Recently, there was an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with the head of Search Quality from Google, Nathan Johns.
Search Engine Land summarized Johns’ “Best Practices” guide to ranking better on Google perfectly:
“Johns said that SEOs do not have to worry about negative SEO, at least the “vast majority” of it. He recommended using the disavow tool in Google Search Console if you are concerned, however. His advice remains that sites that follow best practices for user experience will be successful in the SERPs. He said that business owners should experience everything their customer experiences by using their websites. You should be intimately familiar with everything about it, he said. You should ask your users for feedback and use that feedback to make improvements.”
Your customers are using search engines to get their questions answered and plan how to purchase from companies like yours. They want easy to use experiences and don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to dig for content. Search engines realize that and are writing smarter algorithms to give higher rankings to pages with better user experiences than their poor user experience counterparts.
The best way to guarantee a good user experience is to sit down and plan out the architecture and flow of your website. Similar to when an architect is designing a building, planning a website flow avoids unnecessary problems, like forgetting something important (the bathroom) or building eight bathrooms and two bedrooms!
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the term “website blueprint” to discuss the planning and building of a website. I’ll take a detailed look at what makes up your website architecture, and how to improve it for your business.
The Fundamentals of Building Your Blueprint
These are the questions a user has when landing on your website:
- Does this page answer what I’m looking for?
- If this isn’t what I expected, am I at least in the right place?
- What do I do now?
To answer these questions, you need to respond with:
- Dead simple navigation and paths for users to follow to get more information or to contact you
- Confirm site visitors know all their options with “related products” and other friendly navigation items
- Use crystal-clear calls to action
These fundamentals give you a happy user. Happy users buy from you, and Google tracks what happy users do, rewarding you with increased rankings of your website pages.
Setting Up the Flow of Your Website
The user flow generally starts on your homepage or an advertising/keyword landing page. The “flow” refers to the steps on the page that lead the customer to become a buyer:
- Answer the customer’s query
- Provide information on how you solve these issues
- Provide the customer a way to buy from or contact you
- Thank the customer and send follow ups
Sometimes this is easy. Other times it might look like this:
- Customer lands on the page
- Customer signs up to receive more education/looks at related blog/newsletter articles that help them make the buying decesion
- Customer contacts you later on to buy from you
Or it could be streamlined:
- Customer knows what they want and are looking for your website to answer it
- Customer sees the steps to buy from you (either contact for a quote or better pricing)
- Customer buys from you on the spot
The critical thing to consider is the different paths buyers will take, and ensuring that (while setting up those paths) you don’t add duplicate content to your website.
Here’s an example:
Illustration of Fantastic User Flow
I’m going to review Xero, a small business accounting software.
I’ll walk you through you the experience of a user that typed in “small business accounting software:”
Look at how their website hits the four items I mentioned earlier:
- Answer the customer’s query – Front and center on the page, you know you’re looking at a small business accounting solution —a simple one! They answer a pain point and show that you’re in the right place, all at once.
- Provide information on how you solve these issues – There is a button to play a quick commercial showing how their software solves issues for small businesses.
- Provide the customer a way to buy or contact you – In the screenshot above, you notice there are two clear calls to action. Starting either of those will sign you up for a trial.
- Thank the customer and send follow ups – Xero follows up with their users multiple times during the trial, assigns a rep, and holds your hand through the process.
Xero’s website also has different flows for other keywords, such as a partnership program for accountants or small business owners who are looking for a software to track their expenses.
Xero has set up a path for all their major keywords (“small business accounting,” “record and claim expenses” and “accounting or bookkeeping partner”). Xero has distinct paths for customers who need more education (watching videos) or are ready to get their hands dirty (a free trial).
How Do We Map Out the Website Architecture?
The basics of your website structure should be written out in a flow chart or easy to use guide to the content on your website. I’ve been known to use a chart program like Lucid Charts, or a standard program like Microsoft Excel.
I’ll break up a blueprint into “Main Pages,” “Supporting Pages,” and “Comments.” After all of the pages are outlined, I’ll add notes to how supporting pages are utilized to strengthen the main pages. Using the Xero example, they used supporting pages that contained demo videos and specific parts of the software to back up the main pages for “small business accounting software.”
The flow of the website always starts with the foundation goals and the most simplistic path a user can take to reach that goal. The more steps you make buyers take to “hunt around” for information, the more likely they are to leave your website and return to Google (or whatever platform they use to find companies like yours) to find a more user-friendly website to complete their purchase (most likely, your competitor’s website).