How Website Usability Improves Search Rankings

June 25, 2015
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Website usability is considered a top ranking factor with most major search engines, but it goes much deeper than that. Here, we’ll scratch the surface of website usability and why it’s important for your search engine ranking results. A visitor’s experience is the most important factor. The actions the user takes will tell search engines about your website’s usability.

Your website must provide your visitors with a pleasant experience or you will fail to retain their attention. If you cannot keep the attention of the visitors, your visitors’ session duration (time on site) will be very low. Session duration is one of many factors search engines take into account when calculating your position in the search engine rankings.

Usability ranking factors include:

  • Mobile Website Usability
  • Bounce Rate
  • Session Duration
  • Page Speed
  • Easy Navigation

Mobile Website Usability

It’s been determined that more search queries are performed from mobile devices than desktop browsers. As a result, mobile website usability is among the highest ranking factors considered by Google and other search engines. A website must perform both on desktop browsers and mobile devices. This is best done through a responsive website design, however it can also be done through the less desirable website mobile version.

A mobile friendly site must be easy to navigate and read. If your text is too small or your menus and internal links are lacking, you’re likely not considered mobile friendly. You can check your mobile friendliness with Google here.

Other factors to help improve your mobile friendliness include:

  • Be sure your visitors don’t need to zoom in or out to read or navigate
  • Remove pop-ups or at very least make sure mobile users on all devices can close them
  • Do not use flash or other non-mobile friendly software
  • Make buttons and links large enough and positioned to be easily clicked

Bounce Rate

Most bloggers and casual website users don’t know exactly how bounce rate works or is considered when search engines rank a website. Bounce rate is determined by entrance and exit pages. Search engines count the pages a user visits while on a website after entering a website through a search query.

When a user bounces (leaves a website on the same page they entered) it may indicate to search engines that a website is not engaging, may not have friendly navigation or otherwise interest the visitor enough to navigate through a website. This is a variable metric, but when combined with other metrics such as session duration, it can provide valuable information to search engines.

Session Duration

Session duration is a simple concept, and plays a big role when search engines are determining website usability. When a user enters a search query and clicks on your website’s search result, the clock starts. When the user leaves your website, the clock stops. This amount of time is the session duration.

What does session duration tell search engines? It indicates whether or not the search query was successful. If a visitor clicks on your link in a search result, has a short session duration and then returns to the search result to click other links, it’s likely your content did not provide the information the visitor was looking for. These actions combined with your bounce rate help search engines determine your website’s user experience.

Session Duration and Bounce Rate

Combined, session duration and bounce rate help search engines determine your website usability. If you have high session duration numbers and low bounce rate numbers, the search engines will determine that your website is easily navigated and interesting to visitors.

Visitors who spend more time on a website and surf multiple pages indicate to search engines that a website provides great user experience. As a result of providing visitors with great website usability and visitor experience, you will see improved search engine rankings versus websites which provide a poor visitor experience.

Page Speed

This one is a no-brainer. A faster website gives users a better experience. A slow website makes visitors leave a website quickly, and likely not return. There are many things one can do to improve a website’s load time, from optimizing images to serving cached files. This is done on a site-by-site basis and varies greatly.

Page speed contributes to bounce rate and session durations as well. If a website’s pages load slowly, visitors are less likely to stick around, surf and navigate the website. This refers back to alerting the search engines that the user did not find the website useful, as they left quickly and visited other websites from the same search query to find a better user experience.

Easy Navigation

Tying a website usability and user experience together is the navigation factor. When a website is easy to navigate and has useful content, visitors stay longer and visit more pages. By now, you know what that means. Right! Higher session duration numbers and lower bounce rate numbers.

When a visitor is able to move about a website easily and visit multiple pages, this tells search engines that a website usability is on par and provides the user experience that the search engines are looking for.

Easy navigation comes in several forms, first and foremost is a navigation menu which visitors can use to find different sections of a website. Next would be internal links within the content. Internal links will navigate users from one page in your website to another relevant page within your website.

Related content links is another way users can navigate through a website. These links are typically at the bottom of an article and point to other articles of the same topic. All these internal links provide users with easy ways to navigate through your website.


User experience consists of several factors which when combined, give search engines an idea of the website’s usability. The main focus, as it should be, is on the visitor and users of a website. When visitors have a good experience, search engines recognize this. As a result, a website’s position in search engine rankings is improved as compared to websites with inferior website usability.

A good user experience consists of fast page load times, easy navigation and mobile friendliness. These factors are measured in part by session duration and bounce rate.

It’s more important than ever for your website to be fast, mobile friendly and provide users with an exceptional experience. Doing so will help your website move to the top of search engine results!


Andrew Eaton is a New England native who enjoys the freedom of freelance blogging, web design and social media management. He loves to explore the nooks and crannies of New England as well as travel across the country with his best friend and better half, Katie. He is an avid DIYer, a magician in the kitchen and a geek at heart. He blogs at Scrappy Geek.


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