How Website Usability Impacts SEO
Julie Hume
September 13, 2023

The usability of a website is a factor that affects both visitor satisfaction and search engine performance. When you struggle to find contact details or access the login page on a website, that is an example of poor usability. There’s not a business website on the internet that does not want you to reach out or interact. If these elements are difficult to find, that is an example of poor usability design.

What is Website Usability?

At its simplest level, usability refers to how easy or difficult it is to navigate and interact with a digital entity. In today’s competitive online marketplace, usability directly impacts user satisfaction, engagement rates, return rates, and search engine rankings, setting successful platforms apart.

Components of Usability:

  • Learnability: How easily can first-time visitors figure out how to accomplish basic tasks on your site?
  • Efficiency: Once familiar, how quickly can users perform tasks?
  • Memorability: Can users re-establish proficiency after a period of not using the site?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, and how badly are they inconvenienced?
  • Satisfaction: Do users enjoy using your site?


confusing website UX

Usability and SEO: An Interlinked Relationship

Granted, usability is a function of design, so you might not have considered that it is also a factor in SEO. However, your SEO team can get people to click through to your website, but they can’t make them stay. Your content can be on point and your SEO can sizzle off the page, but highly relevant visitors may still bounce right off the website if the page they land on makes their eyes bleed.

In my experience as an SEO practitioner, sometimes web designers or clients have a great fondness for design effects that simply do not translate well to the web. One example is centered text. Yes, it can look great when used judiciously, but in longer passages, centered text is harder to read. Use it sparingly!

At the risk of getting swamped by web designers telling me to stay in my lane, here are a few other small design tips from an SEO perspective:

All Caps: Multiple studies have shown that using all caps reduces legibility. According to Harvard University: Design for Readability:

“Avoid using all caps. Readability is reduced with all caps because all words have a uniform rectangular shape, meaning readers can’t identify words by their shape.”

Lack of White Space: Not including white space between the elements on a webpage results in the headache-inducing ‘wall of text’ practically guaranteeing a high bounce rate. On the other hand, breaking up the page with white space improves comprehension by up to 20%, as stated by a study from Human Factors International.

Don’t sacrifice usability for minimalism: I love a simple website. All that clean white space and fast loading is my jam. But I have seen minimalism taken to the extreme—pages of images with no titles or introductions. By choosing images without any accompanying text, the website feels as if it’s breaking unwritten rules of online etiquette. It’s the digital equivalent of not offering a handshake.

SEO Factors Impacted by Usability

  • User Engagement Metrics: Google considers user behavior like engagement, click-through rates, and session durations. A user-friendly website can significantly improve these metrics.
  • Mobile Optimization: With Google’s mobile-first indexing, a mobile-responsive design isn’t optional.
  • Page Speed: Slow-loading pages can hurt usability and SEO.
  • Content Structure: Organized, scannable content with headings, lists, and short paragraphs benefits readability and is favored by search engines.

Website Design (Usability + SEO) = Winning!

Of course, you want to make your website stand out with cutting-edge UX and eye-catching visuals. All I ask is that you bear in mind that sometimes less is more, and simplicity is the key to a seamless user experience.

Remember your favorite childhood storybook? The one with bold, colorful images, and short, to-the-point sentences? Your website should be like that. Attractive, simple, and easy to understand.

So, the next time your design team pitches an idea that feels like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie, or you’re tempted to put every single thing you offer on the homepage, maybe ask your SEO team to weigh in. After all, they might be looking at your website from a viewpoint you hadn’t considered.

In the end, a harmonious marriage of design and SEO will always make your digital home a favorite go-to place for visitors.

Julie Hume

Julie Hume

Julie is a rescuer of lost sites. She finds joy in the climb – helping a site rise from the ashes of oblivion to the top of page one in search results. With more than 30 years of experience, she’s our SEO whisperer, ever on the cusp of new algorithm releases and tools.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *