Conversion Optimization is the new Black

Early on in my SEO life, I would focus exclusively on optimizing client sites with high rankings in the SERPs as the singular goal.  From there, I slowly began getting more involved in caring more about the user experience.  Both to strengthen SEO and because it also benefits the site visitor and the site owner.

Eventually I realized I was sick and tired of helping clients achieve great click-through ratios and lower bounce rates but where I knew instinctively that what matters more than that is conversion.

Except I struggled with how to convey HOW important that is because I couldn’t put it into words very well.  Sure, I’d say things like “For us to know how well we’re doing we really need to measure conversions.” Or “We need to measure the entire visitor experience.”  Then I’d go on to explain that I needed to know these things so that I could offer guidance on the next round of SEO.  Which are both true, yet neither one is really focused on the bottom line.

Making Clients More Money

As Joe Hall recently said in when talking about how his face builds links :

Brands, whether personal or corporate, exist to make money, not get free drinks at the next conference.

That’s really what our mission is or should be in the search industry.  To make clients more money.  Whether they monetize leads after someone fills out a lead generation form, they monetize leads after someone signs up to attend an event, or they sell products directly on their site,  the more people they get taking those actions, the more money they’ll make.  That’s why, in addition to offering SEO Analysis and Audits, I jumped on the Conversion Optimization bandwagon.

When it comes to SEO, Conversion Optimization is the New Black

It may be that someone else is in charge of the on-site user experience.  Or it’s somebody else’s purview to coordinate social media campaigns.  After all, we can’t wear all the hats in the online experience.  Which makes sense.  Because I have no desire to build sites, let alone be the lead graphic designer. Well, actually I do – except I suck at those things :-)

Yet since I already need to be involved in the click-to-client life cycle, and because I have experience in UX, I’ve found that it only makes sense that I offer guidance in not just the ranking goals but also that very UX that will lead to more conversions.

And since I already understand and let clients know that they need citations and mentions across the web including within social media, and we already understand that social media is now a legitimate alternate place to find and engage customers, it also makes sense that I communicate this to my clients even for SEO purposes.  So I might as well also, at the very least, communicate that there’s a right way and a wrong way to engage.

How Much Involvement Is Appropriate?

Depending on what area of the click-to-client process you’re focusing on, it could be a lot easier than you realize.  Kim Krause Berg just wrote a great article entitled “How to Rescue Poorly Converting Web Sites“.  In that article, she helps show that some aspects of Conversion Optimization don’t have to be rocket science.

Sometimes it can get a lot more complicated.  When it does, you may want to pay attention to Brian Massey, the Conversion Scientist.

How far you take your involvement in the Conversion Optimization process is going to really depend on what your own skill-set is.  If you have no experience determining product pricing, or writing product copy, or if you really aren’t an online social butterfly in your own business, those are areas you should leave to experts.  If you can’t draw a square box without getting laughed at, you shouldn’t offer too much advice on the visual experience.

Check Your Motives

Before you decide you need to speak up about things related more to User Experience, Reputation Management, Facebook Engagement, or especially Customer Sales Psychology,  than SEO, check your motives before you open your mouth and embarrass yourself.

Yet even if you don’t have experience in other fields, you sure as heck can explain that clients could benefit from focusing on the entire click-to-client life cycle in a more proactive manner than they do.  And at the very least, you can help them learn about A/B split testing, multivariate testing, and the general principles of Conversion Optimization.

And you can collaborate with others to offer a complete solution.  As long as the people you bring on board are, themselves, real experts in various disciplines.

Remember To Get Buy-In

Since I hadn’t incorporated Conversion Optimization into my marketing and sales cycle so directly, it used to be near impossible to get clients to anything but begrudgingly allow a contact form or a sign-up form on every page of their site.  Yet I’ve been promoting A/B split tested dedicated landing pages for PPC campaigns for about 2 and a half years now.  Without push-back from clients.

So what I took away from that was you need to get client or employer buy-in if you’re going to stick your neck out on what is really a much more vulnerable level.

It’s just about how you approach the message.

It’s A Team Effort

True Conversion Optimization means every aspect of the online footprint needs to be considered, reviewed, and continually evolve.  And that means anyone who has a hand in any single aspect of that online footprint is going to need to be brought on board.

So when you approach this work, remember to consider who the person is / people are that will be tasked with implementing those very changes needed. Depending on the size of the site, or the scale of the social media effort, people who I might also need buy-in from include:

  • Graphic Designers
  • Marketing Managers
  • Engineers
  • Product Managers
  • Account Managers
  • Company Owners
  • Advisory Boards

Graphic Designers

If the look of the site is going to change or new digital assets are needed, a corporate Twitter background is needed, or a Facebook Fan page has to be set up, you’ll need buy-in from graphic designers.

Marketing Managers

If you’re going to need to change the message being conveyed, or come up with a new message to convey on the site, in the Twitter stream, on Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s the person in charge of marketing that will be your ally.

Engineers

Somebody’s got to code the functionality, and you don’t want the engineers on the project without coordinating SEO aspects if they’re needed.

Product Managers

This one might be a surprise to some people.  Yet to me, it’s the Product Manager who’s going to either put up an impassable wall or hopefully, open their mind to talking about why the product photos they selected suck or worse, why they need to seriously consider discounts, promotions, and more importantly, coming up with more than 3 words to use on those product detail pages.

Account Managers

If you don’t include Account Managers in the Conversion Optimization discussion, they will not be prepared to handle the increase in conversions, which could cause a serious reputation management nightmare for the company.  And even if you think you already have everything else figured out, sometimes it’s the Account Manager who will provide insights into prospective client minds that was missing from the equation in the first place.

Company Owners

If you can get company ownership to buy into this early on, everyone else becomes much easier to convince.  But don’t take that to mean that once you get the head cheese to agree with you, that somebody might not come along and just to prove they’re worth the high salary they make, do all they can to prove you’re way off base…

Advisory Boards

Sometimes the client is a startup.  And if they are, and I come along and say “based on my review of the landscape, and given my own previous experience in this market as a business manager, it’s my suggestion that your price-point might need to be reviewed…”  the people I usually deal with might freak out.  That’s okay – especially if they’ve got an Advisory Board made up of more seasoned professionals.

That’s the kind of people I can win over a lot more readily than someone who’s blinded by their own beliefs or worse, frozen in fear…  I just need to be able to prove why my recommendation is valid.  And if I’ve done my footwork, and know what I’m talking about, that’s an achievable goal.


Why You Should Care

If you have any experience in PPC campaigns, you’re already involved in Conversion Optimization to a certain degree.  If you’re already coordinating efforts when it comes to site content organization, navigation changes, content development, you already are involved in and play a role in the Conversion process.  And if you’ve told them they have to be involved with social media, you can bet they’re going to ask you what that should look like.

So you better wake up if you don’t think those things that you’re doing have an impact on Conversion Optimization.  Because everything you do, even if it’s choosing the keywords to optimize for, is directly related to it whether you’ve realized that before or not.

And given that you are already involved, why not show your employer or your client that you don’t just care about higher ranking or clicks?  Why not offer more value?  If you don’t at least offer the basics and introduce the concepts, somebody else just might come along and bump you right out of that opportunity.

Just remember that you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.  Nor should you.

____________________

Black Dress Photo By Dunikowski

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About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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32 Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Siltala and Paul Savage, Alan Bleiweiss. Alan Bleiweiss said: new Search Marketing article: Conversion Optimization is the new Black – http://bit.ly/9OSzMs [...]

  2. Jey Pandian says:

    Agreed. I would go as far as to say if you are an SEO or PPC or Web Analytics professional and you don’t measure or optimize for conversion then there’s no point working because the whole purpose of marketing is conversion.

  3. Jun says:

    With PPC, most of the time it’s conversion that is getting measured. But it’s always different with SEO. To a client’s mind, SEO is all about ranking. I can remember this chat with a client “I wanna be #1 on my keyword.” “You are not converting well on those keywords. Don’t you want traffic and conversions from the long-tails?” “NO. I just want to rank #1.”

  4. Jey,Jun,

    It really is all about conversions more than ranking.

    Yet a lot of energy was put out by our industry for many years that it’s all about ranking. So it’s up to us to turn that around now. It’s our obligation if we care enough about clients.

  5. Hi Alan, you so right. I was only focused on PPC and SEO first and then you get to a point when you have 100.000 unique visitors and 0.4% conversion rate and I did not even know that 4 years ago.

    Then it dawn on me. We got enough traffic not lets make money, but the tools for that were rare (or crazy expensive) so we created Reedge.com that will hopefully help you and many others to look at funnels, conversion rates, testing (a/b multivariate etc) and behavioral targeting/personalization. Since this is what we really have to focus on.

    Use PPC and SEO to full the funnel CRO (conversion rate optimization) to get leads out of them and increase it.

    (link removed from comment by site owner for editorial reasons)
    Dennis van der Heijden´s last blog ..86 Ways to Increase Conversion- Part 4My ComLuv Profile

  6. Alan, I just love you! You have so well expressed the importance of a holistic approach. It’s all about engaging with users, which leads to more traffic and to conversions.

    There are many SEOs who hold that SEO is purely about getting traffic to one’s website. For those of us looking at it from the audience’s perspective (UX), SEO is one platform that opens the door to a “conversation.”

    Thanks for doing such a great job explain to companies the importance of thinking about what they are doing with that traffic and possible lost opportunity.

  7. Dana,

    You’re married. besides, I could never keep up with your cycling. And you know you’d go insane not being able to deal with my… oh heck – Let’s just keep it platonic. :-)

    Thank you for the kind words. I say what I think with these things. Having your comments here as they are just means the world to me…

  8. Oh, gosh. LOL I think compulsions are essential to being a good online marketer and can even be good for relationships! :-)

    I really appreciate your just laying it out in such an educational manner. This post is like a mini training manual in itself for best practices for companies to consider all of their opportunities. Funny how we talk about marketing and tactic this and tactic that. It all revolves around the user and their experience, so why wouldn’t one put more focus on conversion optimization?

  9. Mike Ramsey says:

    Alan,

    This is one of the things that drives me absolutely crazy about local map optimization. Most conversions for small business are not form based and you can only get soft conversion data by tracking a key page.

    The big deal is with phone calls. In my business, that is the true conversion. And, while there are some very slick phone call tracking services, using tracking numbers is a sin for local map optimization.

    So, it is a catch 22. Sacrifice rankings and quality guidelines for better conversion data, or leave conversion data up to a pencil and pad secretary taking phone calls and go for rankings. What is your thought on this?
    Mike Ramsey´s last blog ..Local Search Talk Series Part 8- David Mihm InterviewMy ComLuv Profile

  10. Mike Ramsey says:

    It is definitely a great way to end up getting duplicate map listings. “location prominence” is figured largely by the strength you can build around your business name, address, and phone number.

    So, if you start throwing in extra phone numbers it can confuse the algo. A lot of companies still push call tracking on SMB’s for use in maps, but a lot of companies only hang on to clients for a few months and then they call me.

    David Mihm wrote a lot on call tracking…

    http://searchengineland.com/be-wary-of-call-tracking-numbers-in-local-search-26895

    So, though I know the real value for Small Businesses is ultimately conversion optimization. The local search industry is a looooong way off from finding the answer.
    Mike Ramsey´s last blog ..Local Search Talk Series Part 8- David Mihm InterviewMy ComLuv Profile

    • well you just educated me on that for sure. I had no clue. that’s a tragedy. The only solution there that I can even begin to think about is to train clients to insist on having a call source tracking system. It really is the whole “how did you find out about us” thing when they answer the phone.

      And they have to have an easy way to record that data directly into a database. And that means every time they answer that phone that data entry system has to be within fingertip reach, and asking that question has to be ingrained in every person who might answer it.

      Believe me I know how challenging that can be. Definitely been THERE.

      What that comes down to more than anything is in intelligently helping the client grasp how vital that data is.

      So maybe it’s an IPad by the phone. Until they inform you that – oh – sometimes my Aunt Mary helps out at the store and she’s senile…

      Or “Oh – I have the phone call forward to me when I’m driving in the car…”

    • Just read David’s article and saw that he, you and I are all pointing at the “how’d you hear about us” method as the only solution. Though mine does offer a partial relief point if you can get them doing digital data entry at the call point. Which would be easier said than done. And isn’t necessarily financially feasible.

      Blech.

  11. Mike Ramsey says:

    Here is how simple the fix would be….

    If Google offered the option to verify your “real” phone number but then have a preferred number shown, then you could be set.

    You could turn the tracking number on the website into an image so the bots don’t pick it up and local tracking with ifbyphone, mongoose metrics,keymetrics, google voice or a host of other internet call tracking providers would actually be worth it.

    Sad part is that when google was testing a version of their local listing ads, they used google voice numbers so that they could track calls, then they dropped it like a jolly rancher in the dirt.

    My guess is they are trying to come up with a way to have an exclusive system with Google Voice. When they have it ready, all of a sudden call tracking will be there be focus instead of $100 add credits.
    Mike Ramsey´s last blog ..Local Search Talk Series Part 8- David Mihm InterviewMy ComLuv Profile

    • Mike – it may not be the ideal fix, but MyNextCustomer (http://mynextcustomer.com) is a call tracker (and so much more) that you can use with image based phone numbers – they don’t have to be HTML. No google Voice numbers though – they’re assigned as needed through the MNC system.

      I’m about to use it for one of my bigger clients, though there’s no local element to the project. It’s a product that’s from @George_Revutsky so you may want to speak with him about it. He’s also got a lot of experience with local.

  12. Gabriella says:

    Alan, once again you have made simplicity beautiful…I work with a team of designers, coders, content developers and our main objective is not only to optimize a clients content and their page but on making the user experience memorable. Granted it’s not considered a “true SEO” discipline since most I have spoken to don’t really care about conversions their main concern is getting traffic to the site & to let the chips fall where they may. Blah, it sucks. My marketing and sales background (hunger) needs to see conversions.

    Regardless of who the client is we make sure that a customer who clicks on the landing page can see the conversion elements immediately upon arriving on this page. We don’t clutter the screen with unreadable text & ultimately make sure all of forms are optimized, simple, and straightforward.
    Gabriella´s last blog ..SEO and The Case of the Sticky Site- How’d They Do ThatMy ComLuv Profile

  13. Focusing on conversions is a good plan to put the needs of the client first and make sure the ROI is going to be there. Most companies want better profits and if a witch doctor could rattle bones and make that happen he could get the contract.

    I liked the points you made about hiring out for experts in the areas where you know you are not as good at as you need to be. I am not real good at site design either but can get the word out on most anything pretty well. It works if the budget is realistic enough to make room for the cost, or if the client has people in house that will fit.
    Warner Carter´s last blog ..Easy Analytics for your best KeywordsMy ComLuv Profile

  14. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again. If people don;t pay attention to the whole process, from start to finish then it doesn’t matter how much traffic you get.

    I like being part of the new BLACK.
    Michael Bowen´s last blog ..Baseball and Conversion RatesMy ComLuv Profile

  15. Conversion Optimization is the new Black…

    That’s really what our mission is or should be in the search industry. To make clients more money. Whether they monetize leads after someone fills out a lead generation form, they monetize leads after someone signs up to attend an event, or they sell p…

  16. Alan,
    Just recently I fell into the world of CRO while working on a client site. I’d been humming along doing the typical SEO stuff and getting good results – rankings climbing consistently, visitors increasing. Then there was a sudden drought in sales and the client was saying the site could be shut down if it continues. If they go down, I go down with them! So I recommended some user testing, took a hard look at the categorization / navigation of the site, and am waiting on some Crazy Egg heatmaps.

    SEO is all fine and dandy when you are getting lots of visitors AND lots of sales but CRO comes to the forefront sometimes when sales are slow. A lot of it is not so difficult – good product descriptions, titles, and category descriptions. Things like this are just a pain in the butt to deal with / time consuming and a lot of site owners outsource them with predictably bad results.
    Jacob Schweitzer´s last blog ..allambition- RT @seobook- New post- Yahoo! Search Now Powered by Bing http-wwwseobookcom-yahoo-search-now-powered-bingMy ComLuv Profile

    • Jacob,

      This is a very good example of why, at the very least, people in the SEO business need to be aware of the concepts of Conversion Optimization, and that we can play a role in it. Personally, I am striving to incorporate the fundamental aspects of it even in my SEO audits, not just in audits specific to it. Something that needs to be acknowledged and communicated to clients however, is that so many factors are involved that the testing and optimization process can be slow, which might not be something they want to hear. But just as the SEO process is slow at first, it’s a reality.

  17. Hi Alan,

    Did you ever see something like a phone-number that triggers a load of a web-page. That would be perfect! Like pick a local number (same area code as you number) and that way you connect it to an online campaign. Nothing fancy but that way any analytics program can pick it up and mark a conversion.

    Regards,

    Dennis
    Dennis van der Heijden´s last blog ..86 Ways to Increase Conversion- Part 4My ComLuv Profile

  18. [...] Search Marketing Wisdom di Alan Bleiweiss riguardo alla CRO. – Conversation Marketing di Ian Lurie riguardo la user [...]

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