Balancing between SEO and User Experience (SXO)

March 12th, 2024 by Heather Maloney

Last month we wrote a blog post about an infrequently used search engine optimisation (‘SEO’) tactic – structured data.  Whilst the implementation of structured data is a very unobtrusive SEO tactic, being hidden behind the page and picked up only by search engines (mainly Google) to understand your content better, there are many SEO tactics that do impact of user experience.

At Contactpoint we have always tried to take a very balanced approach to SEO; balancing user experience with achieving #1 in Google.  There’s no point getting people to find you, only to have the new visitor to your website sigh and leave because your content goes on and on, and doesn’t get to the heart of their problem.

Search Engine Experience Melbourne

Google has always been driven by giving searchers a great experience also, which is why they are constantly expanding and refining their algorithm / factors that determine search engine ranks.  For example, Google has been recently emphasising additional metrics such as Largest Contentful Paint, or how long it takes for the largest element in a particular web page to load and therefore be visible by your website visitor.  There are many new metrics in this category called Core Web Vitals.

The emphasis on user experience + SEO has been picked up by the digital technology industry recently, to arrive at a new buzz word: ‘Search Experience Optimisation’ or SXO for short.

This is in contrast to the recent accusations against Google, asserting that Google has ruined the web.  The assertion is that a result of web masters focusing heavily on SEO to ensure their website is found (to get necessary visitors, sales & leads) and pandering to Google’s algorithms is detracting from user experience.

Some examples of how SEO might reduce the experience of website visitors are:

  • Content that shifts too much on page load e.g. sophisticated animations, can lead to Google determining your website is a poor user experience and therefore should rank lower. Beautiful animations should have an accessible alternative for people using screen readers and the like to consume your website, however removing movement to placate Google is certainly leading to a more standard looking world wide web.
  • Headings, from an SEO point of view, need to include your target search terms, so headings like “Welcome to XYZ – leaders in Cybersecurity Melbourne” are more commonplace … which isn’t exactly an exciting heading. A more creative writer might prefer “Let’s get your Cyber Risks Under Control” but the term ‘cyber risks’ might not be searched upon so the heading gets replaced.
  • Many Headings. Breaking up your content into short sections of text with search term laden headings can be helpful, but it can also make you feel like the writer is trying to compensate for your short attention span, or thinks you are a moron.
  • Numbered lists are found to be very popular by searchers, hence the deluge of blogs posts on topics such as “10 best places to stay in Brisbane” or “7 tips for achieving email delivery into the Inbox”. These can still be interesting reading, but the content often becomes more generic as the writer seeks to comply with the structure of the headline.  This style of writing can make the reader feel like they are consuming soundbites or formulaic writing rather than delving deeply into a topic.
  • Long Lists of Locations are very unfriendly for website visitors (but can be used as an SEO tactic). Who is going to search through a list for their suburb, when instead they could look at a map with an area selected indicating where they service?
  • Click Here links are not optimal for search engines. An optimised link will have the search terms within it (among other characteristics) and so as an SEO writer you need to go to great lengths sometimes to rewrite a sentence to ensure your clickable text is actually the target search term for the page.  This, however, may not be the most obvious text for the reader to click.
  • Internal Links are very important to help Google to navigate through and index your website. Each internal link gives you the opportunity to help Google understand what the destination page within your website is about.  However, if you overdo the use of internal links, you can make it very distracting for the reader.  A paragraph with the 3 different hyperlinked text can make a reader feel like they have to click on each link, go and read that page, and then come back and keep reading … your killing their ability to keep their train of thought on what they are reading.  Either that, or they decide never to click on any link you provide … and likely click away and go to someone else’s website that is less annoying.
  • The popular Lazy Load feature, whereby the reader simply scrolls up to see the next set of products or items, may in fact be harming your optimisation, because it’s harder for Google to navigate and therefore index that content. Instead, you might opt to employ pagination, that is, a collection of page number links along with Start and End links.
  • The Reading Level or complexity of your language is another ranking factor. Google ranking may favour simpler language, which includes shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, less complicated words.  While making your language more accessible to a wider audience isn’t necessarily a bad idea, there is a time and a place for using more sophisticated language expected by your industry or an organisation of a certain standing.
  • Mobile First websites often lead to the desktop version looking like they are appealing to a two-year-old with vision impairment. Google is very keen to ensure that the websites high in the search engine results provide visitors using a mobile phone with a great user experience.  However, we believe it is a mistake to not take the time to provide a great user experience for both mobile and desktop   You can fit more information onto larger desktop screens without having it look cluttered!

The abundance of landing pages, that is, the destination of Google Ad clicks, have similar reduction of enjoyment for the reader … but that’s a topic for a separate article!

So, what can be done about this situation?  How can you still rank well in Google, without making your website read and look like every other website, and annoy your visitor or harm your reputation with all the issues described above?

Perhaps an even more fundamental question is, “If Google are wanting to improve user experience, why can’t Google’s measures (which SEO experts review and try to improve upon) actually lead to better user experience across the web, as opposed to websites full of useless content, and vanilla website designs?”  We won’t try and answer that question here – another topic for a separate article!

Before we get into SXO, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some organisations for whom search engine ranks are unimportant.  For example, businesses who aren’t looking for any new customers, or who have an abundance of new visitors coming from means other than web searches e.g. foot traffic, referring organisations, well-known brand names for whom people go directly to their website, and more.  For organisations in this luxurious position, they can largely ignore the search engines, and focus solely on user experience.

For every other organisation, who needs to rank well in the search engines because it is an important source of leads (and you don’t want to solely rely on throwing large amounts of money at Google paid advertising), Contactpoint will help you with our pragmatic approach to balancing user experience and SEO.  As I mentioned at the top of this article, we’ve been practising SXO ever since we began decades ago.

In a nutshell, we understand each and every tactic that can be employed to improve your ranks in the search engines (and there are many that don’t fall into the pitfalls described above), and apply those to your website judiciously.  We keep your audience firmly in mind when employing any SEO tactic to ensure that the reader isn’t going to be put off by the way the tactic has been implemented.

For example, we might write content that incorporates recommended semantic terms (that’s content that Google expects to see around your search terms, so that it knows what your web page is about), but after doing so we will step back and read the content as if we are the website visitor, and make adjustments as required to ensure that the content is clear, in natural English, and doesn’t read like a ploy to achieve search engine ranks.

From time to time, while delivering our SEO service to our clients, we will explain the trade-offs and allow you to choose how aggressive or otherwise we implement a particular SEO tactic.  For example, whilst content higher up in a particular web page is given more weight by the search engines, it may be appropriate to employ certain SEO tactics lower down in the page where we expect that a website visitor is rarely going to read.  That can be risky, but tools that measure user behaviour can provide the data to inform such decisions.

Has your website been polluted or penalised by Spammy SEO?

Contactpoint is sometimes asked to take over a website which was previously “optimised” for the search engines using even worse tactics than those described above.  These include keyword stuffing, content published on irrelevant blog sites, dubious backlinks through link farms and low authority directory sites, to name a few.

We can certainly help in such a situation, however it can take longer for your website ranks to improve, because it takes time for Google to trust your website – you’ve been penalised.  It’s best not to fall foul of promises for “guaranteed #1 ranks” from a low-cost organisation, who will use any and every tactic to achieve short term ranks.  This is just another reason why Contactpoint has employed SXO forever.

A better way to Optimise for the Search Engines

At the risk of writing content just for the search engines 😉 I wanted to repeat that Contactpoint is very careful to take a holistic approach to all aspects of our work in digital technology.  We are a provider of custom technology – which includes websites, mobile apps, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications – as well as digital marketing.  SEO is just one of our digital marketing services, and not the hammer with which we want to hit every (problem-perceived-as-a) nail.

You can trust us to implement SEO for your organisation in a way that does not harm user experience, and that presents your organisation to your target audience, in the right way to achieve your goals for your website.

If you would like to have an obligation free conversation about SEO, SXO or UX of your website, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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