SEOs vs CROs: Are They Really the Same People, Now?

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Heading into 2014, Google’s move to make keywords unavailable touched on a topic that we're actively covering - the widening overlap between Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Now, we're not going to talk about tactics to overcome (not provided) - you can view our take on that here - but it’s curious that the two factions that lost the most data are SEOs and CROs. 

SEOs lost the ability to segregate brand versus non-brand terms, and to tie certain keywords to traffic growth. CROs lost a good tool to determine intent on pages. It got us thinking, isn’t this just the latest similarity that’s being added to a now towering list of similarities?

Current SEOs Need to Think About Conversions

 It wasn’t always this way. 

When search was younger, (think late 90s to about 2008 or 2009) search was about making sure that you have a lot of links coming in, that you had good anchor text, that you talked about the term you want to rank for, that you had good site architecture, and that all the tags were in the right place. The SEO’s job was to push rankings higher, and to do that, she needed to think about mostly those things above.

Fast forward to now: social, mobile, content quality and trust, site speed, and back buttons to the search results all matter. It’s not that links and keywords are dead - they are alive and well - it’s just that they are not the only game in town anymore.

So as SEO as a craft matured, SEOs had to prove their mettle not just from tactical stuff like links, rankings, and keyword referrals (which you won’t see moving forward) but business strategy Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). That includes transaction value, customer retention, and yes, conversions. 

SEO is not the Only Thing Getting Disrupted

If you read that last sentence with a slight chuckle, knowing your KPIs were the right ones to look at all along, chances are you’re probably in the CRO field. 

For those of you who aren’t that familiar with CRO, the goals usually tie in to just that: what can the web site do to help the visitor get what she came for. This means running tests, ensuring good design, and making changes in the name of lifting conversions. Sometimes the conversion is providing trial software for a visitor; sometimes the conversion is getting visitor email in return for a playbook or White Paper; sometimes the conversion is a sale. So conversion rates and transaction value are natural business drivers CROs have long looked into, that a lot of good SEOs now view as part of their province.

Here’s the thing, if you’re a CRO: don’t chuckle, because you’re getting plenty disrupted, too.

•The split testing tools that are part of your toolset? They used to be fairly costly, but they are now integrated into free packages like Google Analytics. Sure you still have multivariate testing, but the tools are getting cheaper and more accessible, so you have to do more - basic A/B tests are not a differentiator anymore.

•The variables you should be testing? They have expanded. See here, for instance, to find out how Facebook can cause conversion lifts - but only if you test outside of Facebook.

The “Whys” of SEO and CRO Tie Into the Same Things

All this convergence comes with dangers - you don’t want to develop people who can do both CRO and SEO, only to have them be mediocre at both. Specialization matters, and specialization requires smarts, time, and effort. 

So there is still a place for the “pure” SEO - but that person needs to work with writers on content quality, CROs on getting visitors to stay, social media specialists to build “real world” credibility, and a host of other teams - their fates are not JUST in their hands anymore. Likewise, there may still be room for the “pure” CRO, but that person needs to wise up on search and social, fast.

More and more, though, those two fields are going to mean a lot of the same things to businesses: acquisition, conversions, retentions, profits. Business level KPIs. Not search rankings, not winning versions of tests. 

If you’re an SEO or a CRO, there’s never been a better time to learn how the other half lives.

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