UX: what is it and why does it matter?

Why are we talking about UX?

Put simply, UX is important in every part of our daily lives, probably more than most of us even notice. Let’s walk through an example.  

The 2000 U.S presidential election was extremely contentious. Here are the results:

Pay attention to the highlighted “Electoral vote” and “Popular vote” statistics. In the United States, the president wins by getting a majority of electoral college votes. Each of the 50 states has a number of electoral college votes and whichever candidate wins your state gets all of the electoral college votes from your state. The election that year came down to the state of Florida and its electoral college votes. George Bush won the state by 537 votes out of almost six million votes. Crazy!

It gets even more interesting. Here is what a ballot looked like in a county in Florida that year:

If you were voting for George Bush, which button would you press? The answer is the button marked with an A. Easy.

What would you press if you were voting for Al Gore? Well, he is second on the list so you would press the second button labeled B. Wrong. Pressing B would send your vote to the Reform candidate Pat Buchanan. If you wanted to vote for Gore, you would need to press the button labeled C. If you are confused, so were many voters in Florida.

The small margin of victory and this confusing ballot lead to a recount of votes and a U.S Supreme Court decision.

This is a clear example of poor UX. The design choices for the ballot lead to confusion and error and impacted the result of a U.S election.

Why does any of this matter for SEO? Let’s talk about it.

How does this matter for SEO?  

In one phrase: Machine Learning.

Machine learning algorithms are taking over SEO. Google still uses traditional SEO signals (links, keywords) but machine learning adds another layer to their algorithm.

Google uses traditional SEO signals to show initial results but then uses machine learning to iterate on those results based on user feedback. If Google displays a page, a user clicks and lands on that page, the user then immediately bounces back to the SERP, Google’s machine learning algorithms will know not to display the result.

When a user does not engage with a page, that sends a very clear signal to Google. This is why UX has become crucial if you want your site to rank.

Is UX hard to measure? It sure is. We at Distilled have been talking about this for years.

Here is an article that explains our approach to quantifying UX and quality signals. Google has human testers who go onto sites and manually rate them on quality and UX. Our survey emulates Google’s human testing and gives us information on UX related issues.

How else can you know that UX is a problem for your site? Think about how many of the following issues your site can relate to:

  • You have done a full technical audit and there is nothing (or very few) technical issues with your site
  • You are not hit by any manual penalty
  • Your site decreased in rank (and traffic) around the same time Google announced quality updates
  • Your domain authority is relatively high compared to your competitors and your backlink profile is in a good place

If all or most of the above sounds familiar to you and your site does not rank competitively in its space, UX is a huge potential opportunity.

UX has several components and as Google’s algorithms continue to advance, sites who take care to emphasize UX will reap the benefits in the SERPs.

Whether or not you are designing a ballot for a presidential election or making a site to sell t-shirts, UX matters.

Ok, UX is important. I get that. I still don’t know what it is and what I can do?

You

What is UX?

The phrases UX and UX Design get thrown around a lot. Often, if a website or app does not look visually appealing, people say “that site has bad UX.” But what is UX and what does it really mean?

UX is composed of seven key factors:

  • Useful
  • Usable  
  • Findable
  • Credible
  • Desirable
  • Accessible
  • Valuable

Useful

This is simple. Is your product / website useful? If you have a website, then the question you need to ask yourself is “is my website promoting a product or service people want?”

It is important to note that “useful” is certainly in the eye of the beholder.  Your website can be promoting products or services that provide non-practical benefits such as PPC. What matters most is that your target audience finds it useful.

Usable

Can users utilize your website or product effectively and efficiently? If not, then you may lose out to competitors. In a world where websites are increasing and attention spans are decreasing, if your site is not easy to use, your competitors will reap the benefits.

Findable

Can users find your product? In the case of websites, is the information and content easy to find? This about Wikipedia. As soon as you land on the page, you know exactly where the content is and what to expect. In the vase of a Wikipedia biography, the first sentence usually contains the pronunciation of the persons name. The right corner usually has a box with a picture as well as info on birth dates, education, and profession. It doesn't matter who the person is, if you go on Wikipedia and look at the biography you will be able to find the information you are looking for.

Credible

“Fool me one time, shame on you, fool me twice can’t put the blame on you” - J.Cole

Web users have no patience for sites that are not credible. For a product, it should do the job but also last a long time. For a website, the information provided should be accurate and fit for whatever brought the user to the page. Even search engines have gotten into the credibility game by delivering benefits to sites that are HTTPS vs HTTP.

Desirable

Do people want your product? Do people brag about using your product or site? Think about cars. A Toyota and a Mercedes are both great cars. If given either for free, which would you choose?

Desirability is all about branding, design and aesthetics. This is not to say that sites that lack in these areas will not perform well. But if a user can access the same information from a more desirable website, they will undoubtedly choose to do so.

Your local newspaper and news outlets such as the New York Times and the Guardian probably cover similar issues when it comes to major world events. Which outlet do you read?  

Accessible

Accessibility often gets overlooked, but it is crucial. Accessible products and sites are those that can be used by an audience of a wide range of abilities.

Accessibility needs can be those with physical or learning impairments. This crucial area of UX gets overlooked due to judgements made that disabled individuals do not make up a big percentage of the market. However, the US census estimates that nearly 20% of Americans have a disability. This number is expected to be even higher in developing nations.

Accessibility is so important that Google has created documentation to help webmasters make their sites more accessible.

Value

Value is what encompasses all of the other principles mentioned. Users will find your product or service valuable if it is useful, usable, findable, credible, desirable, and accessible, then users will see value in your product or site. If your site does not provide value, then it will not get users.

Thanks for taking the time to read. If you have any thoughts or questions feel free to reach out to me in the comments below or via the Distilled Twitter account.

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About the author
Samiul Huque

Samiul Huque

Sam joined Distilled as a consultant. He has several years of experience working in technical SEO as well as a year working in mobile app development. His academic background is in mathematics and economics and he loves numbers.  When he is not...   read more