May 26, 2016

Recently, Google’s Gary Illyes said that User Experience (UX) is not a ranking factor in Google search for desktop.
In context, Gary was referring to the concept of a single comprehensive UX factor similar to the user experience elements that make up the Mobile-Friendly update, and saying that there isn’t one. He has previously said that content will always be more important than user experience.
Yes, content is and should be more important than how that content is served up, but to say that UX is not a factor is just wrong. It may not be one specific ranking factor like the mobile update, but there is ample evidence to show that user experience matters.
Google’s own official statements and algorithm updates are the reason(s) why I call bullshit on the idea that UX is not a factor:

Page Loading Speed

Google has officially said many times that page loading speed matters. They have been saying so since at least 2010! Did Google suddenly decide that users don’t care if a site loads painfully slowly? I think not.

Top Heavy aka Page Layout Algorithm

Google has been penalizing pages which have too many ads “above the fold” for a few years. The reason?

“We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience.” –

Sounds like a user experience issue, no?

Panda Algorithm Update

The Panda algorithm is supposedly all about quality. Duplicate content, thin content, too many ads… all things that lead to a negative user experience. If those things are not about user experience, what are they then?

Less Official Things

Those are just a few of the official statements and algorithm updates which are directly related to user experience. What about all the other ranking factors? For years, Google has been telling webmasters to make things easy to find for users. Does “for users, not search engine” sound familiar?
There are plenty of reasons to believe that the popularity of a site, as indicated by social sharing or links from other sites are a major factor in how Google ranks pages. If a site is not very user friendly, is it really going to have great user engagement and the sharing to show it? Probably not.

Splitting Hairs?

Mixed SignalsAm I just getting caught up in semantics? Maybe. But words mean things. While there may not be an official “user experience” metric, many of the ranking factors do indeed rely on a good user experience in order to have any meaning at all. It is bad enough that there are still so many so-called SEO experts out there telling people all kinds of wrong things about optimizing websites for search. Mixed signals from the people at Google themselves really don’t help matters.

Really, there is no good reason to not strive to provide an excellent user experience. Hype surrounding a tweet from someone at Google is not a good reason to ignore something that should be common sense. Given the choice between a tweet and all the other evidence, consider this from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:

Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.

I am going with that official statement, and my own experience with a few dozen sites that rank very well with solid user experience, great content, top-notch technical optimization – all with very few of those other more manipulative factors like incoming links. Tweet shmeet.

  • J.B.

    There are already people saying that Google doesn’t care about user experience, and therefore it isn’t important for SEO. All based upon n a tweet that was probably misunderstood.

  • Gwyneth

    I am beginning to wonder about all the other things that SEOs accept as truth because Google said it at some time. Like, what if the keywords meta tag really IS used by Google?

    • That’s a good question. I have not tested the keywords meta tag lately, but it is on the list of things to verify. The belief that you need to have keywords at the beginning the title tag was near the top of my list. I covered that, and some other ideas about SEO checklists and false beliefs here: