the connection between UX and SEO.
3 UX Factors That Affect SEO
Search engines use different metrics to analyze human behavior on websites and to determine if user experience has been positive or negative. Such metrics, for example, are: click-through rate, bounce rate, and time on page. If most visitors stay on the website for too short a time and then leave, this is a signal to the search engines that something — irrelevant content, bad design, bad usability — has pushed the users away. The result is — lower website ranking.
So, how can you avoid that?
1. Good Usability: User-friendly, Understandable and Easy to Navigate
It is impossible to analyze in one article all important factors that define if a website has good usability or not. There are, however, two main rules to bring your attention to for a better understanding of the interrelation between usability and SEO.
Rule #1: No Roadblocks
Make sure there are no roadblocks from where users land on your website to the page where they may want to go and complete a desired action (e.g., book a room). How does Airbnb do that? Simple — they put the spotlight on the search box by placing it above the fold on their clutter-free homepage. This immediately indicates what users are supposed to do to achieve their goal. Easy website usage is a factor for achieving good user behavior metrics — time on site, low bounce rate, high conversion rate.
Airbnb’s search form on the homepage automatically brings up the check-out date calendar after the check-in date has been selected. It requires users to enter minimal information at the beginning, but at a later stage provides rich filtering options (including an interactive location map) for narrowing down the search results.
Many other UX & Usability factors can make your website an intuitive, user-friendly and high-converting winner. Among them are: clear and understandable user benefits placed above the fold, allocation of call-to-action buttons in contrasting colors and in prominent positions, and quality copy relevant to your buyer persona.
Rule #2: Include Internal Links
Internal linking, if done well, is important from a usability point of view, because it allows users to navigate the website and to comprehend its structure and hierarchy. At the same time, internal links pass link juice from one page to another. If you don’t link to important product or service pages from your homepage, they won’t benefit from its ranking power. But they should.
TripAdvisor links to their most important internal pages right below the search form, which appear above the fold on bigger screens. Below the fold you can find long lists of links to hotels in popular destinations.
Bonus: Tools to Track and Analyze User Behavior
- Google Analytics — In-page Analytics: Analyze visitor behavior to understand if your page provides the optimal layout and content to your users.
- Crazy Egg & Clicktale: See how people interact with your website, if they scroll down, and what traffic sources bring the most engaged visitors.
- User Testing: Run user research for your website, new landing pages and even for your competitors’ pages, to see if people find the content useful and relevant, and the website usable and intuitive.
2. Cross-Platform Accessibility: Optimized for Mobile
Depending on the service you offer, you may decide to develop a mobile app in addition to your responsive or mobile website. You can even start with a mobile app right off the bat if you offer a non-tech product delivered via tech methods, like Airbnb and Uber. This is a business decision much more than a technical one. In any case, you need to have a website that’s accessible and usable on multiple devices, screen sizes, and browsers.
Why is that?
Reason #1: Your Customers Want It
Two-thirds of your potential customers will be more likely to purchase a trip via their mobile device if the mobile site or app were easier to use, according to a Business Intelligence report from March 2014. The travel industry as a whole has focused on improving mobile user experience, and terms like “augmented reality” no longer sound so exotic.
Reason #2: Google Wants It
In November 2014, Google introduced the mobile-friendly label to help their users select the best sites when searching on a mobile device. In addition, we now know that Google is experimenting with a variety of metrics, which can be the next big ranking factors, and they all concern the mobile user experience. They even launched a tool to help webmasters determine if their website is seen by the search engine as mobile-friendly. You can check your website’s status here.
The tricky part with mobile and travel is the fact that people tend to minimize mobile usage when traveling due to high data roaming charges. Some travel businesses, like TripAdvisor, have found a solution to that problem by offering offline mobile apps.
3. Relevant, Original and High-quality Content
We don’t like cliches like “Content Is King,” because they rarely give you the specifics. Yes, we all know websites need content to rank at all in search results. And Google Panda is no longer news. But what exactly is high-quality content and what are the industry-specific details] when it comes to travel businesses?
Factor #1: Content Relevant to Your Buyer Persona
Speaking the language of your customers will attract and keep them on your website. Analyze your buyer personas to discover the exact phrases they use to express their needs and pain points. Put this knowledge to work by conducting further keyword research and creating amazing copy for your website which will bring relevant traffic and provide useful information directly addressing your users’ search queries.
This way you’ll hit two birds with one stone: (a) provide content that resonates with your customers, which leads to positive user experience, and (b) optimize your website for search engines to achieve your business goals. Make sure you create content with a unique voice and style, that’s much more than just keyword-stuffed copy.
Everything from Airbnb’s “Welcome Home” greeting on their homepage to Trivago’s laser-like focus on extensive hotel search stems from a deep understanding of buyer persona.
Factor #2: Images and Video
To address both user experience and search engine optimization needs, images on your website must be:
- made professionally
- small in file size, but not at the expense of quality
- SEO-optimized with a relevant image title, description and alt text
- surrounded by relevant text, containing the same or similar keywords
- contain geotagging data if your business is local and you want to rank for local search queries
High-quality visual content, when it comes hand-in-hand with targeted copy, will make your website look professional and trustworthy. And this is a huge buying decision factor. So unless your website is just a price comparison aggregator… oh, stop right there! So, even if your website is just a price comparison aggregator, investing in SEO-optimized and breathtaking images and videos is a huge leap in the right direction.
Factor #3: User-Generated Content
User-generated content, especially customer reviews, can greatly benefit both User Experience and SEO on your travel website. How?
UX: Reviews facilitate the buying process. Comments and ratings help people fight the uncertainty and frustration when facing a decision that could cost a two weeks holiday budget or a ruined family vacation. Allowing user reviews on your website also works in favor of your company image, building you up as a transparent and reliable business.
SEO: We’ve mentioned repeatedly the vital importance of relevant content as a ranking factor. And reviews and comments meet the criteria for relevant content in the majority of cases. In addition, frequently generated, fresh, new user content is one of the strongest ranking signals for Google. It shows that the website is maintained and that user engagement is high.
Bonus: Tools for Keyword Research and Checking for Duplicate Content
- Copyscape, Similar Page Checker: Find out if you have duplicate copy on your website.
- Google AdWord’s Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest: Get ideas for keywords and pick up the ones with higher search volume and lower competition levels.
- SEMrush: Spy on your competitors and see what keywords they rank for.
Having a professionally designed, SEO-optimized website with impeccable usability and a positive user experience is the main stepping stone to conquering leading positions in search rankings.
It may sound complicated, and in terms of execution, it is. The logic behind these rules, however, is quite simple. If your website becomes popular, people will likely link back to it as a source of valuable, trustworthy information. And backlinks, hand-in-hand with everything we’ve talked about thus far, can boost your website to reach champion heights in the travel industry.