Could design, usability and user experience be the future of SEO?

We know the importance of keeping up with all the latest SEO developments here at Branded3, because it’s one of those things where if you don’t move with the times, you get left behind. We’re constantly experimenting with new techniques and ways in which we can help our clients achieve better results and gain more traffic share.

As such, each year we pay close attention when one of the biggest SEO resources in the world; SEOmoz; ask all of their friends, followers, and subscribers to contribute to their ‘ranking factors.’ These ‘ranking factors’ are effectively a straw poll of some of the best SEO’s in the world (including our very own Patrick Altoft and Tim Grice – who have been asked for input this year) on what factors they believe are the most important reasons why websites might rank highly in the search results. And this year we’ve seen some pretty interesting results…

Predictions for the future

Whilst people obviously aren’t going to reveal their best tactics; the survey can generate new ideas and help determine why some sites might not be performing too well.

The survey uses correlation data, so it looks at what top ranking pages have in common with each other rather than looking at what factors search engines are actually measuring and counting. The results are pretty interesting, and the survey has become a good resource for SEO’s to find out what other people are doing.

On the 6th June, SEOmoz released their latest results for people to digest and analyse. A result we found immediately interesting was that nearly 65% of respondents predicted that content readability, usability, and design would soon be a much more important factor to how search rankings were determined.

But how would this ever be gauged? Search engines seem to be moving away from the black and white data they previously used and relying more on user-interaction and popularity. This could all tie-in with Google’s new +1 button, which allows users to recommend useful sites to their friends. But whilst this will show the most popular sites, it won’t effectively measure the quality of design, content, or usability.

For many years Google and other search engines have been trying to develop more and more complex algorithms which bring users the best possible results that they possibly can. In an effort to reduce the number of poor quality sites and sites which have “gamed” the system, the search engines have developed complex systems which are able to provide pretty good results for users. However these systems are constantly being developed to include more social, brand importance and popularity factors.

The graph below shows the top five factors from the SEOmoz survey that people thought would affect search results in the future.

Future of SEO

Value to users

As search engines become more intelligent they are going to be able to determine how useful websites actually are to users. Already we have seen great leaps forward by Google when they introduced Panda, with the aim of getting rid of duplicated, thin content sites.

Social factors (domain and page level)

Sites like Facebook and Twitter have started a revolution in the way we use the web to interact with friends. If you want people to know about your site you need to shout about in on social site like this and get your users to tell others about it. This is potentially going to be important for both your domain as a whole but also for important pages within the site.

Usage data

Without doubt Google has access to billions of pieces of data about website, whether through Analytics, Adwords, Chrome or other Google products. Factors such as bounce rate away from a site can easily be seen by Google and incorporated into search results. In short make your website great so people are going to stay there, and make sure you send them to the right place first time.

Content/Usability/Design

In some respects this is the same as value to user but you need to ensure that the website is full of useful content, great design and everyone, including search engines, can use the site and find everything they need within it.

Conclusion

This could spark a dramatic change in the way websites are developed, used, and measured by search engines; and should be a future considering factor amongst all digital and SEO agencies, as some services may need to be emphasised more than others.

If you download the results fully, there is a huge amount of data there to be analysed in your own time, which for data-lovers like us at Branded3 is perfect! However, there are a few immediate take-home results that most webmasters should check over to see if there’s anything they can do to boost their search-engine potential.

One thing that we always advise our clients is that your website should first and foremost be built with the user in mind. If people like your site then they will return, if your site is easy to use then people will use it. SEO should be more about promoting the fantastic aspects of your site. The future of SEO is far from certain and as long as the search engines continue to update their ways of ranking websites, then here at Branded3 we will be continuing to help our clients to get their great websites in the positions they should be, at the top of the search results.

By Matthew Jackson. at 9:34AM on Friday, 10 Jun 2011

With a background in analytical chemistry, Matthew has been analysing data for the past decade. As Chief Search Strategist at Branded3, Matthew’s analytical skills are put into good use helping us understand data trends and adapt our SEO strategies accordingly. Follow Matthew Jackson on Twitter.

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