Retailers interested in driving traffic and converting visitors, the distance between SEO and user experience (UX) is getting smaller every day. Last week, Google announced an upcoming algorithm change that will incorporate new “core web vitals,” including load time, interactivity speed and visual stability. These design-dependent metrics will combine with related Google ranking factors like mobile-friendliness to create a new Page Experience metric that will contribute to how your site ranks in search.
What this update means for retailers and why Google is doing it
If you’re a retailer, Google’s increasing emphasis on user experience means that your website usability begins to impact online sales before prospective customers even arrive at your site.
Google is quite open about why user experience factors in its rankings. Their goal is to “make the web more delightful” and note “that this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.”
These goals signal that the current update is an early step Google is taking to promote great experiences online. Google’s commitment to UX is likely only to increase and so should your brand’s.
Retailers should use Google’s update to energize their commitment to great UX
Understanding that retailers are currently immersed in responding to COVID-19, Google has announced that this algorithm update will not go into effect for at least six months. The smartest retailers will use this runway to take the long view of their site’s overall user experience and act accordingly.
With this update, Google is emphasizing UX factors like how fast pages load and how quickly they respond to a user’s click—actions that are easy to measure across millions of websites, at scale. But Google’s commitment to “delight” and “less friction” signal that they have a deeper interest in engaging, obstacle-free online experiences – and so do your customers.
As the trend toward measuring more UX factors increases, the retail websites that will be most successful will be the ones that take a holistic end-to-end approach to user experience. That means increasing traffic at the top of your conversion funnel by meeting Google’s standards, but also going further, and optimizing the entire site experience to satisfy your visitors. Retailers could see Google’s metrics as “leading indicators,” and a call to action to revisit and master all the retail UX fundamentals.
5 ways to get ready for Google’s update and build a foundation for great retail UX
Here are five things retailers can do to prepare for Google’s Page Experience update AND improve their site’s mastery of the retail UX fundamentals that drive conversion once visitors arrive:
- Take advantage of specific tools to prepare for the Page Experience update: Most of the upcoming metrics focus on speed. Google will be helping developers by updating tools like Page Speed Insights, by providing new reports in Google Search Console, and by working with external web developers to offer relevant offerings. As you go beyond speed and 404 reports to pick other low-hanging UX fruit, take a fresh look at reports from heat map tools like Crazy Egg and HotJar: they can provide more clues as to where some of the larger page-level UX problems reside on your own site.
- Know your customer: Designing a site that meets user goals depends on knowing who that user is and what she is trying to do. What is the voice of customer data that you regularly track and how do your site’s design and development incorporate this input? If you’re only tracking clickstream data and outcomes, you’ve got the “what” and the “how much.” But you’re likely missing the “why,” and that’s a big piece of the puzzle.
- Ensure design and content showcase your product: The top tasks your customer seeks to complete center on finding, choosing and buying your product. Help her by leveraging retail UX basics like intuitive navigation and categorization, effective allocation of page real estate, web-optimized copy and an overall design that helps your customer track the “scent” of the information she is seeking. Well-defined team processes for IA, design and editorial are important, and third-party site audits, competitive benchmarking, and (again) user feedback can help.
- Know your message: Great UX is a platform for your product and selling proposition. Most retailers offer products that customers can find on any number of sites, yet few spend the time to clearly articulate, test and hone the reasons customers should buy from them rather than somewhere else. Dig into your selling proposition and test to ensure that it is expressed clearly on your site in ways that visitors notice and care about.
- Test your site with real users: There’s no substitute for the insights that come from listening to real customers think out loud while they shop your site. With more people necessarily comfortable with meeting online, there has never been a better time for remote user research, and there are numerous tools and resources to help you design a robust remote usability testing program. Your methods will vary with your budget, but the essence is simple. List the questions that need answering and the tasks you want users to complete, recruit users, design a protocol, run the test, review the results, and make the necessary changes to your site. 85% of a site’s usability problems can be found by testing with as few as five users.
So, Google just gave us a big “heads-up.” Now’s the time to commit to a user experience approach that will satisfy the upcoming algorithm change and let customers know you care. Both are strategies that will keep your online business growing.
Larry Becker is president of Larry Becker Consulting LLC, a boutique consultancy providing strategic marketing and website optimization services.