The SEO vs. Conversion Rate Debate Shouldn’t Exist

Guest Author

CJ Boguszewskihiconversion logo
CJ Boguszewski
Chief Marketing Officer, Hiconversion
Twitter: @CJBogus

SEO vs. Conversion Rate Debate Shouldn’t Exist — Three Reasons CRO Complements SEO & SEM

Rand Fishkin, whose blog frequently has industry-leading commentary on a wide variety of optimization topics, entitled a post in January 2006 “SEO versus Conversion Rate Debate Shouldn’t Exist.”

In October 2009, the debate is still ongoing.

While the Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) discipline continues to mature alongside the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) categories, most eBusiness organizations frame their understanding of CRO in SEO/SEM terms.

We continue to see mounting evidence that CRO is at least as important an activity for eBusiness as SEO/SEM, and yet traffic generation and search engine Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as visits, page views, and cost-per-click are seen as higher priorities, and optimization of conversion rates (i.e., how many visitors did what you wanted them to do when they got to your site) is a lower one.

Seems odd to the casual reader. Do eBusinesses really care more about how many people visit their site than the amount of revenue, subscriptions, leads, etc. that their sites generate?

That simply cannot be.

And so, given the reality that SEO/SEM is a higher priority for most than CRO, this begs a question – what form does this relative prioritization take? In other words – what is the prevalent perception of CRO in the wider market, and is it contributing to that internal prioritization debate in eBusinesses?

A simple analysis finds that it centers on three things, let’s call them “CRO is less important because it is”:

1) Traffic-Hungry – in order to get the ROI benefit that CRO brings, lots of visitors must be shown the page combinations in order to achieve statistical reliability, and therefore many (hard-earned) visitors will be shown “losing” page combinations.

2) Expensive and Hard To Do – nobody but statisticians can do the multi-variate testing (MVT) and analysis that CRO entails, and those people are expensive/hard-to-get.

3) Financially Risky – without showing visitors lots of “losing” page combinations (see “traffic-hungry”), the test can’t be executed, and each “losing” page means one more visitor who’s not converting into a customer.

Are these the reasons that CRO is seen as a lower priority than SEO/SEM? I’d argue this is 95% of it.

What do most eBusinesses do about CRO, when faced with these perceptions?

  • Nothing – in other words, they do “what makes common sense,” or whatever the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) is. Trouble is, the customers know best.
  • Some A/B Testing – try out two, and only two pages, to see if people prefer option A or option B. Problem is, it’s the many little changes to a page that add up to a big increase in conversion rate.
  • Spend lots and do a full MVT – get an expensive product and spend lots of (1) time, (2) money, and (3) traffic trying to draw meaningful conclusions. Issue with that is, not many companies are big enough to be able to afford those three things.

Each of these three options are distasteful. Most companies simply de-prioritze CRO in the face of other, more well-defined areas of business over which they feel they can exert more control, hence KPIs from SEO/SEM coming out of the mouths of most business executives, and not conversion rates.

Software innovation that overcomes these barriers exists, and is poised to revise these options with a fourth possibility:

  • Adaptive Multivariate Testing – adaptive MVT at a traffic level that suits the “rest of us”, at a price the “rest of us” can afford – bringing CRO to its rightful place alongside the SEO/SEM disciplines

Driving traffic is important to the health of your website, but so is converting those visitors into customers. You can’t really rely on a HiPPO or “just two options” to be sure that you’re getting the maximum ROI possible on your website, and most businesses simply cannot afford the full MVT.

If you think of the web traffic you get to your eBusiness site as an asset, then “sweating” that asset – getting more out of it – is one of the most important ways that you can increase operational efficiency. That’s exactly what CRO does, and it’s why eBusinesses need it. After all, eBusinesses (well, most of them, anyway) aren’t in business to be glorified billboards.

Four years after Rand’s post, we agree – the SEO versus CRO debate shouldn’t exist. CRO complements SEO, and they are not mutually exclusive disciplines by any stretch of the imagination.

“KoMarketing is instrumental to the success of CDNetworks global search marketing efforts. The relentless attention to detail and strategic approach continues to push us toward greater results.”

William Vuong — William Vuong, Senior Marketing Manager

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