Silent Website Killer: When SEO and Conversion Optimization Collide

Everyone knows that SEO (search engine optimization) is a necessary component of driving traffic to your site. Likewise, most site owners understand that CO (conversion optimization) is how you ensure more visitors become buyers. Unfortunately, very few understand how the two work together, or what happens when they don’t.
Think about it this way. Your website has two purposes:
  1. Create awareness of your business by attracting lots of visitors.
  2. Convert as many visitors as possible into buyers.
Here’s the problem: Standard “best practices” in SEO, have little or nothing to say about getting people to buy. And most conversion optimization techniques don’t leave room for good SEO. That means, depending on your focus, you gain a lot of new visitors who don’t ever pay you money, or you manage to convert a high percentage of your visitors, but you have too few to turn a profit.
It seems like a straightforward process, and common sense ought to help you figure it out. Well, good luck with that. Maybe me and my crew are slower than most online business people, but we took about a year and tens of thousands of dollars to connect some very important dots that NONE of our highly paid and highly respected consultants could connect for us.
Depending on who you’re talking to, you get the impression that THEIR results are the most important to consider. Ask an SEO person what you need to do and (if they’re any good) they want to talk about key word focus, title tags, content-specific pages, internal linking and inbound links from reputable sites. Tackle all that, and you’ll have a site that ranks well in search results, and gets more visitors.
OK, so we did all that, scored a Page Rank 5 with Google and got up to about 200 visitors a day. Impressive? Yes. Sales? Tiny. One or two a week. Hmmm. That can’t be right, can it?
Taking a completely different tack, we focused on conversions and launched a separate brand with a new site and a new approach where CO came first. Our CO consultant had great ideas about buyer behavior, page layout, what sorts of things decrease bounce rate, what should be above the fold and what below, what are the specific goals of each page, etc.
We created an extremely streamlined buying process that started on the first page with a handy wizard showing visitors their best options, leading them straight into the checkout process. Page design was all about encouraging clicks on the big ol’ call to action button and nothing else. Our decisions were governed by statistics. Period. We did make some essential content available for visitors who wanted to look for it, but otherwise, we made it all about solving the problem for consumers right now. So pay up, people!
Now that conversion-optimized site is showing promise, but since we haven’t built out pages and pages of content, nor had the time to amass the necessary inbound links, it doesn’t rank all that well organically. Also, we drive traffic to it primarily through Google Adwords, making a higher topline gross but a tighter margin than the first site.
What to do?
Well, in the process of working on those two sites, we noticed that an old, poorly designed site of ours had suddenly made the first page of Google for it’s most important keyword phrase. Not being a great site, it wasn’t converting particularly well, but it was generating business almost in spite of itself! What was different here? And then it hit us, like a DoS Attack… or a ton of bricks. Whatever. Pick your cliche. It was a big deal!
For consumers, websites aren’t the solution any more than the phone book was. The phone book (you do know what I’m talking about, right?) was just a step in the process. If you want help from a business, you open it up and find it. Then you go get what you want.
The trouble with online businesses is that we treat a website like an end in and of itself. We feel proud of it. We opine about how it should operate, how the user experience should reflect our brand. We puzzle and fiddle and “iterate” because smart people iterate– at least it sounds smarter than “guessing” or “changing your mind.” Websites too often get in the way. Sure, they make your business visible to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people who couldn’t otherwise find you, but so what? Who are those millions, and do they care that they found YOU?
There is a constant in sales that is as true now as it was a generation before the internet existed:
People do business with other people who they know, like and trust.
There is a second constant that I would argue was true for a long time, but has been made more obvious and essential with so much business initiated online:
Don’t make me think.
Thanks, Mike. Great insight. What the heck are you saying?
While your efforts to grow a business online must capture a wide audience, your business only really exists in the mind of one prospect at a time. No matter the wide array of content and links you’ve gained to dominate the search engines… no matter the beautiful pages you’ve built to close sales… no matter the work you’ve done satisfying real customers… your business only succeeds one person at a time. Speak directly to your prospect, as if you built your entire business for that one person, right now. Here are 7 ways you can do exactly that:
  1. Know the most profitable keyword phrases in your market space and find a set of those that you can dominate. It doesn’t do you any good to shoot for the top of a keyword category. Nail your niche and both Google and web surfers will like you more because they will see you stand for something specific. Google won’t rank you for everything, and no prospect wants to buy everything– just one thing.
  2. In addition to the most profitable keywords in your market space, find longtail variants that’ll help you serve up exactly what a visitor was thinking of, and send the visitor to the exact spot on your site that caters to that phrase so he knows he’s in the right place. You can’t beat for helping you do that.
  3. While search engines want clear navigation through your content, prospective buyers want to do something, not be lead through endless articles and links. So, while you need navigation to be easy and information to be well-organized, you must make buying easy from every single page on your site. Use smart design to allow search engine spiders to quickly and easily index all your content, while also allowing research-happy prospects to find small but clear links in subtle locations across the header, side column and footer. Let buyers see obvious calls to action on every page view, with every piece of content assumed to be that prospect’s last step before heading into the checkout.
  4. Use landing pages that can be dynamically generated from things like keyword phrases, local search information and time-sensitive purchases. They work like mini-sites that tell consumers they are in the exact right place, without disrupting the overall structure and SEO of your larger site. Services help you test what works and to do more of it.
  5. Whenever possible, go local. Google rewards real businesses in real locations that consumers can actually find on the street, and of course, consumers reward them, too! While they don’t need to be able to walk into your location, use local phone numbers and addresses, get registered with every directory you can at and make like you’re right down the street.
  6. Yelp it up. Consumer reviews matter, so remind your customers that you appreciate their feedback and show them where to go. You don’t want to solicit reviews, but you do want them talking about you. Having local info published also helps you get into more Yelp listings in different cities. This is one of the big reasons our third site ended up ranking so well. Despite all the site’s shortcomings, Google recognized that our customers really like us, which means we ought to rank higher than a great site with no real business to speak of.
  7. Finally, make sure consumers feel good interacting with you. From third party trust badges and easy, secure checkout processes, to responsive customer service, your online business should reach out and touch more people, not keep them at arm’s length. Prospects can feel it, and they’ll respond in kind.
“Traffic” isn’t a thing. It’s a lot of people searching online. “Conversions” aren’t a thing either. They are real people choosing to trust you and buy from you. Whatever your specific challenges in gaining more traffic, or more sales, or both, don’t use SEO, or CO or any other internet concept as your basic unit of understanding. Always consider the individual prospect. If you can’t satisfy his needs quickly and easily in a way that feels good to him, no matter who he is, you just won’t win a lot of customers.

This is a guest post by Mike Sobol. Mike is a partner at Without The Stress, a global passport and visa service. The company works with travelers to secure last minute passport renewalssame day passports as well as travel visas to countries all over the world.


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