In this post, we will explore two SEO ranking factors that Google considers the most important: Search Intent and User Experience.
Search intent is what the person is looking for when they type a query into Google. User experience is how a visitor feels when using a website.
Search intent and user experience are part of Google’s 200+ ranking signals. While Google does not disclose these signals, these two factors are widely recognized as two of the most important SEO ranking factors that Google considers.
Many SEO practitioners, including the Grow Digital team, believe that both search intent and user experience are the “official” ranking metrics.
Both factors provide the framework for the rest of the SEO work. When we align our SEO practices with these two factors, the rest of the ranking signals usually falls in place.
Keyword research is a practice SEO practitioners use to discover and research search terms that users enter into search engines when looking for products, services or general information.
The goal of keyword research is to generate a list of keywords that users are using and are relevant to your business and offerings.
With this keyword list, you will have a guide to create content that will more likely attract qualified traffic to your site. A well-researched keyword list can determine how fast you find success in your search engine rankings.
Search Intent Precedes User Experience
Search intent is usually the starting point, and it precedes user experience. You will find it hard to form a good user experience strategy without input from search intent.
Imagine that a group of friends are looking for a place to eat dinner but have no particular restaurant in mind. The most logical process is to ask everyone what type of cuisine interests them (search intent). Only after a cuisine is agreed upon, will the search continue for a restaurant that might have a good ambiance, a convenient location or good service etc (user experience).
When someone is performing a search on Google, the search engine matches a website with relevant content based on the user’s search intent. Google does not match a website to a user based on the user experience of the site.
However, the user experience of a website will impact its ranking in the search results. Websites that provide a better user experience will always rank higher that those that have a poorer user experience, all other things being equal.
There are four main search intents:
These users search with keywords that indicate that they want to learn about a certain topic. Examples of informational searches include: “what cheeses are in a 4-cheese pizza” or “Best pizza in Singapore”.
These users know what they want and are looking for information that will help them decide to make a purchase. Examples of commercial searches include: “Where to buy thin crust pizza in Singapore” or “Pizza restaurant reviews”.
These users already know what specific website, product, or service they want. When users type in a company or brand name into a search engine, they are performing a navigational search. The search engine will provide them with the link to go to the accurate website. Examples include: “Pizza Hut” or “Dominos”.
These users are ready to make a purchase or take immediate action. The search engine should bring the users to specific order or purchase pages for the product or services they are looking for. Examples transactional searches include: “Order pizza online” or “make reservation for pizza restaurant near me”.
Align Content and Keywords with Search Intent
Once you understand the different types of search intent and you understand your target customers’ search intent, it will be easier to create and match content with the keywords customers search for.
Here is an example of how a pizza restaurant in Singapore might create content to match your potential customers’ search intent
The pizza restaurant can write long-form blog posts such as:
- The Most Popular Types of Pizzas in Singapore
- 5 Things to Look for in a Good Pizza Restaurant
- Why the Dough is the Most Important Part of the Pizza
The restaurant’s website should be well structured with pages aligned with specific commercial search intent. They should have pages with relevant content that can include:
- Product pages for each type of pizza sold
- Reviews for the restaurant
Besides ensuring that the pizza restaurant name is prominently featured in all webpages and page tiles, the restaurant should have contact information that can be easily found on the site.
The restaurant should they have an updated Google Business Profile. Previously known as Google My Business, the business profile allows the restaurant to manage their online presence across the entire Google platform. This provides users with consolidated information such as opening times, menu, delivery options, photographs, and customer reviews.
The pizza restaurant can have an online reservation system that allows customers to book a table easily. If the restaurant caters for delivery on their website, they should have an easy-to-use ordering system where users can pay for their pizza with the most popular payment methods.
The reservation and ordering systems should also be optimised for mobile so that users can purchase through their mobile devices.
A person’s overall experience while using a website, especially how easy or pleasant it is, is referred to as user experience.
In recent years, Google has placed more emphasis on “User Experience” and recently incorporated page experience as a factor into its ranking algorithm, focusing more on technical SEO.
Essentially, the better the interaction a user has with your webpage, the more likely the page will rank well in Google’s search engine ranking pages.
Google has a few key signals to measure user experience.
Dwell time, or time on page, refers to the length of time a user stays on a web page after clicking on the search engine link.
If the user stays on that web page for a long period, it indicates that they enjoy the content or find the page useful. This gives a strong signal to Google that this particular webpage should rank higher.
On average, if a user stays on a webpage for at least one minute, it’s considered a good dwell time.
Conversely, if the user stays for no more than ten seconds, it may indicate that webpage does not have relevant information that matches the search intent. Or it is possible the website is not well-design and provides a poor user experience, prompting the visitor to leave early.
Examples of poor user experience may include badly written content, non-responsive design, poorly presented content layout or slow page loading speed.
Bounce rate refers to a user who leaves a site after only viewing one page of the site. That means, the user leaves without clicking on another link, watching a video, filling up a contact form or taking some form of call-to-action.
Bounce rate is measured in percentages and is the percentage of users who leave or “bounce” from the page. An average healthy bounce rate is between 40% to 70%
In general, a high bounce rate would be anything above 70% and a good bounce rate would be below 40%.
It is important to note that bounce must be seen in conjunction with dwell time or time on page. Sometimes a page might have high bounce rate but a long dwell time. This means that the page might offer information that is very substantial and provide good value to users. The page may be so comprehensive that users do not need to click on any other pages as they have received all the information they need. In this scenario, a high bounce may not be indicative of anything wrong with the webpage.
However, if a page has a high bounce rate and poor dwell time, it generally indicates that the content is not matching search intent (relevance), user experience is bad. The page may feature badly written content, poor content layout or have non-responsive design. The page loading may also be very slow, which compels users to leave before the content loads properly.
Tips to Improve User Experience
The goal of providing a positive user experience is to ensure that your user stays on your page for as long as possible and enjoys the stay.
Here are some tips to improve user experience which will in turn reduce bounce rate and increase dwell time.
increase page speed
No one wants slow-loading websites. If the user waits and doesn’t see any content within seconds, they will leave, giving your webpage a high bounce rate.
Even Google said that two-second loading time is the threshold for an e-commerce website.
Here are some tips to increase page speed:
USE A CONTENT DELIVERY NETWORK (CDN)
Your hosting provider should also speed up your page load time by using a CDN. It’s a network of servers that allows your website files to be served from the closest available server, leading to faster page load times.
USE A CACHING TOOL
There are many caching tools available for websites that you can use to speed up your website’s page load time.
USE A FAST-HOSTING PROVIDER
Web hosting providers have varying speeds of servers. Free web hosts may have very slow server speed, which can affect your page load time. Check with the web host if they have servers that speed up your website’s page load time.
OPTIMIZE YOUR WEBSITE FILES
HTML files larger than 200kb can take longer to load, so you should optimize your website’s HTML files.
COMPRESS ALL IMAGES
Large images can also take a long time to load. Use tools like TinyPNG and other image compression tools to compress your website’s images to reduce the overall size of your files.
You can also further improve your Core Web Vitals as discussed in the Essentials of Technical SEO.
CREATE "STICKY" CONTENT
“Sticky” content refers to content that “sticks” the user to the webpage for as long as possible. This will increase the dwell time and reduce the bounce rate. “Sticky” content is generally content that is substantial and offers solid value. The content is also written in such a way that it compels users to keep moving down through the page and staying on the page for some time.
Here are some tips for creating “sticky” content:
WRITE LONG-FORM QUALITY CONTENT
Users spend more time reading a long, three-thousand-word article compared to a five-hundred-word post. So, it makes sense to provide long-form content especially when trying to rank for keywords and to keep your audience engaged.
Try to keep articles between 1000 to 2000 words as this is an optimal length to provide information of value to users and for Google to rank your page.
One tip to write effective long-form content is to use the proven writing framework of the 5Ws and H. Essentially, you will cover the “Who, What, When, Where and Why as well as How” of your topic. If you can address each point with content of substance, it will be easy to write longer articles.
It is important to note that you should not pad your content just to meet an arbitrary word count. Google’s AI can detect natural language and can access the quality of content based on the writing. It can tell when thin content is fluffed up or points are repeated in different ways.
MAKE YOUR CONTENT EASY TO READ
It is critical to organise your long-form content by breaking it up into sections and making it easy to read. Some other ways to make your content easy to read include:
- Keep sentences as short and concise as possible. Break up overly long sentences into multiple sentences.
- Use new paragraphs for new points.
- Use bullet or number lists to highlight information.
- Add titles, headers, and sub-header to organise the content.
- For main body text, ensure your font size is between 16pt to 22pt for comfortable reading.
- Use capitalisation appropriately.
- Include a table of contents if it is a very long article.
According to a report, over 68% of the user traffic comes from mobile devices. Naturally, Google will also focus on a great user experience on mobile.
To create a great user experience for mobile users, you should consider the following:
- A responsive web design that fits any screen size
- The website that loads fast on mobile
- A content layout that is designed for mobile viewing
- Prominent call-to-action buttons like “Contact Us” and “Buy Now.”
- A website navigation menu that is easy to use
Use Search Intent and User Experience to Guide Your SEO
The importance of search intent and user experience cannot be undermined. If there is one basic rule of SEO, it is to keep these two factors in mind when performing SEO.
When crafting your SEO strategy or executing SEO implementation such as technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO, always ask yourself if it matches your target users search intent and provides them with a good user experience.
If you can keep these two factors in focus when performing SEO, you will realise that decisions and choices will be very easy to make. And more importantly, your choices will be rewarded by Google when it ranks your website high on its search engine ranking pages.