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PHOTO:
Clark Young

SEO is about optimizing websites for machines: search engines. But search engines serve human beings. And some of those human beings are your customers. Improving your SEO can, in turn, improve your customer experience.

However, much like customers, search engines are fickle. They use a number of factors to determine how to rank sites for certain terms. And what one user sees may not be the same set of results another does, depending on their individual search histories.

SEO isn’t just about getting your website in front of people, though. It’s also about providing searchers with reliable, up-to-date information and a solid user experience. Search engine algorithms can distinguish between helpful sites and those packed with keywords for the sake of luring traffic. Because great content and a well-functioning site are the best ways to capture potential customers, it makes sense that SEO rewards that behavior. How can search engine optimization improve your customer experience? Here are a few tips and tricks.

Treat Your Visitors to a Great User Interface

If your website’s user interface is shoddy, its SEO score will reflect that. Sites that are difficult to navigate — whether through poor linking or design — won’t hold visitors’ attention for long. Bounce rate and session duration are two factors that affect SEO: the shorter the sessions, the lower the score.

To keep your viewers engaged on your site, make their experience worthwhile. Make sure it’s easy to navigate to your service pages and that those pages are informative and useful. Grab users’ attention by embedding rich media like images, infographics and videos.

On each content page, break pages up with useful headers and subheaders, ideally with relevant keywords to improve readability and keyword rankings. Include metadata (e.g., the page description that appears in search results) as well as internal and external links.

If you’re having trouble gauging how effective your user interface is, compare your site to those of your competitors. Consider the following:

Can you find what you’re looking for quickly?

If you, the business owner, can’t find what you’re looking for on your site, what chance do your customers have?

Is your site’s design up to date?

If your site looks like it’s gathering dust, its bounce rate will reflect that. And this isn’t just a question of aesthetics. Websites that haven’t been updated in years may not be secure or load properly on mobile devices.

Also be aware that, according to SEO agency Hennessey Digital, not all search engines treat mobile traffic the same way. Test multiple devices in multiple search engines to make sure your site loads properly.

Does your site link have HTTPS?

HTTPS is a layer of encryption that makes online transactions much safer than HTTP. Without it, customers will not want to enter their credit card information or buy products from your site. Since 2018, Google has marked non-HTTPS sites as not secure, which in turn affects SEO performance.

Is your support team easy to contact?

Many sites now include chat support, whether via AI or with live humans. If customers need help finding what they’re looking for, having access to your support team can keep them on the site.

If you’ve answered “yes” to all of these questions, you already have a strong user interface. In order to improve it further, don’t be afraid to survey your customers and analyze your site traffic.

Related Article: Get Your SEO House in Order for 2021

Establish Good Linking Habits

Speaking of traffic, make sure your web pages are linked well. Backlinking not only makes your site and services more accessible, it builds your SEO ranking, too.

Gone are the days when you could solely rely on your navbar to improve your SEO. An optimized website today looks more like a web with connections internally and externally. While it makes sense to have multiple internal links per page, why have external links? If you’re trying to retain traffic, doesn’t sending users away hurt your cause? Not exactly.

The best way to retain traffic while allowing users to access external links is by having those links open a new tab. This way, visitors can see the external site while staying on yours. On the flip side, you’ll want to ensure that your internal links don’t open new tabs or windows.

External links help answer customer questions and allow you to borrow search authority from the destination site. For instance, .gov and .edu sites have much higher trust and legitimacy than your standard .com or .net sites.

By linking to sites with higher authority, you’re telling your customers (and search engine algorithms) that your information is high-quality. This only works when the information you link to is relevant, however. Packing a page full of random .gov links is both a bad SEO practice and will delegitimize your site.

Again, keep your customer in mind and make it easy for them to access information. Even if that information takes visitors to a new tab, you’ll still have increased your authority along with your search ranking.

Related Article: How to Avoid SEO Cannibalization

Provide Relevant, High-Quality Content

There’s a reason marketers say “content is king.” Well-curated company blogs can build your SEO and customer experience simultaneously.

Say you’re a cannabis brand that’s been doing a good business marketing your wares to an audience of 21- to 30-year-olds. After reviewing your site traffic, though, you discover that visitors aged 60 and older are converting three times as well. Rather than ignore this small but avid fraction of your visitors, you can use content to appeal to them.

A few blog articles that address this segment’s questions (e.g., Can I use CBD after surgery?) will start funneling traffic to your site from related keyword searches (e.g., pain management). From there, you can link these articles to relevant services, products or contact information.

Not only will having related, supplementary content build your site’s authority, but it will increase your sphere of influence. Instead of fighting over the same keywords as your primary competition, you can find new markets through related, untapped keywords.

Good SEO isn’t just about selling products but sharing high-quality information. Blog articles and related content might not net immediate sales. But by building trust with your audience, they can convert visitors into future customers.

Optimize Page Load Times

In a world of instant gratification, people want things now. While 10 seconds might not seem like much, waiting that long for a page to load feels like an eternity. Long load times will increase your bounce rate and can also signify deeper problems with your site.

Whether caused by poor coding, problems with the web host, or unoptimized images and videos, load speed isn’t something to ignore. A web audit can help pinpoint the problem. If coding is the issue, have an experienced web developer look through your site’s code to improve its stability and, in turn, SEO.

Needless to say, a high-speed site will improve your customers’ experience, letting them get to what they’re looking for faster. While this might cut down on session duration, if it results in sales, the site is doing its job.

In SEO as in life, to get some, you have to give some. So forget about keyword stuffing and focus on providing a good user experience instead. By following these tips, you’ll ensure potential customers will find you — and be happy that they did.

Currently serving as a communications director for Oracle, Steve Olenski is a true unicorn in that he has the unique ability to combine real-world marketing experience with a highly impressive journalistic background. A regular contributor to Forbes for 10 years, his work has also appeared in other leading publications including Ad Age, Adweek, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Marketing Land, MarTech Today, ESPN among many others.