An SEO Fixation Will Destroy Your Internet Marketing Strategy

SEO FixationThis is a guestpost by Brad Shorr from Straight North.

Don’t get me wrong: I love SEO and we do a lot of SEO work. However some businesses turn SEO into an obsession, and that’s a big mistake.

The fatal flaw of an SEO fixation is that it takes your eye off the ball. SEO is about traffic. Traffic is important, but it’s not the goal. The fundamental purpose of Internet marketing, as I see it anyway, is conversion.

First CRO, Then SEO

A typical scenario, and one that makes no sense to me, is when a firm spends tons on SEO and pennies on conversion rate optimization (CRO). They’re driving more traffic to their site – but so what? If their lead generation site features ho-hum offers or no offers at all, people won’t inquire. If their e-commerce site has baffling navigation, people won’t buy.

For companies like these, even sizable increases in search traffic will fail to translate into a meaningful increase in conversions. The result:

  1. A significant part of the SEO spend is wasted
  2. Companies grow dissatisfied with their SEO program
  3. Companies change their SEO strategy or hire another provider
  4. The cycle of ineffectiveness continues

That companies should tune-up their sites for conversion before launching into a big SEO program is as obvious as can be – so why do so many people miss it? I’d love to know your thoughts about this, but here are some of the reasons I see:

Why Companies Fixate on SEO, Not CRO

  • Ego problem one. Companies want to see their name as the number one result on Google for their pet keyword phrases.
  • Ego problem two. Companies tend to feel their products and services are so awesome that the mere mention of them on their website will have prospects stampeding to the order desk. They don’t recognize the need for compelling offers, intuitive navigation, and an all-around positive user experience.
  • Monkey see, monkey do. The world is inundated with SEO practitioners and SEO advice. Most companies are led to believe that SEO is indispensible, that their competitors are doing SEO, and they will get their butts kicked if they don’t participate.
  • Monkey don’t see, monkey don’t do. In contrast, how many CRO gurus are out there banging the drum for their extremely important discipline? They are badly outnumbered, and as a result, fewer businesses come to fully appreciate the value of their specialty.
  • Easy and accessible metrics. Traffic and ranking statistics are easy to grab and easy to grasp – on the surface, anyway. A company sees traffic and ranking trending up, and figures the program must be working.
  • Fuzzy lead tracking. Conversion tracking, on the other hand, is rather tricky to set up properly, which is why a lot of small and midsized firms have little or no idea where their web leads are coming from. That being the case, they have no way to formulate a conversion optimization strategy
  • No appetite for offers. Due to budget constraints, decision-by-committee, lack of imagination or a number of other reasons, firms have a tough time coming up with offers that are big enough and creative enough to win the hearts and minds of visitors.

Conversion Isn’t The Only Problem

This could be a post in itself, but I’ll just mention in passing that SEO can no longer be executed in isolation; for SEO to succeed today it must be thoroughly integrated with other marketing disciplines in addition to conversion optimization – most notably, with social media.

There are still too many SEO campaigns that fail to leverage social sharing, and fail to include meaningful and strategic content creation. Programs like these simply cannot succeed.

Companies need to look at online marketing holistically, rather than trying to pick and choose specific disciplines to invest in. This sounds logical, just like putting the CRO house in order before diving into SEO. And yet, how many small and midsized firms actually have a holistic strategy?

How to Stop Feeding the SEO Habit

Again, I am not suggesting that SEO is bad or that companies should suspend SEO activities while they shore up other aspects of their marketing. SEO is something that must be done continuously; it has a cumulative effect. So rather than stop or suddenly change gears, take these actions to make a smooth transition from SEO-obsessed to SEO-balanced.

  • Do a CRO audit. If a business looked at a comprehensive set of conversion optimization recommendations, I think it would be quite shocked to see how much room for improvement there was – and the tremendous upside of making those improvements. If that’s the case with your site, remember that a new investment in CRO will be partially offset by improved results from your existing SEO program.
  • Do a holistic strategy review. As I said earlier, it’s unproductive to arbitrarily decide which marketing activities to emphasize. SEO is only valuable in terms of how its ROI compares to other activities, and is in many ways reliant on other activities to maximize its own ROI. Whether yours is a $100,000 business or a $100 million business, the best results come from a strategic approach.

Going through these exercises will put you in a much better marketing frame of mind.

Where do you see SEO fitting in to your marketing strategy? How do you see the relationship between SEO and social media evolving?

Brad Shorr on SocialMouthsBrad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a web development, Chicago-based agency. They focus on B2B, with clients in specialized niches such as bulk gloves and online payment gateways.

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  • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

    Great post. Dead on. As you say, I think part of the problem is there is soooo much talk about SEO. In the past, it was also something that could be isolated–hire a vendor and largely hand off the task. However, good SEO now requires more integration with the website structure and content, the social media effort, etc. Companies haven’t realized that, yet, and I think a lot of SEO folks don’t go that far, but just do link building and basic site optimization. 

    The other half of it, though, is that it’s just harder to improve the website for conversion. As you say, you have to actually come up with offers, understand the sales cycle for your customers and do solid design on the website. Ideally, you’re looking at the whole cycle and aligning SEO, your content marketing efforts, social media, and website design. That’s just plain hard.

  • Anonymous

    I agree 100%, Neicole. Its like stopping at a BMW dealership, walking in, and find it full of Hyundais.

  • Wilsonleews

    Harrah, straight to the point that many marketers missed.

  • http://twitter.com/PurviRajani Purvi Rajani

    Great article. I’ve been running through our Google analytics lately. Our organic traffic is up a lot but conversions are meh. I think we have a lot of potential upside there. Can you refer me to any resources on how to improve conversion?

  • http://twitter.com/bradshorr bradshorr

    For ideas about conversion I like The Daily Egg blog. 

  • http://twitter.com/ActuallyMummy Actually Mummy

     That’s a really good point. There’s no point getting people to your website if they don’t do anything when they get there.

  • http://projectsocial.net ProjectSocial

    This is terrific.  I have a client who all she cares about is SEO.  She asks me to run contests that force people to come to her website, but there’s nothing there to excite people once they get there.  I may have to forward this to her!

  • http://twitter.com/StaffordSterner Stafford Sterner

    Francisco I love when you put stuff like this online. It’s so on point it’s scary.Some excellent points especially those regarding the ego thing. Let me add a personal rant if I may.Maybe I’m alone of this but I am really mad as hell about all the unethical shortcuts my competitors take to try to compete with me online.   
    1) 10 years ago, you didn’t say it unless it where so.  If you did, you were not only shunned by the industry but you were all but guaranteed to be sued. No longer. People would rather steal & plagiarize than create original content these days. The amount of plagiarism, false claims and outright copyright infringement is running so wild today it blows my mind. Today, if they like your line art..they steal it.  Write original creative copy, they cut and paste, change a word or two and slap it on their site and call it theirs.  Heck, they photoshop out your copyright and replace it with their down.

     2) False claims… Anything goes… . I see people advertising ” lowest online prices” that have no prices listed online.”Nations largest selection”   with 2 items on a web page. ” Prices updated daily” that links to a page that still says Merry Christmas on it. SEO without content is crazy, irresponsible and  waste of money. So why are they doing it? Ego?  I don’t get it. What I do know is  that it’s a rampant plague sweeping the net these days. So to dramatize your point. yes… What good does it do to rank #1 in a Google search…. get a million people to come to your store… which when they arrive … is empty!

  • http://www.jamienorthrup.com Jamie Northrup

    It makes much more sense to get 100 visits converting at 5% than getting 1000 visitors converting 0.1%. Like you mention Brad maximize your conversion rate then get the visitors or else you’re losing out.

  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com AJ Kohn

    It really depends on how you define SEO. In my view, CRO is part of SEO. 

    Here’s my SEO definition:

    “Search Engine Optimization is a multidisciplinary activity that seeks to generate productive organic traffic from search engines via technically sound and connected sites by matching query intent with relevance and value.”

    Traffic is not the key, it’s productive traffic. That means an SEO professional needs to have a very keen understanding of CRO and UX among other things. So I agree with nearly everything you’re saying, I just believe that good SEO incorporates all of these things already.

  • http://www.dotsearch.co.uk/seo-services/ seo services

     
    Great post, Brad, people really must find something interesting on
    your website in order to come back to it. Unfortunately, nowadays in most
    cases it happens so that people come to the website, don’t find the
    information they have been looking for and leave the website without coming
    back again to it.

  • http://www.socialdon.com/ Facebook Statistics

    When people see many adverts on a blog they immediately bracket that blog as a spam blog or just another affiliate blog trying to make sales. This is not the positioning that leads to a sustainable business online. You need to focus on the customer’s needs, desires, wishes and wants with the content you make available. 
    The key takeaway point here it not to copy others in the marketplace, but to stand out and be different so that you are remembered and become the authority.

  • Josh R.

    Preach on! We need marketers to wake up and look at the bigger picture here. SEO is only part of the solution. CRO is the other half (and in my opinion, the more important half).

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    Great post.  I’ve seen this many times.  A website’s SEO efforts are working well, driving traffic to the site, but it’s just not converting.  SEO and conversion are two different things.  If you’re going to spend time on SEO, it better support a site that is easy to navigate, includes clear call to actions, and offers a product or service that people actually want.  

  • Ozio Media

    SEO is important to gain a good search engine result in a specific niche. Focusing on this aspect of building a web presence is often overshadowed by other factors needed for a good corporate website. Often the fixation on having a great keyword density makes the content of these pages almost unreadable. The lack of any real information tends to lose readers very quickly, damaging the conversion rate of the page. As internet marketing evolves, it will become more important to take a balanced approach to building a good corporate web presence, not just having the top place in Google search results.

  • http://www.jprmarketing.co.uk/ Kay Earls

    Its good to know how an SEO fixation will destroy your Internet Marketing Strategy. I think that SEO fixation plays an important role on building traffic to your business online. I think that you should not only rely on building traffic on your business but also make sure that you are providing valuable things that clients are interested with.

  • http://www.trickysboutique.co.uk/ Carrol Aquino

    I am really mad as hell about all the unethical shortcuts my competitors take to try to compete with me online.   

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    The fundamental purpose of Internet marketing, as I see it anyway, is conversion.

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