If the user likes the page, Google probably will too

Google really cares about the ‘user experience’ on your web pages. It’s something you can improve which will benefit the visitor and help you in the search engine results. But how does Google evaluate ‘user experience’?

There are two ways which I can see. The first is to measure the obvious factors – how long people stay on the page, for example. This is easy to measure. If the search engine is showing your page for a particular search, it records a click on your link and then a click on a different search result five seconds later, what will it think happened? Obviously, your page wasn’t much good, and the user returned to try other search results.

As part of evaluating user experience, Google can also detect whether your website is responsive to different screen sizes, how quickly it displays, and several other factors which are not subjective.

The second way in which Google can measure user experience is to compare your page with others. Using big data, it will have discovered that pages which offer a good experience share certain characteristics. Some of these might not be intuitive – and we’re never going to be told what they are – but they may be a good indicator.

As a slightly silly example, perhaps Google has found that people spend longer on pages with a green masthead than those with a red one. It doesn’t matter why this is; indeed there may be no known explanation. But nevertheless, the data shows it to be a good indicator, and into the mix it goes. More likely, Google will have data on word count, number of images, text size and all sorts of other things which might not define a good user experience but could be an accurate predictor of it.

So if anyone tells you that good SEO starts and ends with obviously machine-measurable factors, such as the page title and the number of links, they’re wrong. Google’s aim is to rank pages in order of usefulness, and it’s progressing all the time.