Taking 'Focus on Users' Advice Can Kill Your SEO Traffic
By: Mike Le
Why it's critical to keep your technical SEO in check when making user experience improvements.
If you ask Google the best way to do SEO, it will tell you to focus on the user and everything else will follow. Today, SEO is all about creating great, unique content that delights customers.
Marketers are excited by this news because from now on they can say goodbye to all the complicated technical SEO stuff. A piece on Entrepreneur.com, "Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Experience," was widely shared. We now can trust our common sense mentality to "focus on users" in order to drive organic traffic through the roof.
And while this is half the battle, unfortunately, the road to SEO nirvana is still a long one. Solely following the advice to "focus on users" may very well lead to SEO disasters, because some user experience (UX) changes can create serious technical SEO errors that destroy organic traffic.
A camera online retailer, doing tens of millions of dollars in revenue a year (40 percent of which was from organic search), decided to switch to a new e-commerce platform. To deliver a better user experience, it decided to combine six to 10 different product information pages (description, reviews, specification, FAQ and more) into one long page, to allow users to find content more quickly.
That decision was a disaster. It reduced the total number of pages from 7,000 to about 700 pages. After the re-launch, the site's organic traffic dropped in half, costing millions of dollars in lost sales.
It’s no doubt that UX today is a ranking factor. Google rewards websites that are fast, mobile-friendly and engage with users effectively. But, when you make UX improvements, you must always keep technical SEO in check.
Here are a few common UX change problems that can hurt your SEO:
Avoid combining pages or reducing the total number of pages.
There’s a big temptation to combine relevant existing pages into long, all-purpose pages to make browsing convenient for users. However, each existing page may already have its own keyword rankings. When you combine pages without proper SEO redirects, you may lose a lot of rankings and organic traffic.
Recently, a global media corporation rolled out a massive platform restructuring upgrade to its online marketplace. The new structure, which was supposed to be clean and easy to use, cut down the amount of content from over 2 million pages to 50,000 pages. As you can easily guess, the traffic dropped over 70 percent, and it was hard to recover from such a loss.
Prepare a thorough SEO redirect plan when you change page URL formats.
In major website updates, developers may want to change the URL structure to be more simple, well-organized or user-friendly. However, when you change the URL of a page, Google treats it as a brand new page, and it will lose all of its existing rankings and search history.
You need to apply SEO redirects from the old URL to the new URL to maintain the page’s SEO value. But, when you deal with big and complex websites with tens of thousands of pages, the redirects for all the pages can become extremely complicated and need to be carefully planned.
Be careful using Ajax to load content.
Ajax is a coding technique that uses scripts to load content asynchronously without refreshing the entire page, which allows the page to load much faster. This delivers a great user experience and many developers prefer using Ajax to load content.
However, search engine bots cannot read Ajax content, so an Ajax page is often considered “thin content” and can’t compete for search rankings. There are workaround techniques that solve this problem. You must make sure you know them and apply them.
Pay attention to on-page SEO factors when you update page content and layout.
There are various on-page factors that can affect a page’s SEO rankings, such as headings, keyword density, internal links, rich snippets and more. When you make UX changes to a page, make sure the new page layout and content maintain and strengthen on-page SEO factors. This will help stabilize the search rankings when you roll out the changes.