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It has become mandatory for businesses to have a powerful online presence due to the increasing number of internet users. In fact, there are more than 4 billion internet users in the world. And these users search for all sorts of information, big or small, on the internet.
So it is not surprising that Google receives more than 71,000 search queries every second.
Digital marketers and website owners have to work hard in order to drive traffic to their websites. In other words, they strive to get their websites to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) to get discovered by these internet users.
The organic way to achieve a high search engine ranking is referred to as search engine optimization (SEO). Typically, optimizing your website for the right keywords ensures that it appears on top of SERPs for relevant search queries.
However, a rise in the number of website visitors doesn’t always guarantee increased revenue or profits. Once a visitor enters your website, you will need some more tactics to prompt them to take desired actions on a particular web page.
Converting website visitors into real-life customers depends on user experience, content, and other factors on your website. This calls for a different set of strategies referred to as conversion rate optimization (CRO).
Marketers are often faced with the baffling dilemma of choosing between CRO and SEO. They are torn between optimizing a website for increased organic traffic or for increased conversions. A comparison between CRO and SEO reveals many overlapping areas as well. Before we discuss further about who trumps whom in the battle of CRO and SEO, let’s take a look at each concept in detail.
SEO: Boost Organic Traffic
SEO refers to a set of strategies that focus on driving more organic traffic from search engines to your website. It is a long-term process that is helpful in establishing your website (and your brand) as an authority on certain subjects.
When executed properly, SEO creates brand awareness, reinforces credibility, and boosts customer loyalty. However, SEO tactics typically take some time before the results start showing.
SEO involves different techniques such as keyword research, meta tagging, content creation, and link building. Keywords and high-quality content form the foundation of SEO.
The first task is to identify relevant and popular keywords that you wish to rank for. Once you have picked a few keywords, do a complete analysis to validate your keywords. If a keyword requires you to compete with high-authority websites, it may not be an ideal addition to your SEO strategy.
The next step is to optimize the content of your website by incorporating the selected keywords. The content should be unique, error-free, and meaningful. A reader should be able to derive some value from the content you publish.
It is important to refrain from malpractice such as keyword stuffing and content duplication. Such practices can get your website penalized and even banned from search engines altogether.
Apart from content, search engines take into account several other factors while determining the results of any search query.
One such critical factor is the inbound link profile of your website. A high amount of genuine backlinks indicates that your content is being valued and appreciated by readers. You can use social media, guest blogging, and influencer marketing to earn authentic backlinks.
The overall design and speed of your website can also affect your search engine ranking. Slow page speed results in high bounce rates and lower dwell times. These metrics indicate that your website is unable to keep a visitor engaged. In addition, your website should be user-friendly and mobile-responsive.
Other crucial factors that contribute significantly to your search engine rankings include site architecture and meta tagging. You should ensure that all your web pages are indexed properly, making it easy for search engine robots to discover them. In addition, all web pages should have meta tags incorporating relevant keywords.
Image via Quick Sprout
CRO: Increase Conversions and Revenue
CRO is a process of increasing the percentage of website visitors that take a desired action on a particular web page by making certain optimizations. The desired action can be in the form of buying a product, availing a service, or signing up for a newsletter.
In simple words, CRO is a system of converting a website visitor into a customer.
CRO demands a deep understanding of how visitors navigate through your website and what stops them from taking the desired action. It focuses on optimizing the home page and landing pages to drive more conversions. It heavily relies on analytics data to determine how visitors are engaging with your website.
One of the important steps is to create a high-quality user experience. Visitors should be able to navigate easily through your website and locate relevant information that will prompt them to take necessary action.
Page speed is an equally crucial factor for CRO. A web page that takes time to load will fail to convert visitors into customers.
Content also plays an important role in holding the attention of those who visit your landing pages. It should be simple and straightforward, conveying relevant information about your products or services. It shouldn’t come across as purely promotional. Rather, it should indirectly pursue visitors to take necessary actions on your website.
Your landing pages should also have a prominent call-to-action button to lure visitors. Its placement and appearance have a major impact on conversion rate.
For instance, a small call-to-action button located towards the end of a landing page may go unnoticed, since most visitors won’t scroll down till the bottom. The copy used on a call-to-action button must be crisp and concise, communicating the message loud and clear.
CRO also involves extensive A/B testing to determine which design elements are working in your favor. Typically, you have to design and test different versions of the same landing page with slight variations in copy, graphics, layout, etc. The version that delivers better conversions is the one you should finalize.
CRO and SEO: Key Differences
It is evident that the end goals of CRO and SEO are different. SEO focuses on increasing the number of website visitors in a natural manner. How they interact and engage with your website doesn’t fall directly under the purview of SEO.
On the other hand, CRO aims to improve the conversion rate by prompting visitors to take necessary actions on your website. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the total number of users that visit your website.
Another noticeable difference between CRO and SEO is that the former involves thorough A/B testing to determine which version of a landing page delivers most conversions.
Unlike SEO, CRO doesn’t rely on off-page link building. Likewise, keywords don’t play a critical role in CRO. Rather, it focuses on on-page optimization, in terms of both content and design. While CRO has a direct impact on revenue, the same may not be true for SEO.
It is also worth pointing out that CRO is mostly immune to any changes in search engine algorithms. The same is not true for SEO. Major search engine algorithm updates often require a complete overhaul of your SEO strategy.
CRO and SEO: Where Do They Overlap?
The differences between CRO and SEO are plenty. However, despite this distinction, there are certain areas in which CRO and SEO intersect. Firstly, both of these techniques demand quality content and a user-friendly website design. Page speed, site architecture, and mobile-responsiveness affect both search engine ranking and conversion rate.
CRO and SEO depend on each other for their success.
In the absence of significant website traffic, your CRO efforts won’t yield much revenue. Likewise, driving increased traffic to irrelevant landing pages also lowers engagement and conversion rates. On the other hand, a web page optimized for conversions is likely to earn backlinks since visitors perceive it as valuable and useful.
In addition, both CRO and SEO focus on improving bounce rates of key web pages. A high bounce rate indicates that the web page is unable to hold visitors’ attention. This means visitors will leave the website without taking the desired action. It also results in a drop in website traffic due to low search engine ranking.
As is evident, CRO and SEO are interconnected in the sense that good SEO further strengthens your CRO efforts. Likewise, optimizing your website for conversions, in turn, breathes new life into your SEO strategy. It is now time to answer the question that has been plaguing marketers and website owners.
CRO and SEO: Who is the Final Winner?
Let’s look at an example to answer this question. Ahrefs published a high-quality blog titled, “How to Get High-Quality Backlinks: 7 Tactics That Don’t Require New Content.” Joshua Hardwick, the author of the post, had intended to target the keyword “high-quality backlinks.”
The blog managed to get a ranking on Google’s third page. The only catch was that the web page ranked for “how to get high” instead of the desired keyword.
Image via Google
It is obvious that the content of this blog post won’t be of any relevance to people looking for ways to get high. As a result, it is bound to experience high bounce rates. Eventually, its ranking may drop.
The reason behind this is that Google’s algorithms will sense the web page was unable to provide relevant information for the intended search query.
The biggest takeaway from this example is that a high search engine ranking alone isn’t enough. Instead of maximizing website traffic, it is important to drive qualified visitors to your website. It is those visitors that will find your content and product or service useful. Even if such an approach results in a drop in organic website traffic, it is more likely to fetch some profits.
As discussed earlier, for conversions to happen, your website requires a sufficiently high search engine ranking. However, you should be cautious while selecting keywords and optimizing your content using them.
Being interdependent to an extent, CRO and SEO cannot succeed on their own. This means that instead of picking the winner between CRO and SEO, you should focus on striking a fine balance between the two.
CRO and SEO: An Integrated Approach
The end goal of most businesses is to drive conversions and earn profits. A strong online presence and a high search engine ranking contribute significantly towards this objective. Thus, digital marketers should strive for an optimal approach that combines the best of CRO and SEO.
Target the Right Keywords
As is evident from Ahrefs’ example, a high search engine ranking is not enough. It is more important to rank for the right keywords that will attract potential customers to your website. You should have a clear understanding of your target audience and the search queries they are likely to use. Use long tail keywords to target a more specific audience on search engines.
Optimize the Right Pages
Certain pages on your website, such as the cart and checkout pages, are less likely to receive direct traffic from search engines. It is more crucial to make these pages user-friendly and fast in order to improve the overall user experience. Working on content and keyword optimization for such pages isn’t all that necessary.
On the other hand, the blog and FAQs pages of your website have high chances of getting discovered on search engines. These pages should deliver high-quality and meaningful content that is valuable to the reader. The content has to be optimized for the keywords you wish to rank for.
Thus, it is important to have a clear understanding of which parts of your website should be optimized for search queries, and which parts for conversions. Use your judgment and discretion to determine the purpose each page serves on your website. Optimize them accordingly for CRO and SEO.
Search engines want to deliver the best experience to their users. Therefore, even for similar content, they give preference to a website that delivers better user experience (UX). Enhanced UX is also helpful in improving visitor engagement and driving more conversions.
Some of the key factors include page speed, ease of navigation, and mobile-responsiveness. Use Google PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly Test tools to determine the key areas that need improvement. Incorporate attractive graphics and videos in your website design to hold a visitor’s attention.
Content is Still Important
Both CRO and SEO are dependent on high-quality content. CRO requires lucid and to the point content in order to communicate your brand’s message effectively. SEO focuses on optimizing unique content for targeted keywords.
In general, for both CRO and SEO, the content should be error-free and simple. Use relevant images and videos in between paragraphs to make your content more engaging.
A call-to-action button informs visitors about the possible actions they can take on your website. We have already discussed how important it is in driving conversions. However, its usage should not be limited to certain pages such as products/services, cart, and checkout.
You can even use a call to action in content-driven pages such as blogs and company profile. For instance, you can use a pop up in your blog post that encourages readers to sign up for your newsletters.
Similarly, at the end of an article, you can ask readers to check out services or products related to the topic of the article or read more related content.
Moz uses this strategy to drive visitors from their blog posts to their product pages. Even though the call-to-action button is placed at the bottom, high-quality content engages the readers and motivates them to scroll till the end.
Image via Moz
CRO uses A/B testing extensively to determine which web pages are likely to deliver maximum conversions. Data from these tests can also be used to engage visitors coming from search engines. This improves the bounce rate, thereby having a positive impact on your website’s search engine ranking.
CRO and SEO aren’t mutually exclusive; they are meant to complement each other. SEO is a prerequisite for the success of CRO strategies. In the absence of organic traffic from search engines, driving conversions is a painstaking task. However, driving visitors to slow and irrelevant web pages with a shoddy layout won’t yield any revenue.
In a nutshell, SEO is all about bringing more visitors to your website. CRO, on the other hand, is the way you treat these visitors once they reach your website and enter your sales funnel.
Instead of weighing the pros and cons of CRO and SEO and trying to choose between them, marketers should focus on an integrated approach.
Target specific keywords to drive more qualified visitors to your website. Likewise, use data from CRO split tests to engage these visitors and improve your search ranking. A fine balance between CRO and SEO is critical in determining the success of your business.
Shane Barker is a digital marketing consultant who specializes in sales funnels, targeted traffic, and website conversions. He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies, influencers with digital products, and a number of A-List celebrities.