Movies and popcorn.
Fish and chips.
Thunder and lightning.
SEO and CRO?
When most people think of famous combos, they probably don’t think of SEO and CRO.
Like most industries, digital marketing tends to be broken up into “silos” of specialized jobs.
If you want more traffic to your site, you find a specialist at getting traffic. Maybe that’s an SEO specialist. Or it could be a paid ad specialist, PR specialist, brand partnership specialist, etc.
Likewise, if you want to increase conversions you’re likely to look for a CRO (conversion rate optimization) specialist.
Only Focusing on Trees, and Missing The Forest
The problem with narrow specialization is that people get so zoomed in on the job at hand, they often miss the bigger picture they’re a part of.
I’ve been involved in digital marketing for 25 years, and have had the opportunity to wear just about all the specialist hats there are. But I’ve spent most of my career specializing in SEO and CRO.
Because of this, it’s become easier for me to spot the points where these specialty areas overlap and influence each other.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the overlap points between SEO and CRO and how to leverage them for your best benefit. My hope is that by the end of the article, you’ll be thinking of SEO and CRO as the “thunder and lightning” of your marketing efforts. Because the synergy they can create together really is that powerful.
Let’s jump in!
How CRO Can Help Improve SEO and Increase Your Organic Traffic
In order to understand how conversion optimization can help create better SEO outcomes and increase your traffic, we have to zoom out the lens and look at how SEO has changed in recent years.
In the past, one of the biggest aspects of SEO was optimizing web page content for keyword density. I remember back in the early 2000’s I ranked for the keyword “how to make money online” just by adding that keyword a bunch of times at the bottom of the web page (and obscuring the repeated keywords by making them the same color as the background).
Things obviously got more sophisticated from there, but for the last couple decades a big part of SEO has centered around on page keyword optimization.
While optimizing content with target keywords still has benefits, it’s place at the table has gotten smaller and smaller. And the ranking signals that have replaced it mainly revolve around what you can categorize as UX (or user experience) ranking signals.
Google’s algorithm still looks at whether or not target keywords exist in a piece of content (along with related, or semantic keywords). And it still looks at how many other websites are “voting” for a page by linking to it.
But now Google’s algorithm is placing a lot of weight in what the user experience is like for Google users who actually click through to a web page. It asks questions like:
- How long are users staying on that web page?
- Do users click back to Google and continue searching for the same query?
- How fast does the page load?
- Does the design of the page display elements that build trust with users?
- Does the design contain elements known to distract from a good user experience like pop-up windows?
- Does the content resemble content based on real life experience and expertise?
A recently released document as part of Google’s antitrust lawsuit points to this UX ranking reality:
The document goes on to say:
“Let’s start with some background..
A billion times a day, people ask us to find documents relevant to a query.
What’s crazy is that we don’t actually understand documents. Beyond some basic stuff, we hardly look at documents. We look at people.
If a document gets a positive reaction, we figure it is good. If the reaction is negative, it is probably bad.
Grossly simplified, this is the source of Google’s magic.”U.S. and Plaintiff States v. Google LLC, Antitrust Trial Exhibit
These UX ranking signals can be broken up into two main categories. Let’s dig a little deeper into each one, and look at some of the ways conversion optimization can help improve them.
Ranking Signals Based on Fulfilling Search Intent
At the core of the user experience is a simple question: did the user get what they were looking for?
They might be looking for an answer to a question. Details on a product they’re considering purchasing. Or a variety of other things.
But if they don’t find what they’re looking for, even if everything else about the user experience was good, the overall experience will still be categorized poorly.
One of the main ways Google measures this is by looking at whether or not a user returns to Google and continues searching after visiting your page.
How can CRO help you improve these ranking signals?
The primary goal in conversion optimization is to get people to stick around on your site until they perform some key action, like making a purchase or opting-in to something with their email.
This goal happens to align perfectly with improving ranking signals tied to fulfilling search intent. If you can keep people on your site and get them to take a key action that moves them closer to their desired outcome, they’ll be much less likely to hit the back button to Google and continue searching for the same thing.
Because the entire field of conversion rate optimization is dedicated to accomplishing this goal, there are a wide range of tactics that can come into play here. But a few that have the most synergy with SEO include:
- A/B testing different CTAs on search optimized web pages, particularly on top of funnel and middle of funnel pages. If a single piece of content only partially fulfills a searcher’s desired outcome, CTAs can guide them toward the next logical step in the journey toward that outcome (whether that’s the next piece of content, or making a purchase). The more effectively you can lead visitors down the path toward their desired outcome, the less likely they’ll be to return to Google and signal that their search failed on your site.
- Optimizing other key steps of your funnel for conversions, such as important product landing pages or sign up flow steps. If visitors drop off at any point in your funnel, they’re likely to return to Google and continue searching for an alternative based on whatever triggered them to leave your site.
- Auditing your funnel analytics for drop off points, as well as using tools like heat mapping and user testing to identify and fix friction points on individual pages.
- Conducting qualitative research like surveys and customer interviews to better understand the challenges, pain points, and desired outcomes of your audience. These can be used to focus your content strategy, and create content that is more likely to fulfill the true desires of your visitors. If your content can do a better job of answering a user’s query than your competitors, you’ll have a much better chance of winning the top ranking.
- Creating customer persona profiles and mapping their journey as it relates to your business. Having a customer journey map will help you create a site architecture that effectively guides visitors to the next appropriate step on their journey (whether that’s a related article, email course, or actually purchasing something).
A customer journey map will also help you create a more comprehensive, complete experience for visitors – by helping you spot and fill content gaps in the journey. The fewer content gaps you have, the less likely visitors will be to continue searching elsewhere for a missing piece of information they can’t find on your site.
(And the best part is – in addition to higher rankings – all of the above things will also help dramatically increase the conversions on your site!)
Ranking Signals Based on Web Site Usability
The second category of UX ranking signals involve your web site’s usability, or how easy your site is to use.
Google’s algorithms have been collectively trained on trillions of user interactions. Through these logged interactions, Google has identified web site usability factors that are tied to positive user experiences.
Google then measures these factors directly via the Google crawler/bot when it visits your site. While we used to think of Google’s bot as “reading” the content on your site, today we also need to think of it as “viewing” and analyzing the design of your site as well.
On each crawl, Google analyzes dozens of usability elements to determine how easy your site is to use. This includes things like:
- Whether or not your site uses design elements known to be distracting, like pop-ups.
- Images you use to illustrate your content.
- Displaying awards your site may have won.
- And one of the biggest factors: how quickly all of the above elements load and the overall page loading speed.
How can CRO help you improve these ranking signals?
CRO is all about “removing friction” in the user experience, and this goes hand in hand with making your site easier to use from Google’s perspective.
Whether it’s removing friction by making a page load faster. Or something more complex like removing the friction in establishing trust; by adding credibility elements to a page like a prominent author bio or awards your organization has won.
An experienced CRO specialist will know how to incorporate these elements into the design of your site in a way that will not only make your site easier to use, but also maximize your conversions.
And for elements that might traditionally be good for conversions but bad for SEO (like pop-ups) – a CRO minded SEO will be able to help you come up with creative solutions for maintaining a high conversion rate, while also balancing the SEO benefits of a cleaner design.
How a Conversion Minded SEO Strategy Can Increase Your Conversion Rate
There are three core ways that SEO will directly impact your conversion rate.
First, is how the content you create as part of your SEO strategy influences your conversion rate.
Many SEOs and marketing professionals take a one dimensional view of SEO and see it only as a way to drive traffic. Then once people are on the site, they hope the marketing focused sections of the site will take over and drive the sale.
This may be true of thin, low value SEO content. But it misses the huge opportunity of the content itself as a core driver of conversions.
When done well, your SEO content can be designed in a way that showcases your product’s unique selling points, addresses fundamental questions visitors have in the buyer journey, and builds trust between your brand and the audience you’re trying to reach.
All of these things can act like rocket fuel for your conversion rate: taking what would otherwise be an ordinary brand website, and turning it into a hub of useful knowledge that your market can use to make more informed buying decisions.
Second, is how the timing of your message impacts your conversion rate.
SEO content is unique because it can be synced to the exact moment in the buyer journey when the prospective customer actually wants it: as they are searching for that specific answer or piece of information on Google.
Compare this to other channels where you take shots in the dark with your message timing. Whether it’s social media, email, or display advertising – most acquisition channels are more or less random in their timing. With advertisers crossing their fingers that prospects might actually be in the right frame of mind to respond to their message.
But with the right SEO keyword strategy, you can meet prospective customers with just the right message at just the right time. Bypassing many of the obstacles you’d normally face when trying to connect with your audience on noisy channels like social or email.
When you connect with them at the right time, visitors are in a warm and receptive frame of mind. They are looking for answers you can provide. And if you create high quality content that addresses real needs and questions on the buyer journey, you can more easily establish a trusting relationship with visitors. And ultimately convert more of those visitors into customers.
Third, is by uncovering high converting customer segments.
While most acquisition channels target potential customers by who they are, SEO gives marketers a much more holistic picture of their audience.
With SEO keyword research, you can put on a set of “3D glasses” that let you see your market from many different angles. You can discover things like:
- Overlooked questions people are asking about your product.
- Problems people are struggling with that your business can help solve.
- Little-known desired outcomes that tie into specific product features.
- Questions people are asking about competitors.
- The real world language people are using to talk about the areas your business impacts.
- And much more.
All of these details can be analyzed by their demand aka search volume, giving you a sense of just how many people in your audience fall into each unique category.
This data can be turned into gold by using it to find and focus your efforts on high value, high converting market segments.
You might find that there is high search volume for a particular product feature that you and your competitors have overlooked. Giving you the opportunity to highlight that feature more prominently in your marketing.
Or you might see that there are a lot of people searching for an answer to a specific question right before they’re ready to purchase products related to yours. By creating a piece of content that answers that question better than anyone else, you can step in at just the right time with the perfect answer and win that segment’s business.
In some cases, you’ll be able to uncover large, untapped segments. And in other cases, you may find what I like to think of as “micro segments” – or small segments of your market that have a particular question or concern that no one is addressing well. With one piece of great content, you can easily scoop up these micro segments and turn them into long term customers by being the only one to validate and help them.
With SEO, you can identify new, lucrative market segments with keyword research data that lets you get inside the heads of your market and see what they’re really thinking. Then, you can prioritize your efforts by focusing on segments with the highest likelihood of converting into customers.
In many cases, these learnings can be applied not only in SEO but to your marketing as a whole. The fact that a segment of your market has a specific way of thinking or is troubled by a specific problem is something you can highlight across other channels as well. Giving you the ability to resonate with market segments your competitors are ignoring.
All this adds up to being able to drive high converting organic traffic to your site, while also lifting conversion rates in other areas of your marketing.
Is SEO and CRO The “Magic Combo” For Growing Your Business?
On their own, SEO and CRO can be both be big drivers of new growth for a business. But as we’ve learned in this article, they create a special kind of synergy when combined together.
Now that we’ve entered the new era of UX driven SEO, conversion optimization is a critical piece of the puzzle to achieving high rankings on Google.
And for any site struggling with low conversion rates, the process of SEO can reveal a treasure trove of conversion boosting opportunities. Helping you reach new, high converting audience segments at just the right time. And deliver educational content that builds trust, highlights your product’s unique advantages, and makes visitors more likely to convert.
If you’ve been struggling with low converting traffic sources like paid ads, SEO and CRO could be the magic combo you’ve been searching for.