The term “flow” on a website typically refers to the smooth and intuitive navigation experience that visitors have as they interact with the site.
It encompasses (or should) the logical sequence of steps or actions a visitor to your site takes, from entering the site to accomplishing their desired goals, such as finding information, making a purchase, or engaging with the site’s features.
Why is your website’s Flow important to Google and your Visitors?
Flow is important to both Google and website visitors for the following reasons:
UX (User Experience): A well-designed website flow ensures that visitors can easily find what they’re looking for and accomplish their objectives without frustration.
It involves factors like clear navigation menus, logical information hierarchy, intuitive user interface and seamless transitions between pages.
Positive user experiences lead to increased engagement, longer session durations( how long people stay on your site) and higher chances of your business achieving desired outcomes… also known as RESULTS
Engagement and Conversions: A smooth and easy flow can encourage visitors to explore more pages, interact with different elements and spend more time on the site.
This ‘increased engagement’ can lead to higher conversion rates, whether it’s making a purchase, filling out a form, or subscribing to a service.
From Google’s perspective, a website with good ‘flow’ and high user engagement signals that the site provides value to its visitors, which can positively impact your site’s search rankings.
Bounce Rate and Dwell Time: Flow is closely related to the bounce rate (measured in Analytics) which represents the percentage of visitors who leave the site after viewing only one page.
If users struggle to navigate or find relevant information, they are more likely to leave quickly, resulting in a high bounce rate. Not good.
On the other hand, a well-designed flow can reduce bounce rates and increase dwell time, that again signals engagement, indicating to Google that the site IS providing value to users and potentially improving its search rankings.
SEO Considerations: Google considers various user experience factors when ranking websites.
Elements such as site structure, internal linking, page load speed and mobile responsiveness all contribute to the flow.
Websites with optimised flow tend to have better chances of ranking higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), as Google’s main goal is to deliver the best user experience to its users.
Do Search Engines look at your site in a different way than the User?
There’s the “pretty” graphics pages that we “see” as a user when we visit any website.
Then there’s the “coded” page (behind the scenes that you do not see) that the Search Engines see or ‘crawl’ and then use their results in order to assess your site, to rank it.
We often tell clients that the “pretty” comes LAST in our site design and strategy processes, as it is so easy to spend a large chunk of your budget on graphics and get no results.
How a site “looks” does not matter much to Google OR your visitors, all they want is to find a product or service quickly to fix their pain or problem.
*Update Dec 26 2023
Google’s Gary Ilyes recently answered a question on the STRUCTURE for a site.
He talked about” Flat” structure vs “Hierarchical” (AKA Taxonomic, Pyramid , Silo)
In this great recap ( below) from SEJ they explain what a Hierarchical site is and Gary Ilyes explains why this will work better for Google….
” A flat site structure is when every page has a link from the home page which results in the entire site being just one click away from the home page.
A hierarchy is a reference to way of organizing something by order of general to increasingly specific (among multiple ways to use hierarchy)…..
A hierarchical site structure allows publishers to create categories that fit into what used to be called “themes” or “topic themes” but are nowadays simply called topics.
Which Is Better, Hierarchical Or Flat Site Structure?
The person asking the question asked:
“Which category structure: hierarchical or flat structure for my website?”
Gary Illyes answered:
“I think this largely depends on the site’s size.
For a large site it’s likely better to have a hierarchical structure; that will allow you to do funky stuff on just one section, and will also allow search engines to potentially treat different sections differently, especially when it comes to crawling.
For example, having a /news/ section for newsy content and /archives/ for old content would allow search engines to crawl /news/ faster than the other directory. If you put everything in one directory, that’s hardly possible.”
You need to take OFF your “Site Owners hat” and put on your “Consumers Cap” and not focus on graphics.
- Some search engines have human interaction, a manual review, where individuals can decide on things like rank.
- In most cases, Search Engines are automated and use “spiders” to crawl the site, look at the content and rank it accordingly.
- Their bots technology crawls through the content, navigation and functionality pathways on your site, to take in all the ‘data’ that is there. (Or should be there)
- IF you do not get this right, you may never rank or get results you hope for or expect
- Google has moved over the last 10 years from looking at pure analytics data in their PageRank algorithms to more of a Topic based trust flow.
- UX or User Flow is now something every site owner needs to understand and get right.
Optimizely who have invested a lot of time & money in research on this subject put it this way:
“User flow is the path taken by a prototypical user on a website or app to complete a task.
The user flow takes them from their entry point through a set of steps towards a successful outcome and final action, such as purchasing a product…”
Examples of user flows
User flows can take many different forms, depending on the type of website or app you are building.
For example, for an ecommerce site, a typical user flow might look like the following:
- The user starts on the homepage
- From the homepage the user clicks onto a category page
- From the category page the user clicks on a product
- From the product page the user adds the item to the cart
- From the shopping cart the user checks out
- From the checkout screen the user completes the purchase
Of course, the above is a very simplified example. In the real world, users can take many different paths to purchase.
For example, in the scenario above, the user could go back to the category page to view more products instead of going directly to the shopping cart. Or they could use search to navigate the site instead of clicking through the site hierarchy. Or the user could come in from a different page other than the homepage.
Ways to improve your user flow
Collecting data on each step in your user flow will allow you to evaluate how your users navigate through your sales funnel.
By their very nature, funnels will shrink at each step where users drop out.
Data will indicate where your funnel is ‘leaky’ (with a large percentage of people dropping out between steps) and might need help.
To close up the ‘leaks,’ consider where you can correct points of pain or friction, where to offer more information, and where to reduce distractions and offer less.
For example, on an ecommerce site, you might conduct a user flow analysis and notice that a lot of people are getting to the shopping cart but not completing their purchase
By identifying that shopping cart abandonment is a problem, you can start generating hypotheses for why users are dropping off at that point.
It could be that your shipping rates are too high and users are getting sticker shock.
Or perhaps there are too many fields to fill out, and customers are losing interest. Or perhaps the navigation is not clear as to what action to take next.
CXL has a great article on the right – and wrong- way to design your site and User Flow
The wrong way to go about designing your site and User Flow
You need to decide what your new website will be like.
Two most common ways people approach it:
- Scenario A. You keep everything as it is on your current/old site but make it look “better.”
- Scenario B. You start with the building blocks: Okay, the logo goes in the top-left corner. Let’s put the menu to the right. A nice image in the header. Cool. And so on.
Both of these are the wrong way to design a site. Neither will result in a great user flow.
Here are six steps to getting it right:
- Elaborate on your objectives, and your user’s objectives;
- Make sure your traffic source matches your messaging;
- Choose the kind of user flow that should be created;
- Determine the details your visitors need to know;
- Deliver the appropriate information at the appropriate time;
- Implement state diagrams to map the flow steps.”and
“In order to design your site for flow, according to Jim Ramsey, you must:
- Have clear goals for users. Help them understand where they’re going and each step they’ll take to get there.
- Provide immediate feedback. Whether they click a button, fill a form, or navigate from one page to another, tell them how they’re doing, and what’s going on. Messages and copy have a critical role.
- Maximize efficiency. Once a user becomes familiar with your site and starts experiencing flow, they’ll want to work more quickly and the site to feel more responsive. Use key features of your site (a lot) and see if there are any annoying, repetitive tasks. Pay close attention to feedback from user tests. Make the experience frictionless.
- Allow for discovery. Once a user has begun to work with maximum efficiency, there’s a chance that they’ll feel less engaged and grow bored with their experience. To avoid this, make content and features available for discovery.
When the smooth path is interrupted—or something doesn’t seem to fit—the flow is broken, which means that the experience is also momentarily broken.
These small episodes of friction are cumulative.” (my bolding)
This brings us to a good question: What is friction on a website?
Read my separate Post on Friction!
Friction on a website refers to any element or aspect of your site’s design that creates obstacles, confusion or frustration for visitors, hindering their ability to navigate, complete tasks or achieve their goals.
CXL also puts it this way:
“You can optimize your value proposition or call to action buttons all you want, but if your sign-up flow contains too much friction, you’re leaving money on the table.
Friction is “the psychological resistance that your visitors experience when trying to complete an action.”
It’s also a conversion killer.”
In summary, a well-designed flow on a website enhances user experience, increases engagement and improves the chances of achieving desired outcomes.
It also positively influences Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts by signaling value to both users and search engines like Google.
Get clear on your site’s Flow and performance: