As a full service agency, Clarity designs and builds websites for our clients, and adds consulting services for digital marketing, branding, development, etc. which also includes all the business of driving and converting site traffic. Before beginning any new site, I bring up the conversation about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization), and ask what their plans and budget are for these extremely important elements. Depending on the size of the client, I typically get blank stares, or that they’ve already “done SEO” to every other explanation, but I’ve yet to get a client that has had a great handle on both. Most indications let me know that we have some work to do. This post will focus on helping you to understand the role of SEO and CRO and the relationship and importance of them both to the success of your site(s).

 

When further pressed, after asking what CRO is, my clients usually want to know the difference and importance of SEO versus CRO and where I think they should put their investment. Over the years, here is the best example I’ve come up with to convey the relationship (I know that SEO is a long-play strategy and for my scenario, a short-play strategy like PPC, would be more effective, but the scenario is to illustrate how SEO and CRO work together, not the exact application of each):

 

Let’s say that we’ve been put in charge of throwing the biggest neighborhood block party that’s ever been thrown. The first thing we do is break up into two committees (for the sake of time, let’s assume we already have our timeline, location and budget set). The first committee is responsible for getting the word out (like SEO’s role for your site), while the second committee plans the party (like CRO’s role). First, we email everyone in our contact list, print flyers and then start hitting our social media accounts, posting on Facebook and Twitter. Next we enlist the kids to hit Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Everything is on track to get over 1,000 of our friends and family there.

 

The second committee has to tackle food and entertainment. They’ve got to pick the appropriate beverages for both the kids and parents, get all the food (cater, cook, get delivered, etc.), and plan all the activities. What are the parents going to do? What about the teenagers and kids? What about entertainment, music, parking, seating, security, waste management, etc.? There’s an almost endless to-do list when dealing with multiple personas. Just like with your website, each visiting persona (partner, reseller, customer, tire kicker, prospect, investor, etc.) usually has unique needs that you need to cater to, to ensure that they accomplish what they came to your site to do, or what you want to guide them to do. That usually means different conversion goals, messaging, navigation, calls-to-action and more.

 

Back to the party - Without diving into all the issues of how to address the food and activity requirements for the different personas, the overall problem is that whatever the number of people we bring, we need enough food, drink and entertainment to feed them. Or another way to look at it is, if we buy food for 1,000 people, we better get enough in attendance to eat it all. What happens if 2,000 people show up and we’ve got one pizza and a six-pack of Coke? Conversely, what if we buy 2,000 hot dogs and 23 people show up? Either way, those two outcomes would both be considered a bust. Both committee’s tasks are very closely related and the success of each are equally important in accomplishing our final goal of throwing the best party, which is getting a ton of people there, and making sure they all have a good time.

 

For your site, if you invest in SEO and bring thousands of visitors to your site, are they going to be properly serviced and converted (i.e. easily find what they’re looking for and complete a call-to-action)? Or will they have a bad experience (not find what they’re looking for or convert), bounce and never come back? Worse yet, do they go on to tell others and your competitors of their bad experience? What first impression is your site giving?

 

So if we’re saying that we need to do both SEO and CRO, which do you do first? For me, I want my site’s core CRO elements (look and feel, navigation, messaging, goals, CTAs, etc. for each persona) ready before trying to drive traffic to the site. You only get one chance at a good first impression, and with so many other options on the Internet, there’s no reason to waste time and money driving traffic to a site that isn’t prepared. While there’s usually no reason to spend money on SEO and not CRO, there may be a reason to spend money on a site’s CRO even if you’re not planning on marketing or driving traffic to it (i.e. an Intranet, private portal, B2B ordering portal, patient portal, etc.). It all depends on what you want each visitor persona to accomplish when they get to the site and how you drive them to that site. For example, including “…visit www.ACME.com/pay-my-bill to pay your bill online….” on an invoice you email a client may not require any SEO effort to get them to pay their bill.

 

So my recommendation is to treat your public site like a never-ending party, with a constant flow of visitors coming, different people with different needs and you have to keep figuring out ways to keep them all happy, while trying to keep enough people coming to the site to pay the bills. If you treat your site like that, then you’ll understand that your SEO effort is an ongoing journey that needs constant investment and refinement to keep driving the desired traffic levels of each persona type, while your CRO efforts should receive the same refinement, investment and metrics to measure successes and failures, helping to provide the needed data points to make adjustments that will help improve conversions.

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