combining seo and croMany Internet marketers get caught up in arguments over the most important strategy to improve conversion rates: search engine optimization (SEO) or conversion rate optimization (CRO). They talk about them as if one must be chosen over the other when, in practice, they are anything but mutually exclusive. SEO and CRO go hand in hand and must work together for a website to be successful.

And what ultimately defines success? Conversions. Whether converting a casual browser on the SERPs to a visitor on your website through SEO or converting that visitor into a customer through CRO, it’s clear that these strategies are tightly linked.

Let’s begin by defining the most basic goals of SEO and CRO. The goal of SEO is to achieve high rankings in search engines for keywords that most closely match a user’s query, and the goal of CRO is to increase the number of visitors that are converted into customers. These are obviously simplified definitions, but they demonstrate the close connection between SEO and CRO and the role each plays to improve conversion rates.

Both SEO and CRO focus on website visitors. SEO wants to find prospects based on what and where they are searching and provide them with a reason to visit a website, and CRO wants to create the best possible user experience when they arrive. To succeed in both requires an understanding of the user’s intent, which will also help determine the quality of the visitors. Qualified visitors are far more likely to be ready to make a buying decision than unqualified visitors who may only be searching for information or even be unaware of why they ended up on a particular landing page in the first place.

Now let’s take a look at how and why SEO and CRO can and must work together to improve conversion rates. Effectively integrating SEO with CRO includes

  • Strategically using keywords. Before you can optimize a page to improve conversion rates, you must understand visitor intent, and keywords are the easiest and fastest way to get that understanding. An effective landing page uses keywords to let visitors know they are in the right place, and then makes it easy for them to see why and how to make a purchase.
  • Focusing on a single product or service. This strategy will achieve better search engine rankings and improve conversion rates. Your products or services should not compete against one another in the search engines or on landing pages. Keep it simple. The search engines want to know exactly what a page is about and visitors want to see exactly what they searched for and what to do when they land on a page.
  • Having a clear, relevant, compelling, and keyword-rich headline. The meta title in the SERPs should match the landing page’s headline, and should include the keyword and the primary benefit of the product or service.
  • Creating a simple path to conversion. When visitors land on the page, there should be an obvious call to action that leads visitors to the next step in your conversion funnel.
  • Testing. SEO and CRO strategies must be tested to ensure a constant flow of the most qualified visitors to a landing page with the most user-friendly experience.

When beginning an online marketing campaign, CRO should come first (unless your site isn’t receiving enough traffic to run valid tests). Once the landing page is optimized to improve conversion rates, you can develop a targeted SEO program that continuously finds and drives qualified visitors to the site. Think of CRO as plugging the holes in your leaky bucket (website) before pouring in more water (targeted traffic).

Think of CRO as plugging the holes in your leaky bucket (website) before pouring in more water (targeted traffic).

Ultimately, without CRO, painstaking SEO work can be performed in vain if visitors have a negative experience when they land on a page. But without SEO, CRO just has an optimized page with no visitors. They must work together in harmony to maximize visitors, improve conversion rates, and increase revenues.

This article originally appeared in Tim’s ClickZ column March 6, 2012 

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