While the web as we know it is dynamic and changeable, the people who use it have very human expectations about how websites should work.
Whether it's looking to the top right hand corner of a page to locate a search bar, or scrolling to a site footer to find a physical address, web users have hardcoded beliefs about the way sites will behave. These expectations, and the measure of how well they are met, determine a site's usability. And while usability and search engine optimization may seem unrelated, you may be damaging your search engine rankings by ignoring their relationship.
It's fair to expect that a site with difficult navigation will have a harder time engaging visitors, leading to higher exit rates and fewer return visitors. If you notice your rankings beginning to slide, it's worthwhile to take a look at your bounce rate. A bounce occurs when a user never visits more than one page on a website. There is strong evidence to suggest that sites with higher bounce rates tend to rank poorly when compared to sites where visitors click through multiple pages, even when other factors are equal.
Your Reputation Matters
In the same way that you'd never give a friend a referral for an unreliable contractor, it's unlikely you'd ever create a link back to a website with poor usability. Google's algorithm takes these backlinks into account when determining rankings, and fewer links of quality often result in a lower ranking.
What to Do?
When in doubt, ask. Use your internal search monitoring in Google Analytics to locate trends in search keywords. If 80% of your site's visitors are using internal search to find "Hotels," that's a strong indicator that your website is missing a valuable opportunity to point people in the right direction.
Where there's smoke, there's often fire. Heat mapping is another effective way of identifying problematic areas on your website. By tracking the clicks and interactions that occur on a site over time, heat mapping helps to find where your users might be missing valuable content and navigational guides. This creates a road map for site improvements.
Build for the user. It's tempting to believe that optimizing for search engines will help improve rankings quickly, leaving you time to correct usability issues later. But in truth, users and search engines are both quick to dismiss confusing sites with thin content. Build a site that's valuable for your visitors and implement a solid SEO strategy that makes your brand's expertise more visible.