It’s coming to your website! UX will factor into Google search rankings

July 13, 2020

If you were waiting for a time to revamp your website, the time has arrived. Google recently announced that it will factor website user experience (UX) into search results. Sites with great UX that deliver on users’ needs and expectations while delighting and engaging visitors will be prioritized in rankings. While this change won’t happen until next year, this is not the only reason to improve your website UX at the moment.

The COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders have resulted in consumers demanding more from business websites because Americans have largely turned towards online methods. In some cases, these sites, especially retail stores and restaurants, have had to dramatically transform their experience. The effects of these consumer trends are expected to continue well beyond the pandemic. In the case of the grocery sector, the majority of online grocery shoppers in the U.S. are permanently more willing to buy groceries online because of their experiences with the pandemic.

The need for a contactless experience has driven consumers to online shopping for almost everything–many for the first time. But how will you know the best way to keep your first-time digital users coming back? It is no longer sufficient that your website just “gets the job done” – the job must be done well; designing around the customer experience is the answer.

With these two huge drivers to improve your site, investing to understand your customer and how they interact with your company matters.

Where to start?

Let’s face it – it is insufficient to think you know what the website should look like, the features it should have, and how it should be organized. You must do the research to inform the design; this involves testing early prototype designs. Customers are more likely to return to your website when you apply user-centered research to understand and meet their needs. The good news is you can do this while COVID-19 measures are in place. In many cases, user research can be done remotely, without the need for in-person research.

Understand your users

For an organization to improve their website UX, it is more than usability, utility, look and feel. It is about mapping the design to how the customer thinks or expects to interact. This is what makes some website experiences seem easy from those that feel like a burden. Understanding how the user approaches their task can shape the design to make it easy-to-use.

So much about the experiences is about expectations. Thus, do research to understand what customers think. Do they expect a similar experience to their in-store experience (if there is a brick-and-mortar location)? Do they want recommendations? Do they want to be able to chat with an expert? These considerations will better align the website with visitor expectations.

Learning what you need to improve

It’s often quoted that watching a week of user research can solve months of conversations in a boardroom. This fieldwork can be completed in just a few days and can reveal:

  • Areas of confusion or difficulty finding information or products
  • Barriers to sales conversion
  • Whether new or existing features are usable and work as expected
  • Actionable recommendations to remedy problems uncovered
  • New features or additions that would improve the experience
  • Site or app design improvements
  • Internal workflows or additional aspects of the business that may need to be addressed (inventory processes, resource allocation, etc.)

How it works

The goal is not to spend countless hours and budget, rather, be efficient by using a small number of participants. The logic is that if five out of seven customers show difficulty doing what you thought should be easy, then you would get similar results with 70 people. It is about finding the problems that many will encounter—and that happens quickly.

While an option for website UX research is to bring users to a usability lab and run in-person research, in lieu of in-person interactions (in our social distancing reality), this information can be gathered through remote moderated sessions, or remote user interviews.

To ensure your website continues to deliver a useful and meaningful user experience, your users should always be engaged as their needs and expectations evolve. What COVID-19 has taught us is these shifts can happen quickly. For organizations to stay in the game AND rank high on Google, they must not only respond quickly to address the shifts, but do so with an engaging and satisfying experience for their online visitors to keep them coming back.