Search engine algorithms are evolving at higher paces than ever before. The frequent updates to these algorithms – especially Google’s search algorithm updates – have made it harder to “game” the system using Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This has forced companies to bring at least one SEO specialist on board in order to gain and keep high rankings for their websites in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
At the same time, advances in data-collection tools has made conversion rate optimization (CRO) one of the highest returns on the marketing investment (ROI). Ironically, CRO is one of the most underused activities in the marketing department.
This paradox becomes apparent once you consider that obtaining the click that brings someone to your website is only the first step toward converting the visitor into a paying customer. From this perspective, CRO carries the burden of managing the entire user interaction, as opposed to SEO, which arguably only brings the visitor to the “front door.”
SEO and CRO Are Meant to Work Hand-in-Hand
With SEO, the basic point of focus is the webpage. In conversion optimization, the central concept is a PPC ad and a matched landing page. Nevertheless, the principles of search engine and conversion rate optimization are undeniably compatible. In fact, here are a few fundamentals that apply to both SEO and CRO:
- A conversion optimized page will prove user friendly and more likely to receive inbound links and referrals, thus improving SEO.
- Having clear and relevant headlines, as opposed to excessively creative ones, will improve both SEO and CRO.
- Using clear content hierarchy with proper heading tags will help with SEO and keep focus on the progression of the message, which will help with conversion.
- A conversion optimized page should be using plenty of relevant keywords that match what visitors are searching for.
- Replacing complex presentations with digestible pieces of content will improve your SEO and conversion rate.
- Search engines will favor pages that are updated frequently. Keeping layouts and content fresh will prove beneficial for both SEO and CRO.
- Pages that focus on a single topic or product achieve better search engine rankings and improve conversion rate.
SEO Factors Inform CRO Efforts
The SEO field has been revolving around the standards imposed by search engines, especially Google’s ranking factors. Some of these are documented by Google, some are relatively obvious, others are not confirmed, and some sit at the brink of speculation or wishful thinking.
Since SEO revolves around ranking factors, which basically dictate the actions and tools needed in this field, it’s only natural that the SEO insights most relevant to CRO are rooted in these ranking factors.
1. Focus on User Behavior
Conversion optimization is data-driven, much like SEO. Web analytics are your greatest asset, but you will need to do additional research into user behavior. Segmentation analysis becomes quite important. Ask yourself this: “How do different segments interact with your website, and how can you optimize their particular experiences?”
The user interaction factors most likely to be useful in CRO and impact on conversion optimization are:
- Dwell time and click backs focus on how long people spend on your page before returning to the original SERP. Session duration is also important. It measures the amount of time people spend on your site and may be used as a quality signal by Google.
If you’re having trouble differentiating dwell time, session duration, and bounce rate, read this article published by Neil Patel on Search Engine Journal. It will clarify the topic.
- Bounce rate is used to calculate the percentage of users who navigate away from your site after viewing a single page. Bounce rate probably cannot be a ranking factor by itself. Metrics that can’t be applied broadly, with the objective of identifying relevant and quality content, usually are not Google algorithm factors. However, bounce rate will surely influence the way you strategize for conversion, especially in creating the A/B tests fundamental to CRO.
- Direct and repeat traffic are powerful indicators of quality for Google. They use data collected through Chrome to determine how often users visit any particular site. Pages with a lot of direct traffic are favored in SERPs, because they are much more likely to contain quality and engaging content.
2. It’s Not Just the Landing Page, It’s Also the Website
Conversion optimization extends beyond single pages, creating what we call conversion paths throughout the website. SEO dictates that breaking up content into multiple steps is usually a bad idea. CRO specialists tell us that multiple-step landing pages can convert better, by engaging respondents in a mutually productive dialogue and facilitating proper segmentation. For this reason, some form of consensus needs to be achieved in order to allow both SEO and CRO specialists to reach successful results.
Some of the site-level SEO factors most likely to influence CRO are:
- Site Architecture and Sitemap improve your site’s relationship with Google, since they allow the engine to index your pages and more thoroughly organize your content. Make sure your website can accommodate conversion paths without messing up its logic.
- Domain TrustRank is a very important ranking factor. TrustRank is a link analysis technique described in the famous paper Combating Web Spam with TrustRank by researchers Zoltan Gyongyi, Hector Garcia-Molina of Stanford University, and Jan Pedersen of Yahoo!. SEO by the Sea tells us more about TrustRank.
- Google indexes SSL certificates and uses HTTPS as a ranking signal. People are reluctant when offering credit card details and other personal data over the Internet. Obtaining an SSL certificate is crucial to offering assurance to customers and letting Google know that you are running a legitimate business.
- Mobile friendly sites rank better with Google. Even before the April 2015 “Mobile Friendly” Google algorithm update, it was not unthinkable to assume that mobile friendly sites had an advantage in searches from mobile devices. Google actually displays “Mobile friendly” tags next to mobile search results.
Also, keep in mind that Google has precise standards for evaluating what constitutes mobile friendly design. Google WebMaster Central offers details about mobile friendly requirements. To assess your website’s current mobile performance, check out this Mobile Friendly Test.
3. If Content Is King, the Webpage Is Its Kingdom
In both SEO and CRO, content is king. In SEO, this wins you links. In conversion optimization, it wins you customers. [pullquote]You should never allow technical aspects to eclipse what is truly important: compelling value propositions and meaningful brand experiences.[/pullquote]
Page-level SEO factors that will prove crucial for conversion
Using keywords correctly throughout webpages is critical when trying to improve your search engine ranking and your conversion rates as part of your online marketing strategy. Keywords must be used in:
- Title tags. Place top-performing keywords in descending order and make sure that the title tag reflects the most important keywords used on that particular page. Here are 9 best practices for optimized < title > tags (Search Engine Land).
- Description tags. This MOZ article states, “While not important to search engine rankings, [Meta Description Tags] are extremely important in gaining user click-through from SERPs.”
- Heading tags. The heading tag is useful in outlining whole sections of content. It impacts both the SEO and usability of websites. For information on how to use these tags, consult this article from Woorank.com.
- The body text. Fairly distributing the keywords throughout the content is crucial. You may want your keywords to be the most frequently used elements on the page. However, do not overstuff content with keywords. Use them intelligently and always favor usability. A link or review from an established source – thanks to the quality of your content – will weigh much more than keyword density. On the other hand, keyword prominence might be an important relevancy signal. Make sure to include your keywords in snippets and in the first 100 words of your content.
A great page layout influences rankings and conversion, if not directly as a quality signal, at least by scoring in the “user friendly category.” This keeps readers coming back for more. The page layout on highest quality pages makes the main content immediately visible.
Content length. While life on- and off-line speeds up and our attention span keeps narrowing, you would expect content to get shorter in order to efficiently catch the attention of users. On the contrary, long articles rank and convert better than short ones. Review the results of an A/B testing experiment conducted by Neil Patel, demonstrating the superior efficiency of long copy.
4. Build Links, Build Trust, Build Rapport
One of the driving goals of SEO is link building. Conversion optimization deals with links mostly in terms of conversion paths. Landing pages usually do not contain links themselves other than for the call to action (CTA). However, many SEO factors concerning link building can apply to CRO in crucial ways. Here are some examples:
- The quality and word-count of the linking content make a big difference in link value. For example, receiving a link from a 2,000+ word well-written article weighs in much more than a link from a short comment or a poorly written blog post.
- “Poisonous” anchor text pointed toward your site may be a sign of spam or a hacked site. Either way, it can hurt your ranking and your conversion rates, particularly when the anchor texts in question are stuffed with pharmaceutical keywords.
- If there are low-quality links pointing to your landing pages, or you receive unnatural links warnings from Webmaster Tools, you can always use the Disavow Tool. It will not remove the harmful links themselves, but at least it will eliminate them from Google’s assessment of your site.
- Contextual links – links placed within the content of pages – are more valuable than links found in sidebars, footers, or anywhere else on the page. So on top of the PPC ads, try getting your landing pages mentioned in relevant content on relevant websites.
5. Your Brand Needs a Social Identity to Attract and Convert
In terms of the decision to purchase, user behavior has been shifting toward a multi-source, multiple stage process over the last few years. Regardless of how persuasive your landing pages are and how well they bring customers to the realization that you have the answer to their specific needs, your brand needs to back up its claims with a healthy social media presence and an SEO effort that encompasses social factors. Here are a few of the factors that can inform CRO specialists on what needs to be done:
- Google officially favors real brands and real businesses, with real offices and real people, so it only makes sense they would verify businesses and brands by their website and social media location data. MOZ goes even further and suggests that Google looks at whether a website is associated with a tax-paying business.
- Brands have Facebook pages with many likes and Twitter profiles with many followers. Moreover, serious businesses have proper company Linkedin pages. Interestingly, Rand Fishkin, co-founder of MOZ, states that having many Linkedin profiles that list working for your company will improve your rankings and might actually constitute a brand signal.
- Social media account authority weighs considerably in SERPs, especially since social media has become a major influencer of consumer behavior. This infographic published by Social Media Today shows how social media influences consumers, the types of content that deliver the most impact, and more.
Wrapping It Up
Looking ahead, experts predict a major detachment from traditional ranking factors to a much deeper analysis of perceived site value, authority, structured data, and social signals. Automation is transforming digital marketing, turning SEO and CRO into much more precise and effective fields in the process. Ideally, within this decade Google’s services and search algorithm will evolve to a level that will allow us to fully customize our proposals according to our customers’ buying cycles.
About the Author
Alexander Kesler is the President of inSegment, a Boston-based digital marketing and advertising agency. He is a graduate of Babson College, where he earned a B.S. in Entrepreneurship.
Feature image licensed by Bgubitz through Creative Commons and adapted for this post.
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