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How to Do a SERP Analysis

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How to Do a SERP Analysis

SERP analysis is a process that helps you determine if and how you can rank for a keyword and whether the effort is worth the reward.

It’s important because not all keywords are created equal. Some are harder to rank for than others, so you must choose wisely.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to analyze a SERP to see if it’s crackable.

Let’s get started.

Step 1. Get a high-level overview of the SERP

The first step of a SERP analysis is to get a rough sense of the traffic opportunity and ranking difficulty opportunity.

To do this, we can use two of Ahrefs’ core metrics: Keyword Difficulty and Traffic Potential. 

  • Keyword Difficulty (KD) estimates how hard it will be to rank on the first page of Google for a keyword on a scale from 0 to 100.
  • Traffic Potential (TP) is the total estimated monthly search traffic to the top-ranking page for a keyword.

Using these two metrics, we will be able to get a top-level overview of the SERP and determine whether it’s worth further investigation.

Let’s use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to get a quick, high-level view of the keyword “when were dogs domesticated.”

Keyword overview for "when were dogs domesticated," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

So what exactly is the overview showing us? 

We can see the keyword “when were dogs domesticated” has a super hard KD of 73 but a low TP of 3.2K.

At first glance, this query doesn’t appear to be worth the effort. But it may warrant further investigation if this topic is lucrative for your business.

With a super hard KD of 73, Ahrefs estimates that we will need ~235 links to rank in the top 10 for this SERP, which will require a fair amount of resources to compete. 

Generally speaking, it is better to look for low-KD and high-TP queries, where possible. 

To better understand the effort-to-reward ratio for this query, and any others, we can plot the effort-to-reward ratio in an XY graph:

Effort-to-reward ratio
  • Top left: Golden opportunities (low investment, high reward).
  • Top right: Long-term opportunities (high investment, high reward).
  • Bottom left: Possible opportunities (low rewards, so effort might not be worth it).
  • Bottom right: Try to avoid (unless it’s a highly lucrative topic for your business).

Our query for “when were dogs domesticated” falls into the “high effort, low reward” quadrant, so it may not be worth the effort.

We are looking for a query that falls in the top left-hand section. In most cases, these will be the golden keyword opportunities. 

Avoid queries that fall into the bottom right section where possible unless it is particularly lucrative for your business.

Let’s try to find a search with more opportunity.

Let’s plug in “how to leash train a dog” into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and see if this keyword has better metrics.

Search for "how to leash train a dog," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

We can see that this query has a medium KD of 18 but a much higher TP of 24K. Great!

We can see that this search has a much better effort-to-reward ratio than our previous query, so let’s scroll down the page in Keywords Explorer to the SERP overview and investigate if (and how) we can rank.

Step 2. Investigate if (and how) you can rank

Now that we have completed our top-level overview, we can consider other factors using the SERP overview in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

We should consider four key elements in our SERP analysis when investigating the ranking difficulty:

1. Domain Rating (DR)

DR is one of Ahrefs’ most widely used metrics in SEO. It shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile on a scale from 0 to 100.

It’s not a Google ranking factor, but there are a couple of reasons why it can be easier for high-DR sites to rank on Google: 

  1. They can boost a page’s strength with internal links – High-DR sites have lots of strong pages. They can funnel some of this strength to specific pages with internal links.
  2. They are often trusted brands – People may prefer to click these results on the SERPs. They may also have more topical authority, which may help. 

These reasons explain why 64.9% of SEOs pay attention to DR when analyzing their chances to rank:

While it’s certainly possible to outrank a higher DR site, a good rule of thumb is to look for pages ranking in the top 10 with the same DR as you or lower. By doing this, we can maximize our chances of appearing on the SERP.

If we return to our previous query “how to leash train a dog” and look at the SERP overview, we can see that the first result comes from a DR 90 site. 

Even with a high-DR site, this looks hard to beat.

SERP overview for "how to leash train a dog," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
  • Scanning down the DR column, we can see that 8 out of 10 sites have a DR of 70+, so we could potentially be on the back foot from the start with this query.
  • Jumping to the sixth result, we can see that it has a DR of 26, which suggests that this SERP is crackable, at least in terms of DR. 
SERP overview detail of sixth result, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Finding outliers like this DR 26 site is what we need to be focusing on at this stage. It can mean that ranking on this SERP with a ≤ 70 DR site is possible.

Assuming that we don’t have a DR 70+ site, our hopes of ranking will most likely rest on equalling the ranking of the DR 26 site. 

It is worth noting that the traffic this site receives is estimated to be around 833, which is a lot lower than our original estimated 24K TP.

With these revised figures, we need to reevaluate whether the effort is worth the reward at this stage. That depends on our website’s authority, our risk appetite, and the resources available.

Although DR plays an important initial role in our SERP analysis, there are other factors that we should consider as well, such as links.

2. Links 

If you ask an SEO what the top Google ranking factors are, chances are they will mention “backlinks” in their reply. 

But what exactly is a backlink? Simply put, backlinks are clickable links from one website to another. 

What is a backlink

Backlinks are also highly important for ranking on Google, as they are one of eight confirmed ranking factors.

We saw in step #1 that KD can give us a broad indication of how many links we will need to rank, but actual link numbers will vary from site to site.

Let’s return to our query for “how to leash train a dog” in the SERP overview and take a closer look at the links.

SERP overview for "how to leash train a dog," via Keywords Explorer
  • Looking at the Domains column in the above image, we can see that the first result has 521 referring domains. Unless we can acquire over 521 referring domains, we should rule out the possibility of outranking this result.
  • The second result has 116 domains. Again, this seems relatively high, so we should probably rule out outranking this result too.
  • Positions #3–10, however, have ≤ 36 domains each, which is where the most opportunities lie on this SERP.

We can see from this link analysis that the lower end of the SERP is much easier to crack—at least in terms of links.

If we hone in on the sixth result, we can see that this site only has eight domains. 

SERP overview detail of sixth result, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Acquiring more than eight domains should be achievable for most businesses, so this could be a great opportunity. 

We only need to be aware that the estimated traffic for the sixth result is much lower than our initial TP estimate of 24K and is now 851. 

Looking at the rest of the SERP’s traffic, we can see that rather than gradually declining, the eighth and 10th results have more impressive estimated traffic, 5,895 and 3,643, respectively.

This may mean that the estimated traffic opportunity may not be as low as 851, but it can vary depending on our exact position.

So far, just using DR and links, we have seen how feasible it will be for us to rank on this SERP. We can see that the lower half of the SERP (from positions #6–10) is most achievable at this stage.

Now we will need to consider the role of search intent on the SERP. 

3. Search intent

Search intent is used to describe the primary reason for an online search. In other words, it indicates why the user typed their query into the search engine in the first place.

But what does search intent mean in terms of our SERP analysis?

In a nutshell: Our webpage needs to provide the best answer for the query to rank well on the SERP. Identifying the dominant search intent on the SERP can help determine how or if we will compete. 

Most content on the internet falls into the categories below and, for our SERP analysis, it makes sense to use this categorization: 

  • Blog posts
  • Category pages
  • Product pages
  • Landing pages
  • Videos

Let’s use Ahrefs’ own keywords to explore this concept in more detail. 

Say we have a website that we want to rank for “backlink checker,” and we have written a blog post targeting that query.

This alone will not enable us to rank for this query, as the intent of this search is strongly aligned toward SEO tool companies with big backlink databases—like Ahrefs. For these types of websites, the backlink checker is likely to be one of their main product pages.

If you thought of it, why would you click on a result for “backlink checker” that didn’t have a backlink checker product? 

You probably wouldn’t. 

This rules out the possibility of targeting this keyword for the average website creating a simple blog post on this topic.

Let’s consider another more visual example using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. Let’s plug in the keyword “how to draw a picasso face” and scroll down to the SERP overview.

With this query, we can see that 4 out of the top 6 results on this SERP are video-based. Therefore, we can see that the search intent is focused on video content. 

SERP overview for "how to draw a picasso face," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Because this format of content is so dominant at the top of the SERP, it will likely be tough to rank near the top of this SERP unless we create video content ourselves.

Returning to the SERP overview for our “how to leash train a dog” search query, we can see that the majority of the articles here are blog posts, but the fifth result is a video SERP feature.

This indicates that, at least for some searches, searchers are looking for video guides rather than blog posts about this topic.

SERP overview for "how to leash train a dog," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

With this type of mixed search intent, it is best to create content in both formats, assuming you have the expertise and resources to compete. This will likely increase the chances of appearing on the SERP for this particular keyword.

In summary, we have seen how analyzing search intent can help inform our SERP strategy and determine if and how we will compete. 

Let’s now take a look at content quality.

4. Content quality

It’s worth being aware that the standard of content Google expects can be much higher for certain topics.

For example, in a Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) topic, such as medical advice, you likely need to provide content created or reviewed by doctors to compete on the SERP. 

Google defines YMYL topics as the following:

YMYL definition, via Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Unless you have the resources to compete on these types of SERPs, then it is a good idea to stay clear of them. 

Even in non-YMYL topics, such as product reviews, there are sites like Wirecutter independently reviewing thousands of products every year with great success. So it’s not just YMYL topics that have extremely high-quality content.

Wirecutter's "about us" page, via nytimes.com

Wirecutter now has the backing of The New York Times, so it has tremendous resources at hand. 

Looking at its website, it typically updates or publishes around 10 articles per day, and this is despite its reviews taking “weeks or months of research” to complete.

So how do high-quality sites like Wirecutter impact our SERP analysis? 

Simply put, if there is a website that has high-quality content within the SERP, then you should consider whether you have the resources to compete and outrank them.

Step 3. Check for other opportunities

The final step of our SERP analysis is to check for any other opportunities. One of the biggest opportunities you can take advantage of is SERP features. 

Google seems to have hinted it as one of its priorities for search as far back as 2007. According to then-representative Marissa Mayer: 

We [Google] want to help you find the very best answer, even if you don’t know where to look.

But what exactly is a SERP feature, and how can we identify it?

A SERP feature is any result on the SERPs that is not a traditional organic search result. 

In brief, these are some of the most common SERP features and their basic requirements:

  • Featured snippets – Provide a concise answer to a query.
  • Video carousels – Create a YouTube video on the topic.
  • Image packs – Provide a relevant image of what people are looking for.
  • Top stories – Publish relevant news stories on the topic.
  • People Also Ask – Answer a related question on the topic.

Using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, we can see a list of current SERP features in the Organic keywords report by entering any website into the search bar and then clicking on the SERP features filter. 

In the example below, I have used ahrefs.com.

SERP features dropdown, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Filtering results by specific SERP features can be useful for competitor analysis or simply understanding which SERP features your website ranks for.

So what do SERP features look like in the wild? 

Let’s take a look at a featured snippet for “what are cats whiskers for” in Google search.

Featured snippet search result for "what are cats whiskers for," via Google.com

As we can see above, appearing in a featured snippet will mean you get more SERP real estate than a standard organic listing and will also mean that the result appears at the top of the search results.

This is why SERP features are considered by some SEOs as the cheat codes for SEO. They can also potentially drive more traffic than your average organic result.

If we return to our previous example of “how to leash train a dog,” we can see that the SERP overview has identified the fifth result on this SERP as a video SERP feature. 

Let’s click on the caret next to Videos to expand this result.

SERP overview for "how to leash train a dog," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Once we click on the caret, we can see the expanded result.

SERP overview video carousel featured snippet, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

There are three videos in the carousel from 2016, 2017, and 2021. If we had the resources to create video content for this query, creating a more up-to-date, high-quality video could be a valuable shortcut to ranking well on this SERP.

Assuming we managed to rank a video in the fifth position, this would leapfrog the DR 26 website we looked at earlier in the sixth position. 

If you created a blog post and a YouTube video targeting this search, you could acquire traffic from two sources rather than just one.

In summary, targeting SERP features is worth your time if you have the resources available. Winning SERP features allows us to acquire more SERP real estate instead of just appearing for a single organic result for a search query. 

Final thoughts

Conducting a SERP analysis may sound daunting at first, but Keywords Explorer makes it easy by giving you an overview of the key metrics you need to consider. 

After that, it’s just a case of following the process and asking yourself:

  • Can you provide a better answer to a keyword query than what is on the current SERP? 
  • Can you create higher-quality content than the top result for the query?
  • Do you have sufficient resources to create the content?
  • Are there any SERP features you can target to win more SERP real estate?

If the answer is “yes” to most of the above questions, you should have a decent chance of cracking the SERP.

What’s your experience with SERP analysis? Got more questions? Ping me on Twitter. 🙂



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AI Content In Search Results

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AI Content In Search Results

Google has released a statement regarding its approach to AI-generated content in search results.

The company has a long-standing policy of rewarding high-quality content, regardless of whether humans or machines produce it.

Above all, Google’s ranking systems aim to identify content that demonstrates expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

Google advises creators looking to succeed in search results to produce original, high-quality, people-first content that demonstrates E-E-A-T.

The company has updated its “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content” help page with guidance on evaluating content in terms of “Who, How, and Why.”

Here’s how AI-generated content fits into Google’s approach to ranking high-quality content in search results.

Quality Over Production Method

Focusing on the quality of content rather than the production method has been a cornerstone of Google’s approach to ranking search results for many years.

A decade ago, there were concerns about the rise in mass-produced human-generated content.

Rather than banning all human-generated content, Google improved its systems to reward quality content.

Google’s focus on rewarding quality content, regardless of production method, continues to this day through its ranking systems and helpful content system introduced last year.

Automation & AI-Generated Content

Using automation, including AI, to generate content with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results violates Google’s spam policies.

Google’s spam-fighting efforts, including its SpamBrain system, will continue to combat such practices.

However, Google realizes not all use of automation and AI-generated content is spam.

For example, publishers automate helpful content such as sports scores, weather forecasts, and transcripts.

Google says it will continue to take a responsible approach toward AI-generated content while maintaining a high bar for information quality and helpfulness in search results.

Google’s Advice For Publishers

For creators considering AI-generated content, here’s what Google advises.

Google’s concept of E-E-A-T is outlined in the “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content” help page, which has been updated with additional guidance.

The updated help page asks publishers to think about “Who, How, and Why” concerning how content is produced.

“Who” refers to the person who created the content, and it’s important to make this clear by providing a byline or background information about the author.

“How” relates to the method used to create the content, and it’s helpful to readers to know if automation or AI was involved. If AI was involved in the content production process, Google wants you to be transparent and explain why it was used.

“Why” refers to the purpose of creating content, which should be to help people rather than to manipulate search rankings.

Evaluating your content in this way, regardless of whether AI-generated or not, will help you stay in line with what Google’s systems reward.


Featured Image: Alejandro Corral Mena/Shutterstock



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Seven tips to optimize page speed in 2023

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Tips-to-optimize-page-speed-in-2023

30-second summary:

  • There has been a gradual increase in Google’s impact of page load time on website rankings
  • Google has introduced the three Core Web Vitals metrics as ranking factors to measure user experience
  • The following steps can help you get a better idea of the performance of your website through multiple tests

A fast website not only delivers a better experience but can also increase conversion rates and improve your search engine rankings. Google has introduced the three Core Web Vitals metrics to measure user experience and is using them as a ranking factor.

Let’s take a look at what you can do to test and optimize the performance of your website.

Start in Google Search Console

Want to know if optimizing Core Web Vitals is something you should be thinking about? Use the page experience report in Google Search Console to check if any of the pages on your website are loading too slowly.

Search Console shows data that Google collects from real users in Chrome, and this is also the data that’s used as a ranking signal. You can see exactly what page URLs need to be optimized.

Optimize-to-Start-in-Google-Search-Console

Run a website speed test

Google’s real user data will tell you how fast your website is, but it won’t provide an analysis that explains why your website is slow.

Run a free website speed test to find out. Simply enter the URL of the page you want to test. You’ll get a detailed performance report for your website, including recommendations on how to optimize it.

Run-a-website-speed-test-for-optimization

Use priority hints to optimize the Largest Contentful Paint

Priority Hints are a new browser feature that came out in 2022. It allows website owners to indicate how important an image or other resource is on the page.

This is especially important when optimizing the Largest Contentful Paint, one of the three Core Web Vitals metrics. It measures how long it takes for the main page content to appear after opening the page.

By default, browsers assume that all images are low priority until the page starts rendering and the browser knows which images are visible to the user. That way bandwidth isn’t wasted on low-priority images near the bottom of the page or in the footer. But it also slows down important images at the top of the page.

Adding a fetchpriority=”high” attribute to the img element that’s responsible for the Largest Contentful Paint ensures that it’s downloaded quickly.

Use native image lazy loading for optimization

Image lazy loading means only loading images when they become visible to the user. It’s a great way to help the browser focus on the most important content first.

However, image lazy loading can also slow cause images to take longer to load, especially when using a JavaScript lazy loading library. In that case, the browser first needs to load the JavaScript library before starting to load images. This long request chain means that it takes a while for the browser to load the image.

Use-native-image-lazy-loading-for-optimization

Today browsers support native lazy loading with the loading=”lazy” attribute for images. That way you can get the benefits of lazy loading without incurring the cost of having to download a JavaScript library first.

Remove and optimize render-blocking resources

Render-blocking resources are network requests that the browser needs to make before it can show any page content to the user. They include the HTML document, CSS stylesheets, as well as some JavaScript files.

Since these resources have such a big impact on page load time you should check each one to see if it’s truly necessary. The async keyword on the HTML script tag lets you load JavaScript code without blocking rendering.

If a resource has to block rendering check if you can optimize the request to load the resource more quickly, for example by improving compression or loading the file from your main web server instead of from a third party.

Remove-and-optimize-render-blocking-resources

Optimize with the new interaction to Next Paint metric

Google has announced a new metric called Interaction to Next Paint. This metric measures how quickly your site responds to user input and is likely to become one of the Core Web Vitals in the future.

You can already see how your website is doing on this metric using tools like PageSpeed Insights.

Optimize-with-new-Interaction-to-Next-Paint-metric

Continuously monitor your site performance

One-off site speed tests can identify performance issues on your website, but they don’t make it easy to keep track of your test results and confirm that your optimizations are working.

DebugBear continuously monitors your website to check and alerts you when there’s a problem. The tool also makes it easy to show off the impact of your work to clients and share test results with your team.

Try DebugBear with a free 14-day trial.

Continuously-monitor-your-site-performance

 

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What Is User Experience? How Design Matters To SEO

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What Is User Experience? How Design Matters To SEO

User experience is the foundation of a site’s usability, and it’s an aspect of on-page SEO that many people overlook.

If your site lacks the positive user experience and ease of use that end users require to navigate your site, you’ll push visitors to your competitors.

In this guide, you’ll learn what user experience (UX) entails, the types of experiences, the difference between UI and UX, and why it matters to SEO.

What Is User Experience (UX)?

UX is how people interact with your website.

You’ll also find this term used for products, but we’re focusing strictly on websites at the moment.

If you have a, intuitive user interface design, users will have an easier time navigating your site and finding the information they want.

If you do have a digital product, such as a SaaS solution, this interaction will also occur on your digital product.

User experience elicits a couple of things:

In short, user experience can provide a positive experience with your website – or it can lead to frustration among users.

Note: Usability is not UX design. It’s a component of UX that works with design to create the experience your users desire.

What Are The Types Of User Experience?

User experience evaluation must look at the three types of UX design to best understand the needs of the end user.

The three types of UX include:

  • Information: One aspect of a content strategy that goes overlooked is information architecture. Time must be spent on how information on a site is organized and presented. User flows and navigation must be considered for all forms of information you present.
  • Interaction: Your site has an interaction design pattern – or a certain way that users interact with the site. Components of a site that fall under the interaction UX type include buttons, interfaces, and menus.
  • Visual design: Look and feel matter for the end user. You want your website to have cohesion between its color, typography, and images. User interface (UI) will fall under this type of UX, but it’s important to note that UI is not interchangeable with UX.

What Is The Difference Between UI & UX?

Speaking of UX and UI, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the difference between the two to better understand user experience.

User Interface

UI design is your site’s visual elements, including:

Visual elements on your site are part of the user interface.

UI definitely overlaps with UX to an extent, but they’re not the same.

Steve Krug also has a great book on usability, titled “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.” It was first published in 2000, and the book is a #1 bestseller today.

Steve’s insight from over 20 years ago (although we’re now on the 3rd edition of the book) provides guidelines on usability that include:

  • Desktop.
  • Mobile.
  • Ease of use.
  • Layouts.
  • Everything UX.

If there’s one thing this book will teach you about usability, it’s to focus on intuitive navigation. Frustrating website users is the exact opposite of a good user experience.

User Experience

UX works on UI and how the user will:

  • Interact with your site.
  • Feel during the interaction.

Think of Google for a moment.

A simple landing page that is visually appealing, but Spartan in nature, is the face of the Internet. In terms of UX, Google is one of the best sites in the world, although it lacks a spectacular UI.

In fact, the UI needs to be functional and appealing, but the UX is what will stand out the most.

Imagine if you tried performing a search on Google and it displayed the wrong results or took one minute for a query to run. In this case, even the nicest UI would not compensate for the poor UX.

Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb is one of the prime examples of how to move beyond simple usability and focus on UX in new, exciting ways.

The honeycomb includes multiple points that are all combined to maximize the user experience. These facets are:

  • Accessible.
  • Credible.
  • Desirable.
  • Findable.
  • Usable.
  • Useful.
  • Valuable.

When you focus on all of these elements, you’ll improve the user experience dramatically.

Why User Experience Matters To SEO

By this point, you understand that UX is very important to your site’s visitors and audience.

A lot of time, analysis, and refinement must go into UX design. However, there’s another reason to redirect your attention to user experience: SEO.

Google Page Experience Update

When Google’s Page Experience Update was fully rolled out, it had an impact on websites that offered a poor user experience.

The page experience update is now slowly rolling out for desktop. It will be complete by the end of March 2022. Learn more about the update: https://t.co/FQvMx3Ymaf

— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) February 22, 2022

Multiple aspects of UX are part of the ranking factors of the update, including:

  • Intrusive adverts.
  • Core Web Vitals.
  • HTTPS Security.

You can run a Core Web Vitals report here and make corrections to meet these requirements. Additionally, you should know whether your site has intrusive ads that irritate users, and if your site lacks HTTPS.

Page performance works to improve your SEO. Google’s research shows that focusing on UX can:

  • Reduce site abandonment by as much as 24%.
  • Improve web conversions.
  • Increase the average page views per session by as much as 15%.
  • Boost advertising revenue by 18% or more.

When you spend time improving your site’s UX, you benefit from higher rankings, lower page abandonment, improved conversions, and even more revenue.

Plus, many of the practices to improve UX are also crucial components of a site’s on-page SEO, such as:

  • Proper header usage.
  • Adding lists to your content.
  • Making use of images.
  • Optimizing images for faster loading times.
  • Filling content gaps with useful information.
  • Reducing “content fluff.”
  • Using graphs.
  • Testing usability across devices.

When you improve UX, you create a positive experience for users, while also improving many of the on-page SEO foundations of your website.

Final Comments

Customer experience must go beyond simple responsive web design.

Hick’s law dictates that when you present more choices to users, it takes longer to reach a decision. You’ve likely seen this yourself when shopping online and finding hundreds of options.

When people land on your site, they’re looking for answers or knowledge – not confusion.

User research, usability testing, and revisiting user experience design often will help you inch closer to satisfying the SEO requirements of design while keeping your visitors (or customers) happier.

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