User experience, UX, is a hot topic these days. In a summarised definition, UX concerns the emotions and attitudes a person has about your website (or app or whatnot). As in a while ago search engine optimising was what everyone talked about, and before that it was all content marketing, now user experience is what makes the hearts fill with joy. Okay, admittedly I was being sarcastic there. However, laced with my sarcasm or not, user experience has became a huge deal and that's no wonder. Lots of experienced web folks are throwing SEO in the back seat, due to search engines becoming more and more picky about it. It is getting impossible to rig the search engine game, but also harder to play it nice and reap the benefits.
Taking Google as an example, it's algorithms are constantly getting updated. According to Moz's Google Algorithm Change History the search engine made major updates to the algorithms 5 times in 2015. That doesn't count the smaller changes, which they do 500–600 times each year. No SEO expert can keep up with that, nor can anyone else. Part of these algorithm changes is to make sure that search engine visibility cannot be gamed. If you try to manipulate search results, your site will be penalised and the visibility will be lost. Completely. The penalties aren't only a short term issues. If you are caught once, your site's reputation is tarnished far in the future.
The search engines are now more aware about what is important for people making the searches. How those people experience a site. Not only this is important for search engines, it's also important for your users. And that is important to you. If your users have a bad experience with your site, they will leave as soon as possible, not come back and/or make sure their friends won't visit your site either (by spreading the word your site is the worst). A great user experience, such being able to find the needed information easily, gives your visitors a reason to come back and also share your content. If you sell products or services on your site, you want conversions. And if your search engine traffic doesn't create those conversions, something is not right. That something is likely to be problems with user experience.
There are multiple different things that can send a frustrated visitor away. Obviously content is the main thing, since that is usually what web users are looking for. Content, such as information about a certain subject or entertainment. If that content is not found from the page visitor clicks at a search, they will get away as fast as possible. While it's a known fact that Google and Bing don't use bounce rate as a ranking factor, they use something called dwell time. Dwell time tells how long a visitor stays at the site after clicking a link on search results (which is a whole different thing than bounce rate). Thus all those visitors, who run away immediately from your site will eventually affect your search engine visibility. Besides, search engines will judge the potential user experience of a site even before a visitor gets to do it. Unsatisfying content is only one of the things that can go wrong in how a user experiences your site.
Important thing to remember is that there will always be someone or multiple someones who get a bad experience from your site. You cannot make everyone happy, not even when you really, really work on creating the best experience ever. That doesn't still mean that you shouldn't or couldn't try perfecting the UX of your site. Just don't go completely nuts about it, nor don't try to please everyone. That said, there are some things that will please everyone, if done right. Things that will benefit all the users.
Firstly there's the matter of accessibility. Accessibility refers to designing and developing your site in a way that people with wider range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive abilities can access it. For instance using images without providing aiding text will diminish the access for people who can't see or have reduced sight. Accessibility can be extended to include such things as ability to access the site with different devices, including, but not limited to mobile accessibility. There are many things that affect accessibility. I already mentioned the images and aiding texts (for example alt texts). In addition there are such matters which improve accessibility as bigger text sizes, clearer contrast (e.g. don't use white text on a yellow background), transcripts of podcasts and video captions, clarity of icons and wording, languages, enabling keyboard input and more. As an example of things to take in account, for people with autism sounds can be overwhelming and cause even serious stress. Search engines are at least partially capable of detecting the accessibility of your site.
In the business of things that are slightly more personal, when it comes to user experience, there are multiple areas to look at. I mentioned the content earlier, as it is usually, if not always, the reason for a website to exist and for people to visit a website. Another area is the design. Design includes, but is not limited to, the overall layout of elements on a site, usage of colours, fonts, images and other visual content. In wider sense design addresses other architectural matters, such as technical and functional sides. A good design involves the way the site's content is organised and labeled, the way the content is accessed (navigation, search, other hyperlinks and more) and what sort of technologies are used to serve that content. Design also have to take in account the issues mentioned above, such as accessibility and performance. Design can help the content to be easier to find and access.
User experience can be awesome or awful. Users have high expectations for your site, its content and design. If you cannot meet those expectations, they will move on. They are also busy and don't have time to try and encrypt your content or find the hidden pages. If what they are looking for is not found fast and easily, you will lose the visitors faster than you can say Search Engine Optimisation. User experience is the thing these days, but it isn't only a fad, something that will go away. If you don't want to waste tons of time and money in futile tactics, I recommend putting SEO in the background and getting on with UX.
How will your website serve your audience better?