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Are you sending the right usability signals to Google?

Episode Overview

Do you know whether your website is sending poor usability signals to Google? Identifying and avoiding the pain points that users encounter and ensuring that your website is not throwing off the signals that cause Google to deprecate otherwise outstanding content is the focus of today’s episode.

Topics covered include:

  • The importance of site speed as a usability signal
  • How Google’s mobile-first approach prioritizes the mobile ‘usability’ experience above all others
  • Measuring the impact of ads on usability and site speed against their necessity


Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to Algorithm Month on The Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re taking a look inside the black box that is Google’s search algorithm. And this week specifically we’re going to publish an episode every day discussing one of the key factors that Google states impacts how their algorithm interprets your content. Joining us for algo week is Jordan Koene, who is a world renowned SEO strategist and the CEO here at Searchmetrics, Inc.

And today we’re going to talk about how Google’s algorithm interprets the usability of your web pages. But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary consultation, where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free consultation, go to

Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Jordan, welcome back to Algorithm Week on The Voices Of Search podcast.

Jordan:             Hey Ben, I hope we don’t make our listeners dizzy after this episode.

Ben:                 Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve talked about how Google’s algorithm interprets a meaning of a query, how it thinks about the relevance of your webpages. And yesterday, we talked about how Google’s algorithm thinks about the quality of your content. And really, my takeaway is it’s not just by looking at your content. It’s looking at your content, it’s looking at the organization of your pages, it’s looking at your domain health. It’s looking at the whole kit and caboodle.

Jordan:             It sure is.

Ben:                 And one of the biggest points of that is, it also understanding how you’re structuring your webpages, and how people can get from point A to point B, which brings us into the topic of how Google thinks about the usability of your web page.

Talk to me about what are the signals that Google’s ingesting to understand whether your page is usable and how it compares to other sites.

Jordan:             Yeah, this is where people start to get a little disoriented when it comes to search and in particular how Google’s algorithm functions. Because we go from very data-driven, very scientific elements to then very subjective ones, very interpretive elements. And now we go back to very data-driven signals and analysis that Google is doing on your web pages. And that leads us to this concept of usability.

And usability is very focused on identifying pain points that users encounter with websites, and ensuring that your website is not providing any of those pain points, that it is avoiding any of those pain points at all costs. And Google’s goal is to promote the websites that reduce the amount of pain points that users experience.

Ben:                 What I think about the usability of webpages, right? I’m thinking about throughput and this is just my nature as a marketer, I’m thinking I want to get somebody efficiently from visiting my website. So let’s use e-commerce as an example, visiting my website, getting to a product page, getting to the cart, getting through the cart, right? And I evaluate that based on time on site. And I’m assuming that Google looks at time on site. Is this person spending a lot of time on site? They must really like this page. And in reality for me, if somebody just flies through my funnel and gets all the way through to the cart and completes and action, I’m a happy camper. So how do you reconcile what is good usability? Because people are efficient and what is good usability because people are on the site because they’re enjoying the content?

Jordan:             Right? And I think it’s really interesting the way that you’ve positioned that because you’ve positioned that from a customer journey point of view, right? How do I get my customer on my website to go through an experience and do so in an efficient way? And Google is doing the exact same thing but their customer is actually going through a very different experience than yours is. Their customer’s going through an experience of trying to unlock knowledge. They’re trying to understand, based on a search query, some form of information and so that process is a very different one and there are different metrics that Google is looking at for usability. The most notable one and one that we talked about probably ad nauseum on our podcast is site speed.

Ben:                 That’s all Google cares about. Just make it faster.

Jordan:             Make it faster. And it’s true, right? But do you think about it. If you’re a user going from Google and it takes a long time for this page to come up on any device, on any experience you’re going to get, you’re going to go back, forget it. I’m not waiting. There’s 10 other, there’s nine other options on that page probably, and I’m going to go pick the next one. And so site speed is without question, the most analyzed signal and indicator of usability for Google.

Ben:                 Site speed. Site speed. Site speed.

Did we say site speed yet? Focus on site speed please. Just at least look at it, please.

Jordan:             Don’t stuff the keyword into this podcast.

Ben:                 The good news is that Google doesn’t evaluate podcasts because we would just have our editor record our voices at two times speed.

Jordan:             Let’s hope our listeners aren’t doing that to here.

Ben:                 Hopefully they’re powering through those in regular talent and we’ll try to make sure that we get to the point here. Google’s looking at site speed to determine usability, right? Are you able to render the page and get the content in front of them as quickly as possible because people are mower than ever likely on the go, don’t have a strong web signal, right? There’s a big mobile component to this as well. Talk to me about how Google looks at mobile as a signal and I’m assuming that the responsive nature of a webpage is also a big signal for them in terms of usability.

Jordan:             Yeah. So device types is another element within usability which encapsulates mobile. And on obviously mobile is the most important. So a few years back Google made the announcement that they’re going to go mobile first. So what that means is that Google is looking at mobile signals and making decisions on rank position from a usability standpoint off of mobile. And that’s really important for all of our listeners to understand. I think most of our listeners know that, but depending on your category, your industry, you may also have other device types that are very prominent. Looking at your internal data and understanding your industry are critical in ensuring that your website is properly set up for all devices and providing the best possible experience for those users across those devices.

Ben:                 Okay. So site speed obviously impacts usability, making sure that you’re rendering an experience that is usable based on the device. What are some of the other signals that Google looks at in terms of usability?

Jordan:             Yeah, the other one that often we talk about with our clients here at Searchmetrics is browser types and correctly appearing across different browser types. And you know, the challenging part about browser based experiences is that they’re constantly evolving, right? And all of these are evolving. Mobile browser, site speed, all these things are constantly changing. So good SEOs are monitoring these all the time and ensuring that the expectations of the user are being met across these browser types, across these devices and that they’re doing so in a very efficient and fast way. But yeah, that would be the third element here. Speed devices and then browsers are the key building blocks of usability.

Ben:                 Yes. It’s funny, I assume that there would be one more, which is paid structure, right? If I put a gigantic header at the top of the page, even if my content is great and the rest of the page is organized, I’m pushing everything below the fold. And so I assumed that would be part of usability even if it is a mobily responsive page. How does your actual page structure and some of the content assets that you’re putting on the page affect how Google interprets usability?

Jordan:             This is where we start overlapping on some of these key themes. And you know, one of the common topics that comes up here at Searchmetrics and it bleeds into usability, it bleeds into quality of content, is ads. So what’s going on with all these ads on this website? Why are all these ads on this page? These ads are making my website’s slow. These ads are the only way we make money, right? So these questions are on ads and how the ad experience is being rendered on these web pages is one of those that kind of bleeds across themes but oftentimes can be justified because usability is a data-driven exercise. You’re looking at very specific data points. It adds in restricting ad experiences to ensure that you’re still maintaining profitability for the company but providing the most usable experience is something that can be a very data-driven exercise. And that’s where we typically lead our clients to looking at this particular theme is by leveraging usability metrics.

Ben:                 So it makes sense, right? The more stuff that you’re putting on your page. Mostly if it is from third party vendors, if you’re piping and ads, that takes time. That effects your sites, be that makes your pages heavier. Maybe they’re not relevant in terms of content for what’s on your site and Google could penalize you for that. I’m sure on some level Google understands that ads need to be on some web pages and it’s just about finding the right balance there. What is the way that SEOs can find balance in terms of the usability of their pages? How should they be monitoring and evaluating their site speed? How should they figure out if an ad is negatively impacting their performance?

Jordan:             Yeah, so from an ads perspective, it is critical to start collecting the data and also have an environment where you can test and see whether ads are creating a negative impact in the overall usability of your web pages. That’s really the fundamental element to the ads question. The other big theme here is that Google actually provides a lot of tools and a lot of resources to help you with this. They’ve created in the last year or two things like page speed insights. They’ve provided access to more and more ways to measure page speed and the insights tool is a great way to start collecting data about how these different ad experiences or experiences on your website or technologies are improving or hurting your overall page speed. Another great tool that Google has created is the URL inspect that allows you to analyze these URLs through Google search console so you can analyze a specific URL and gain insight into what may be technically prohibiting your usability and accessing the best possible result for users, whether it be mobile usability and if there’s any enhancements that are actually available on those pages.

Ben:                 What they need is a website where you can go in and type your domain in and it should be called, “Is my website fast enough?”, and no matter what the domain is, it just says no, make it faster.

Jordan:             That’s usually the result. Almost always. Go faster, go faster.

Ben:                 Okay. I think the key takeaway here is when you think about usability, right? Obviously there is the user experience usability, but Google is looking at things like your page speed, your page speed, your page speed, and your page speed. And then on top of that they’re looking at how your website is performing across multiple browsers, whether it is mobily responsive. But they provide you with a bunch of tools to evaluate how they are interpreting your data. Jordan, what’s the right place to go to look for these tools?

Jordan:             Yes, so Google has provided under their section the resources for page speed. Also, the other one is the Google search console. So once you set up your website within Google search console, you can access the URL inspect feature.

Ben:                 Okay. So Google’s developers page and search console, the place to evaluate that your site speed is not fast enough.

And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can click on the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is JT Koene and that’s J T K O E N E.

If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk to me about being a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at Ben J. Shap. That’s B E N J S H A P.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning to discuss the last episode of algorithm week where we talk about how Google interprets your context and sentence. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.



Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene is the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of Searchmetrics. Previously, Jordan was the Head of SEO and Content Development at eBay. During his time at eBay, Jordan focused on utilizing eBay content to improve user experience and natural search traffic.

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