SEO and UX often go hand in hand – whether you’re an in-house SEO working alongside a UX team, or an agency SEO trying to pitch an idea to a client, it’s rare that you can make big changes without considering how it affects the site’s design or usability.
To cover this topic in more depth, we interviewed David Finberg, founder and CEO of Peaks Digital. Over the past 10 years, he’s seen a lot of changes in what works for SEO, including the impact of Core Web Vitals. His company also carries out A/B testing alongside their SEO work to see what impact their changes have on their users, making him the perfect person to talk to us about this topic.
If you want to hear more from David, you can find him on Twitter at @davidafinberg. Twitter is also the best place to find the rest of the RankUp team: Edd (@EddJTW), Ben (@BenJGarry) and Liv-Mae (@seoliviamae).
David: I started building websites at a young age, way back in the dial-up era. For those of you who remember, you could build websites for free early on, on self-hosted platforms. You could be 9 or 10 years old and building websites for friends and family.
But over the years I took a lot of different paths and was a Mercedes mechanic for a while, then worked at a startup and expanded those skils as time went on. Recently, the last 10 years have been purely SEO-focused. I ended up looking at my skills, like loving websites and loving helping people – I’ve traditionally also been a technical person, working on cars and websites and model trains growing up, and when I was in school I was building websites and had a heavy emphasis on content versus, let’s say, calculus.
SEO is really the perfect marriage of those two concepts: websites, content, and then the technical underpinning of how those two interact with each other. I’d been working at a startup that disbanded, and wanted to start my own version. I moved out to Colorado, started Peaks Digital, and we’ve been growing ever since.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in SEO since you started running Peaks Digital?
David: Everyone’s trying to rank on page one, but there’s only 10 slots, so the reality is that most people aren’t going to do it. Everyone’s been reengineering their content, or trying to make it more focused on expertise, authority and trust (E-A-T).
The threshold for high quality content is getting higher and more aggressive. It used to be about length, now it’s really about comprehensiveness and authoritativeness, or even making sure there’s some original analysis in there. How likely is it that your page solves the user’s query?
It’s more competitive now with people trying to create content at scale. There are a lot of people who are good at creating what I would call medium-level content, but you need to really look at the things like the writing style and the way that information is delivered, or the interactivity level of the content and how it’s presented.
Google is looking at things like, if a link is presented, is a user clicking it? And there are all of these tertiary ranking signals. And a lot of what we’re seeing is that pages that are more comprehensive, that have next-level experience, design, interactivity, structure – those are the types of sites that are doing better than sites that have medium-quality content, rather than full comprehensiveness.
How can you adapt to a greater demand for quality in your content?
David: So if you’re coming to us, you’ve created your website and you’re now ready for SEO, the first thing we’re going to do is audit all of your content across the site. It’s not enough to have a couple of great blog articles and then bunches of thin content, you really need to have a cutting edge, an innovative, best-in-class article with great sources and an actual understanding of the market.
A lot of people use tools to create content without truly understanding the topic itself. That’s evident when people come to us and say that they had people write blogs that were good, but they weren’t accurate, or they didn’t sound like something from our industry.
I think as the algorithm gets smarter, itll be less about the keywords and more about the right topics, or the right quality of the content and your original analysis. If you’re a doctor and you reference studies, and have experience with different ailments, what you write will sound very different than someone who just researched keywords on Semrush and is trying to spin out content.
So the process is changing, and it’s going to take a lot longer to create good content. We usually sit down with people and have an interview to really understand the topic at hand, as opposed to just sitting down with tools and putting out mediocre content at scale.
How impactful do you think the Core Web Vitals update was in 2021?
David: It’s now not a nice to have, it’s a need to have, but there’s a reducing rate of return. So if we have a site that goes from, say, a 10 second load to 4 seconds, you’re not only going to improve your bounce rate and other user metrics, you’re going to improve your conversion rate as well, and there are studies out there that show this.
On the other end of the scale, there are people getting caught in the weeds. We like a comprehensive approach, but there are people out there who get too granular, and maybe get caught up lazy loading things that don’t need to be lazy loaded, but you’re looking at PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix or whatever, and then youre site experience gets a little wonky.
The main things is that you’ve cleaned up a few areas of the website, like optimising your images, using webp, making sure that the PHP version’s fast enough, but long story short, once those things are done, it doesn’t make sense to go in with a microscope to get every little thing.
If going into real detail is your goal, I would say shoot for around an 80-90 score. On mobile, we’re shooting for like 60-70, and on desktop about 90-100. But if you’re in a situation where you’re now getting a 50 on mobile and you used to get a 5, you’re not going to see as big a gain when you go from 50 to 60, or from 60 to 70 versus that initial jump. I’ve seen people spend years optimising a Magento site that could have been optimised in a month! And while there’s a lot of complexity there, version done is better than version none.
So it’s something you can continue to focus on – there are a lot of great gains to be made and it’s a great tiebreaker in rankings, so you do need to be competitive. But maybe don’t stop everything else to focus on the next 5 points.
How do you use Google Optimize for wider UX considerations?
David: We use Google Optimize to split test different pieces of content. With something that’s creative, it’s subjective, right? There are many different ways that you can test sites and it’s important to have a constant in that environment. We use Google Optimize for A/B testing of different landing pages, experiences, or different types of content. Maybe two pages have the same topic, but different types of lead-ins and optimisation around that content.
Where I love to start is your opt-in page. How do we get the conversion rate a bit higher, whether you’re asking someone to book a call or buy a product. There are strategic tests that you can run in parallel that will tell you what an uplift could look like. One is adding social proof above the fold, or adding someone’s picture about the fold if it’s a scheduling page. Maybe look at the leading line – where people’s eyes are drawn – and see what it’s presenting. What kind of options are we giving them?
So when you set up your A/B test you want to make sure that you have a goal set up in Analytics, Tag Manager or AdWords, and then start pulling some levers to try and increase the opt-in rate.
You should also take a look at your funnel structure. Does it align with your conversion goal – every page should have a goal – and are these helping the user get closer to the end result, or further away? If it’s an opt-in page, are we giving users context or are we literally just trying to make a sale after 5 seconds? These are different strategies that you can optimise, and it’s going to depend on where the page is in the funnel. Within that context, you can find different opportunities from a content or design perspective.
You can boost a conversion rate just by tweaking the content or adding that additional bit of context or social proof, or adding different images. These are all things that you can test on a granular level over the course of weeks or months to align with your end goal and get it all synced up.
Listen to the episode for more!
We don’t have the space to include everything that David covered in his interview, so listen to the full podcast to hear all of his points on indexing for ecommerce.