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:
- A significant part of the SEO spend is wasted
- Companies grow dissatisfied with their SEO program
- Companies change their SEO strategy or hire another provider
- 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 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.