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Leveraging The Tension Between Conversion Optimization & SEO

In today’s post I am going to discuss the importance of conversion optimization (or landing page optimization), why it is critical to online marketing success and how it interacts with SEO. I am not going to cover conversion optimization in as much depth as the team that writes the conversion science column, but will set the stage for understanding the way it impacts SEO. There are a few major factors which are at the root of conversion optimization, such as:

Where the user is in the conversion process. Are they ready to buy, or are they just browsing for info? Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg have long pushed us to understand that people have different personas that we need to cater to.

How people normally interact with content. This includes things like a tendency to be immediately drawn to an image, or to read from left to right (or right to left in some countries), or to be drawn to certain colors more than others. To get some insight into how people interact with your site, try this free tool called Attention Wizard, from Tim Ash and Site Tuners.

The goal of your web site. Are you selling products, or advertising? Or, just trying to make a point? Are repeat sales from customers something you are looking for?

When does conversion typically occur? Does conversion happen on the first visit or does it normally require multiple visits? If so, you may need to build reputation and visibility with a potential customer a few times before they are ready to buy. This is pretty common in B2B sales, for example.

What is your call to action? Even if you manage to get the visitors eyes on your pitch, is it compelling enough to get them to convert?

There is much more than these few points to this type of optimization, but you get the idea. Number two in the list above deserves to be expanded upon. People really don’t want to read long articles. They want to find what they want extremely quickly, and the eye tends to be drawn to certain type of things, such as images. If you have an image on your page, that could be great, but is it slowing down the time it takes for your user to find your call to action? How can you use images, and other page elements to draw the user’s eye over to your call to action?

Another interesting element is color. I heard Tim Ash say recently that colors that occur frequently in nature, such as green and blue, don’t draw that much attention from people on the web. However, other colors, such as orange, do tend to attract the user’s eyes quite quickly. Now I am not saying that every site on the web should use images, orange highlighted boxes, or both, but it is important understand that users engage with highly visual content quite well, and this drives a lot of landing page optimization.

One important subtlety that I will add to the mix is that people who are in early to mid-stage research mode for something, whether they are consumers or a business person looking for a multi-million dollar piece of equipment, are not candidates for immediate conversion. You don’t want to over-optimize your site and cause them to get turned off and never come back. You could find yourself increasing your conversion percentage per visitor but reducing your total conversions if you do that.

To sum this all up, conversion optimization can lead you to build highly visual pages, with a minimum of distractions. Blocks of text, for example, may well be kept to a minimum because this can interfere with conversion results.

Tension With SEO

Search engine crawlers are the opposite of people. They are not highly visual. They can’t read the content of an image, except in very limited ways. They don’t care about color schemes and how the human eye and brain interact with your page. They come to your page looking for signals that help it understand what your page is about, and about the quality of the page. They can’t extract this type of information from images, videos and color schemes.

So if landing page optimization drives you to pull most of the text off of your page, where does that leave the search engine? It can still receive signals from your page title, and the anchor text of links and relevance of pages linking to yours, but it has little other data about your page.

In addition, is that highly visible page more attractive to linkers? It sounds like it might be, but if the impact is that it delivers your sales pitch very effectively, it could reduce the tendency of people to link to the site (people don’t link to you to help you make money). If you are trying to establish a your site, or a section of your site as an authority on a topic you might want to downplay the call to action, and instead emphasize the authoritative nature of the content and the value it provides. For this type of content the conversion you are looking for is links to your site.

Ultimately, you wouldn’t want to take a page that has 1000 visitors per day and a 1% conversion rate (10 total conversions) to a 2% conversion rate if you reduce traffic to 300 visitors per day in the process (6 total conversions). You also don’t want to take pages that are designed to be focal points for people to link to and turn them into an efficient sales machines, because links are still the fuel that drives search engine traffic.

Finding The Balance

So where does this leave us? Simply put, it leaves us with a need to establish a balance between the two disciplines. There is no cookie cutter formula for this (sorry!) because so much depends on the specifics of your site’s situation as I outlined above. To get to the best answer for your site will require disciplined conversion optimization testing while keeping a careful SEO eye on things too.

If your page is a “money page”, where the goal is to close the sale, you should work at getting people’s eyes to your sales pitch. However, you also want to bring in search traffic directly to that page, which means you should supply some text (“spider food”) to drive long tail search traffic. Placement of that text so it still brings value to users in research mode, and so that search engines can see it, is part art and part science.

If a page is a “linkbait page” the most important thing you can do is define the objective properly. A conversion for these types of pages is an inbound link, not a product sale. Depending on how you are going about obtaining your links you could potentially design conversion optimization tests around that type of goal.

Of course, there is a possibility that you want to get inbound links directly to your money page. That is nirvana, because the search traffic comes directly to your highly optimized page designed to close the sale. This is the best converting experience of all. To illustrate, consider the spreadsheet snippet shown here:

Conversion Optimization Scenarios

Basically, getting links to your money page (scenario 2) will cause a bigger lift in traffic to the money page than making use of a linkbait page. However, there is likely some tradeoff in the conversion rate, which I show dropping to 1.5% in this example. The reason for this drop off is that potential linkers will want to see the linkbait prominently on the page. If your conversion rate drops to 1%, you are right back where you started from – twice as many visitors and half the conversion rate = no gain. Ultimately, this will require a lot of testing and experimentation to get to the results you are looking for.

Regardless of how you proceed, be sure to understand the balance between these two disciplines, and be prepared to take a lot of different factors into account during your site optimization efforts.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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