Is User Experience A Ranking Factor?
User experience is mentioned 16 times in the main content of the quality raters guidelines (official PDF), but we have been told by Google it is not, per say, a classifiable ‘ranking factor‘ on desktop search, at least.
On mobile, sure, since UX is the base of the mobile friendly update. On desktop currently no. (Gary Illyes: Google, May 2015)
While UX, we are told, is not literally a ‘ranking factor’, it is useful to understand exactly what Google calls a ‘poor user experience’ because if any poor UX signals are identified on your website, that is not going to be a healthy thing for your rankings anytime soon.
Matt Cutts consistent SEO advice was to focus on a satisfying user experience.
What is Bad UX?
For Google – rating UX, at least from a quality rater’s perspective, revolves around marking the page down for:
- Misleading or potentially deceptive design
- sneaky redirects (cloaked affiliate links)
- malicious downloads and
- spammy user-generated content (unmoderated comments and posts)
- Low-quality MC (main content of the page)
- Low-quality SC (supplementary content)
What is SC (supplementary content)?
When it comes to a web page and positive ux, Google talks a lot about the functionality and utility of Helpful Supplementary Content – e.g. helpful navigation links for users (that are not, generally, MC or Ads).
Supplementary Content contributes to a good user experience on the page, but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose. SC is created by Webmasters and is an important part of the user experience. One common type of SC is navigation links which allow users to visit other parts of the website. Note that in some cases, content behind tabs may be considered part of the SC of the page.
To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all.
It is worth remembering that Good SC cannot save Poor MC (“Main Content is any part of the page that directly helps the page achieve its purpose“.) from a low-quality rating.
Good SC seems to certainly be a sensible option. It always has been.
Key Points about SC
- Supplementary Content can be a large part of what makes a High-quality page very satisfying for its purpose.
- Helpful SC is content that is specifically targeted to the content and purpose of the page.
- Smaller websites such as websites for local businesses and community organizations, or personal websites and blogs, may need less SC for their purpose.
- A page can still receive a High or even Highest rating with no SC at all.
Here are the specific quotes containing the term SC:
- Supplementary Content contributes to a good user experience on the page, but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose.
- SC is created by Webmasters and is an important part of the user experience. One common type of SC is navigation links which allow users to visit other parts of the website. Note that in some cases, content behind tabs may be considered part of the SC of the page.
- SC which contributes to a satisfying user experience on the page and website. – (A mark of a high-quality site – this statement was repeated 5 times)
- However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
- However, some pages are deliberately designed to shift the user’s attention from the MC to the Ads, monetized links, or SC. In these cases, the MC becomes difficult to read or use, resulting in a poor user experience. These pages should be rated Low.
- Misleading or potentially deceptive design makes it hard to tell that there’s no answer, making this page a poor user experience.
- Redirecting is the act of sending a user to a different URL than the one initially requested. There are many good reasons to redirect from one URL to another, for example, when a website moves to a new address. However, some redirects are designed to deceive search engines and users. These are a very poor user experience, and users may feel tricked or confused. We will call these “sneaky redirects.” Sneaky redirects are deceptive and should be rated Lowest.
- However, you may encounter pages with a large amount of spammed forum discussions or spammed user comments. We’ll consider a comment or forum discussion to be “spammed” if someone posts unrelated comments which are not intended to help other users, but rather to advertise a product or create a link to a website. Frequently these comments are posted by a “bot” rather than a real person. Spammed comments are easy to recognize. They may include Ads, download, or other links, or sometimes just short strings of text unrelated to the topic, such as “Good,” “Hello,” “I’m new here,” “How are you today,” etc. Webmasters should find and remove this content because it is a bad user experience.
- The modifications make it very difficult to read and are a poor user experience. (Lowest quality MC (copied content with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users))
- Sometimes, the MC of a landing page is helpful for the query, but the page happens to display porn ads or porn links outside the MC, which can be very distracting and potentially provide a poor user experience.
- The query and the helpfulness of the MC have to be balanced with the user experience of the page.
- Pages that provide a poor user experience, such as pages that try to download malicious software, should also receive low ratings, even if they have some images appropriate for the query.
In short, nobody is going to advise you to create a poor UX, on purpose, in light of Google’s algorithms and human quality raters who are showing an obvious interest in this stuff. Google is rating mobile sites on what it classes is frustrating UX – although on certain levels what Google classes as ‘UX’ might be quite far apart from what a UX professional is familiar with in the same ways as Google’s mobile rating tools differ from, for instance, W3c Mobile testing tools.
Google is still, evidently, more interested in rating the main content of the webpage in question and the reputation of the domain the page is on – relative to your site, and competing pages on other domains.
A satisfying UX is can help your rankings, with second-order factors taken into consideration. A poor UX can seriously impact your human-reviewed rating, at least. Google’s punishing algorithms probably class pages as something akin to a poor UX if they meet certain detectable criteria e.g. lack of reputation or old-school SEO stuff like keyword stuffing a site.
If you are improving user experience by focusing primarily on the quality of the MC of your pages, and avoiding – even removing – old-school SEO techniques – those certainly are positive steps to getting more traffic from Google in 2016 – and the type of content performance Google rewards is in the end largely at least about a satisfying user experience.