Chapter 3 - Creating synergies between SEO and UX

How can SEO and UX teams benefit from one another’s expertise? How can SEO input help improve UX and the other way around? How can you as a company optimize the communication between the SEO and the UX team?

Why is it important that UX crucial and SEO work well together?

1. Personas

Many UX teams work with “Personas”, a fictional representation of your user(s) that have been constructed on the basis of user research. In e-commerce it is harder to get an idea of who your users are, because you cannot see them come into your physical store, talk to them face2face when they are looking around, etc. By looking at the personas, you get a better idea of who your users are and what they expect to see on your pages. This can help you to fulfil the search intent and properly instruct, for example, content writers. Some examples:

  • Are your users used to shopping online and do not need a lot of explanation? Or are your users those who only shop online occasionally and need more information about products? This affects how and where you place your content.
  • If you are the one providing instructions to the content team you can tell them more about the users, should they for example use everyday language or academic language? In the example below for the keyword “Men’s sweatpants” you can see that, even though they are talking about the same thing, Canterbury and Harrods use different wording for “free delivery” in their meta description. If you are able to speak the language of your user in your title and meta description, you are more likely to attract the right kind of traffic, that converts and your users will have a good experience on the site and are more likely to come back. 
canterbury joggers
harrods_joggers_serps
  • You have probably done keyword research and on the basis of this, seen which keywords and topics are important for a particular page. UX can help you understand how people perceive and navigate through your pages and you can use this to decide where on your page you want to place certain information and what the best format is. If, for a product detail page, you want to decide where to place the product description, where to place your user generated content, etc. UX can help you decide where on the page you want to place that information exactly, so that it fits the user flow of your page.  
Larissa Bakker

Larissa Bakker

Senior inhouse SEO Manager

Larissa is a Senior inhouse SEO Manager with 7+ years of experience in e-commerce and affiliate companies in industries that are very SEO driven. She loves supporting newer SEOs in their development, finding creative ways to improve websites beyond the obvious measures and creating synergies with other teams. Larissa is originally from the Netherlands, but now lives in Munich, Germany.

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

Table of Contents

2. How users navigate through your websites and what they expect

  • UX teams have a good understanding of how customers navigate through your website and the best practices to adhere to when creating new pages or updating your website. This information can help you make decisions on the taxonomy, URL structure and internal linking to name a few:
    • Breadcrumbs and URL structure:
      • When you have a shop that sells clothing, should you put the tennis shoes under sports > tennis > shoes, sports > shoes > tennis or clothing > shoes > tennis shoes? This affects your internal linking, your URL structure and your breadcrumb structure. When we look at the below example from the travel industry you can see that one website starts from the type of vacation (package tours) and then defines the location (Italy), whereas the other starts from the destination and then goes into the type of vacation.
breadcrumb
breadcrumbs
    • Internal linking:
      • Which elements do people expect to find where, which similar categories do they usually look at? You can use this for things like “similar brands” or “similar products” links to find out which pages to link to. Links that satisfy users are more powerful.For this you need to combine data about how users behave on your website, but also in your industry and general web standards. If you only look at information about what is a typical behaviour pattern on your website, you might miss improvement opportunities. Your UX team has information on these standards in your industry and on the web in general. 

3. Finding your Expertise and Authority, increasing your Trustworthiness and improving the quality of your backlinks

EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness), has been a buzzword in SEO for a couple of years. But how do you check if you are an authority on a certain subject and if others think differently. UX teams often perform user interviews and this can help you understand how users actually perceive your site. Questions you should ask:

  • What do users associate your brand with? If they like you because you always follow the trends of the latest fashion icons, you could focus on enhancing this in your outreach campaigns, as Stylight did with their fashion minions
  • Do they feel they can trust your website? If not, what is the reason? Is there certain information missing? Will a “facts and figures” graph about the number of dedicated fans help you? Or rather a logo from something like trusted shops? Or rather because your “About Us” page is missing or doesn’t provide clear information?
  • If users come to your website because they feel you are better than anyone else at providing information on finding the right size for your products, you might want to highlight this more conspicuously in your content
  • Find out which brands your users trust and try to get backlinks from those pages. If you’re an electronics shop and your users are tech geeks, try to get backlinks from or work together with magazines that focus specifically on technical products. If your users come to your website because they just need a computer, you might rather want to work together with magazines that write about a broader range of topics.

SEO teams have information, that might be useful for UX teams

1. Core Web Vitals / Page Speed

Within the page speed insights tool, Google provides you with data on how fast pages load, based on actual user data (not available for all URLs, only if you see “Field Data”).

As SEOs page speed is very important, but it may not have the same level of priority for those in the UX team. 

However, if the site is very slow, then it will probably interest the UX team because it is user data. The UX team cannot change the speed of your pages, but they can help you to convince your management to invest in the resources to improve the load time. It is also something that the UX team will take into consideration for their user tests. If they see a lot of users leaving the pages after a very short time and the page is very slow, they may then look to change the UX of the page and help improve the speed of the site.

page_speed_insights

When explaining Core Web Vitals to the UX team, you do not need to go into the details of every aspect, but you can tell them which each of these points mean generally, as Google also explains it.

1. The Largest Contentful Paint relates to loading, how long does it take for users to see the full page. If you run a test in page speed insights you can actually see which element is responsible for the Largest Contentful Paint. It is situated under “Diagnostics”:

LCP image

2. First Input Delay has to do with interactivity and measures how long it takes between when a user first interacts with the page and the page responds to this interaction. Which resources on your pages are responsible for contributing to the input delay can also be found in the analysis in page speed insights, namely under “Diagnostics” and then “Avoid long main thread tasks”

3. Cumulative Layout Shifts have to do with visual stability, so if elements move after 500ms of user input. These are often caused by banners or advertisements that are loaded later and for which resizing needs to be done. Which elements contribute most to these layout shifts can be found in page speed insights under “Diagnostics” and the “Avoid large layout shifts”. If the main reason is banners being inserted later, you could see if you can already “reserve” this spot and then load in the banner later or make sure you load this element as early as possible.

Another way to show your UX colleague or team how the page loads is to make it visual as shown in the image below. This can also help you identify any elements that are loaded very late or contribute to the layout shifts yourself.  You can actually do this in the Google Dev Tools:

  • Open the Chrome dev tools (right click, inspect)
  • Go to the Network tab
  • Tick the box “Capture Screenshots”. If you don’t see this straight away, click on the top right “Network Settings” wheel. 
  • Now reload the page (best to empty your cookies first)
  • You then get to see a whole load of screenshots. Remember, this is how the page was loaded in YOUR browser, there might be differences for every user. 
capture_screenshots

2. Long Tail Keywords

During your keyword research you have probably come across (longtail) keywords and questions people have about a topic (e.g. via alsoasked.com or via the Authoritas FAQ Explorer). This can give you information on which topics users might expect on a page and information that your UX team can use in their designs. 

In this example below you can see for the query “Croatia” people ask things like “Vacation in Croatia and Slovenia”, which can suggest that users often combine Croatia and Slovenia in one vacation. Your UX team can use this to build an element about “Destinations close to Croatia” and include Slovenia. In the second picture, we can see that users ask questions like “Where to go to in Croatia”. This suggests that users want to know more about which regions/cities/places in Croatia they can visit. If you have a page about Croatia, you might want to link to these specific destinations or at least make sure to provide information on this.

where to spend vacation
where to spend vacation

3. Competitor Analysis

81% of people search online for a product or service. Search engines have become better at understanding users, what their intent is and the content they want to see on websites. Search engines want to serve the most relevant pages and we have seen they adjust their algorithms (Core updates) to deliver the content users want.

Sites ranking at the top of a search engine may therefore be providing the content users are searching for and have a good UX. It is therefore important to review both aspects when looking at your competitors and assess whether you should include similar elements on your site.  You shouldn’t just do the same thing as your competitors, but you can take this information and adjust it to your own business. For example, if you see that all of your competitors have included questions and answers about a product or products on your site, you can do this as well, but make sure you answer these questions more thoroughly and go into more detail with a user-friendly layout.

How can you improve your collaboration with your UX team?

1. Be part of user interviews and user tests and beta groups

Being part of this group will allow you to see first hand the customer/user feedback which is important for any company. It will give you (as the SEO team) a better understanding of who your users are, what they are looking for and help you with providing the content they will consume. Work with the UX team from the beginning so you can add your feedback and your questions to the interviews and tests. For example what kind of product information do your customers; want to see, would like to see, how they would like to have it formatted, where they would like to see it on the page, etc. You can for example ask users how they would try to find information on a certain topic, this might help you discover new keywords. Doing user tests and user interviews about metadata can help you understand how you can improve your title and meta descriptions. Besides that you can learn what makes a user (not) trust your website or a competitor.

2. Cross Training - Covering the basics

SEO and UX teams should set up training where each team learns about the different elements of the other. As an SEO, you might know quite a lot already about what a user expects, but a UX person will explain it from a different perspective. Additionally, if you teach your UX team the basics of SEO, they are more likely to implement the tech elements correctly from the beginning (from an SEO perspective). They will also know from the start when to ask you for information or when to involve you in the different website projects.

3. Watch what you say!

It is easy to say that you need to include certain text or elements “for SEO”, but may leave the UX team with the impression that it will affect your ranking, but is not important for a user. Always show why something is important for a user as well. Most elements that are important for SEO are part of the algorithm BECAUSE they are important to visitors and potential customers. Being consistent with this will show the value to your UX team and avoid them seeing SEO as simply an add-on to think about when the site is finished. Show them that SEO is a core part of your product!

4. Keep the information flowing!

Setting up a channel where you can exchange useful articles and information with your UX doesn’t only increase knowledge levels of both teams, but also makes it easier for people to approach you. In terms of a channel, you can set one up on Slack or a separate project management tool. Here you can share articles that are also interesting for UX and how it benefits SEO as well. Make sure you do not just send a link, but put it into context for the current project you are working on.

5. Make an “SEO for UX” checklist

In this checklist you can list all the elements UX should take into account from an SEO perspective when working on projects. Make sure you don’t only make a list, but also explain the how and why. You can even link to good articles and resources, in case the UX team wants to read the details. It will also help you as you will spend less time repeating the “why” and with the UX team on board with your changes, they can be implemented correctly from the start! 

The steps for creating a checklist:

  1. Inform your UX team that you would like to start this and ask them for their input (what do they struggle with, which format should you use?)
  2. Make a first draft of the checklist.
  3. Ask your UX team to review it to make sure all the points are clear.
  4. Finalise!

6. Show relevant Google Documentation

Google has a lot of information available on what they consider to be high quality pages. Documents like the Google Quality Rater Guidelines have many good and bad examples. If a page performs well in search, it usually performs well for users as well. Search engines aim to rank those pages higher that offer a good user experience.

7. Have a cup of coffee or tea with your UX team

Have a nice cuppa with your UX person(s) and try to understand their perception of SEO, what they struggle with, any misconceptions they have. Some common misconceptions/problems that you are likely to find out:

  • Your UX team learned the basics of SEO 8 years ago and their knowledge is outdated. They might have been taught that things like keyword density are important. Explain where SEO stands nowadays. You can for example show them this article from 2011 about what Google considers high quality content. Back then they were far from being able to reflect this in the SERPs, but nowadays they are pretty good. It shows their continuous development in becoming better at understanding what the user wants and reflecting this in the SERPs. 
  • They think they need to implement changes specifically for SEO, whereas actually we as SEOs want to implement them because it brings value to users and it will also help to rank our pages higher in the SERPs.

Closing Remarks

eCommerce is important now in 2021 more than ever. There is no more excuse to having a slow site, poor user interface and duplicate content.  James, Maria and Larissa have all gone through and provided real life examples of how to optimise your site(s) in 2021 and what common mistakes to avoid. Duplicate and thin content is harming eCommerce sites which negatively affects their marketing and their bottom line.

With more people buying online due to the lock down, it is extremely important to give users an easy shopping experience. Larissa highlighted the issues with slow loading site and the challenges from the UX and SEO teams, often conflicting with one another. Going forwards we should be working together to provide a great user experience for all users. We did not touch on the accessibility issues of some of the eCommerce sites which should be resolved. .

Thank you again to our co-authors for sharing their expertise with us. If you would like to contribute to this or any of our other Ultimate SEO Guide series then get in touch.

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