Sara Fernández tells SEOs in 2023 that they need to embrace the term ‘Search Experience Optimisation’ and understand that SEO can no longer exist without UX.
Sara says: “As SEOs, we need to stay on top of UX best practices.
Rather than talking about Search Engine Optimisation, we should embrace the term Search Experience Optimisation (or SXO) which combines SEO and user experience. In fact, SEO shouldn’t exist without UX anymore, and UX shouldn’t exist without SEO either.
We are all familiar with Google’s Core Web Vitals and performance metrics like LCP, FID, and CLS. They focus on user experience from a technical standpoint, but a website is more than that. It’s a puzzle with many pieces. Things like UI design, accessibility, and inclusive design all make up the user experience, and we should be aware of them as SEOs.
We need to care about the look and feel, and about improvements that may not be considered a ranking factor, per se, but are still good for the user. If we are seeing that something is positive, from all the data that we have (quantitative and qualitative, from user testing, interviews, feedback from users, and also from colleagues) we should be prioritising those improvements, even if they are not a ranking factor.”
What are some of the UX best practices that SEOs need to be aware of?
“It’s important that you take cognitive biases into consideration. We all have them, so it’s important that we are aware of them. There is a long list of cognitive biases, like the hindsight bias, the confirmation bias, refusing to listen to the opposite side, etc.
There are also different UX laws, like the Von Restorff Effect. There are so many UX and usability principles that you can find out about. You should also bear in mind all the research that UX teams do, like UX research and user testing. We tend to prioritise quantitative data, but qualitative data is also very important for making good decisions.”
How do you measure the impact of qualitative versus quantitative data?
“When your teams are carrying out usability testing, it’s important that you have access to all of that information. Whenever UX teams (or eventually ourselves) use platforms like Hotjar or Crazy Egg to understand how users navigate or scroll through your websites, you need to have access to this more descriptive data.
Also, you should get in touch with different teams (like customer service teams) that have access to your users, feedback, clients’ feedback, etc. It’s hard to measure because it’s a relatively new field, and we tend to measure things quantitatively. When it comes to qualitative data, we often try to come up with numbers or percentages, and it’s not always easy. However, it’s very important that we take into account the feedback that we get from our users.”
How do you avoid falling into the traps of cognitive biases, and how do you create content that appeals to a greater range of your target market?
“It’s very important that you take into account the market that you’re communicating to - your target market. For example, if you’re writing a piece of content for a Canadian audience, you should be aware of all the cultural biases that will be relevant.
We all have biases, and it can be difficult to fight them. Rather than fighting them, you should accept them, understand them, and try to avoid any kind of misunderstanding or cultural differences as much as you can. Try to make sure that everything is clear for that target audience - and that you’re using the right words. If there’s a word that means one thing in one market and another in a different market, you should try to avoid that as well.
Even seeing English written for a different market can turn off potential users, like phraseology that is specific to the US or the UK. You should try to avoid that kind of language and create content that feels targeted and natural to all of your users.”
Should every SEO be a Search Experience Optimiser or is there room in the SEO world for other activities, without having to worry about UX as well?
“It’s not that we should all aim to become experts in UX, because most of us work with UX teams, at the end of the day. What really matters is that you make sure you are communicating with those teams, and you have access to their work and their research. If there’s anything that needs clarification - something that they’ve worked on that you don’t understand – then you need to be asking questions.
It’s useful to know the basics and, luckily, there are many resources online that you can check - and most of them are free. You can access the Nielsen Norman Group, the UX Collective, the Interaction Design Foundation, and so many different organisations that share information and have courses as well. There is a lot of information to take in, and it’s all going to help us as SEOs, and as SXOs as well.”
What are some typical mistakes that UX teams make that have a negative impact on SEO? What can SEO teams do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
“It does happen quite often where UX teams make changes in the UI. You might have some issues with the H1s and H2s - all the headings and subheadings - because they may use them just to make the font bigger. The overall structure of the content and the size of the images are also issues that come up quite often, where they are not properly optimised.
It’s important that we make sure that both UX and SEO teams are aware of best practices, and that we communicate. At the end of the day, we’re working towards the same goal so both teams need to be flexible. There will be disagreements along the way but, in the end, we should all be focusing on users, and making sure that we give them the best experience.”
Should SEO and UX actually be just one team?
“No. I think that it’s important for each team to keep their independence. There will be things that we work on that do not necessarily have an impact on everything both teams are doing. The SEO team may perform actions that are not that relevant to the UX team, for example. It is important, however, that the communication is always there, and that you are part of the same meetings.”
Should UX be involved in the early stages of developing individual pieces of content, as well as the SEO team?
“Definitely. It’s very important that UX is involved in content because UX also takes accessibility into consideration. It’s important that you focus on readability in your articles - in the structure, the way you construct sentences, but also in the language that you use.
When we talk about accessibility, we are also talking about the words that we use to make sure that any user will understand what we’re talking about. You need to avoid certain words that may be a little bit too technical for that audience, or that you explain what those words mean. UX can definitely help with content because it’s about making sure that the content can be understood and easily consumed.
Usually, your SEO team will work on the content first and, once it is done, the UX team can provide some guidelines, check through it, and help out if there is anything that is not clear. UX cannot predict all the content that is going to be developed so it’s easier to spot issues and fix them once the content has already been produced.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“We should stop working in silos. It’s very counterproductive for SEO success when teams don’t communicate enough, so we need to make sure that we maintain communication with any relevant teams.
In this case, we’ve been talking about UX teams, but it could be marketing teams, content teams, engineering teams, or any team whose work could be affected by changes that we make.
Everybody should have visibility over what is being done and anything that we change, because it could affect them. You might not be aware that they’re working on the same project, for example, or that your project could also have some implications for their team. Establish clear communication and stop working in silos, because we’re all working towards the same goal.”
Sara Fernández is an International SEO Consultant, and you can find her over at sara-fernandez.com.
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