The Most Important SEO Factor Is Often The Most Ignored

What Google is telling us and why we should all be paying close attention

I’ll save you some time incase you don’t want to read all the way through. It’s User Experience (UX). SEO’s can stop reading here, you already know this.

Remember when Google was super secretive over its algorithm and myriad updates? So do I. I also remember when keyword stuffing, ‘guest blogging’, and link farms all had a positive impact on rankings. But Google has gotten smart, and with its use of AI it’s gotten much smarter than you.

Surprisingly, over the last 12 months, Google has actually been telling us (screaming really) that UX is a major signal helping determine rank. Despite the consistent nudge from Google, many major brands continue to ignore the importance of web UX.

What is UX?

UX is defined many ways, I like Nielsen Norman Group’s version:

User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

For the sake of this post, we are focusing solely on web user experience. Poor web UX kills engagement, reach, growth, and ultimately business. Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik recently wrote a poignant post titled Suck Less | A Plea For User-Centric Design: Powered By You. In it are some great examples of bad UX from major brands including HTC & Patagonia.

I won’t get into good vs. bad examples of UX — you absolutely know when you’ve had a bad experience.

Great, what does this have to do with SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is now Search Experience Optimization

Over the past 17 months or so mobile experience has become wildly important on search (see Mobilegeddon & AMP). Over the same time Google’s AI, RankBrain, has gone from being used in only 15% of searches to now being used in all searches. This strongly insinuates RankBrain can better determine user intent to sort through sites and serve the most relevant content & experience than humans can.

Google continues to tell us user experience is a big fucking deal. And yet so many major brands are all but ignoring it, leaving space for smaller more nimble brands who understand the importance of UX to win on SEO and ultimately steal some marketshare. How many start-up editorial sites or e-com sites have you seen crush UX, gain traction, and repeatedly rank over behemoth brands?

I’ve seen lots.


Thank you for reading. I write about content creation & culture on Medium. I work with editorial brands on audience development, SEO, content strategy, and user experience and am a senior advisor for 26FIVE in New York City.