Many organic search marketers focus on increasing rankings and traffic to a site. What happens to that traffic once it hits the site, they assume, is someone else's problem. This is a wrong approach. Search marketing's ultimate goal isn't usually to drive more traffic; it's to convert more sales. More traffic just creates more server load, which is worthless unless it’s converting. The easiest way to convert more organic search traffic is to convert more of the existing traffic.
For search-engine-optimization professionals, this is yet another occasion to turn to your developers and request their assistance. Improving conversion typically requires working with your teammates in analytics, branding, design, user experience and development. If you’re feeling uncomfortable at the prospect, you may want to read "An SEO Manager's View of Web Development," my SEO-tips article for working with developers.
Find the Baseline
Before attempting any conversion optimization, pull up the analytics to determine which areas most need improvement. Some areas to start with are as follows.
- Conversion compared to other channels. Does organic search traffic convert higher or lower than overall traffic to the site? Is the ratio consistent, or are there valleys of organic search conversion that may correlate to specific events?
- Conversion by category. Which categories and subcategories convert best? Do they correlate with your high-margin products? Are there some sections that just convert terribly compared to the rest?
- Conversion by URL. Similar to the previous questions about category conversion, are there different URL types that convert better or worse? Category versus product pages? You’d expect pages like "FAQ," "About Us" and blogs to convert poorly, but do they get a lot of traffic? Is there an opportunity to add conversion modules to high traffic/low conversion areas?
- Conversion by keyword. Which types of keywords drive the most sales? The answer is probably your site’s branded keywords, so look past those. Which non-branded keyword phrases drive traffic and which drive sales? Is there a correlation between the high converting keywords and the high converting URLs?
Analyzing the data along these lines will help identify which pages and keywords are pulling their weight and which aren’t. Based on the answers to these questions you can start to form strategies to optimize conversion. Further, this data will also serve as the baseline against which to compare the performance of the optimizations you’ll put into place.
Determine What to Optimize
The data identifies where the problem spots are. But what to do to fix the problem depends entirely on the problem, the site’s unique business goals and the competitive landscape. Here’s one example, but keep in mind that each site’s problems and solutions will each be unique and require unique solutions.
Let’s assume that ACME Camera Co. sells a range of point-and-shoot film and digital cameras on its site, www.acmecameraco.com. It also sells various darkroom supplies, film, lenses and it hosts a blog with a lot of detailed how-to information about developing your own prints at home. ACME Camera’s specialty is the digital camera category, where margins are the highest — and so is the competition. But the data shows that a big chunk of ACME Camera’s organic search traffic is made up of film photography enthusiasts who flock to the blog and consume the content — as shown by a low bounce rate — but typically either don’t purchase or only purchase low-margin film or photo processing products.
The good news is that ACME Camera has strong organic search traffic and an engaged audience. The bad news is a big piece of that organic search traffic is going to areas of the site that don’t convert. Why don’t they convert? The blog has no conversion elements; it’s informational, not transactional. Don’t get me wrong, many etailers would kill for an active blog with an engaged audience. But if you can’t convert that organic search traffic, you’re letting sales slip through your fingers.
Potential Business and Conversion Solutions
It’s time to analyze branding, design, user experience and development and consider how to convert more of those organic visitors into sales. In this completely hypothetical situation, the participants — if there is more than one — might huddle in a room and come up with ideas like the following.
- Good for your brand. Consider the situation a win for branding. Enthusiasts trust your brand for film processing tips and sometimes for purchases. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t help your SEO.
- Increase email subscribers. Consider adding or optimizing an email capture form to increase loyalty and return rates, as well as sales. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t help your SEO.
- Focus on high margin, digital photography. Consider modifying the blog’s content to include posts on digital photography as well as film developing. With the wealth of digital photo software packages and filters, digital photography is emerging as an art form in its own right. This content could more relevantly link to the higher margin digital camera categories and products to drive views and, potentially, sales. If the blog could succeed in digital like it has in analog, this option could slowly begin to influence the site’s ability to rank for digital camera keyword phrases. But that would benefit SEO traffic, not conversion.
- Offer digital software. Consider selling software for the aforementioned digital photography artists. It’s the digital yin to analog film processing’s yang, just as digital and analog cameras are similar and yet opposite. An interesting business possibility, but not really an SEO benefit right away.
- Sell products on the blogs. Consider adding merchandise and high-margin products on the blog.
All the others have merit as marketing or business strategies, but this last idea of adding a conversion module — a block of transactional content, such as a digital camera for sale — in a high-traffic area that currently has no conversion module is the one most likely to directly impact ACME Camera’s core goal of converting more of its existing organic search traffic.
Naturally, plunking a clunky unrelated merchandising module down in the middle of a blog that has been primarily centered on information rather than transaction may well turn the core audience off. This is where branding, design and usability concepts come into play. The SEO professional needs to work with these folks to ensure that the module meets the goals of merchandising products, while still maintaining the soul of what brings users back to the blog. Developers need to be involved, to ensure that what is being dreamt up can actually be built or bought, and to determine how it fits in with existing development projects and timelines. If possible, plan to use an A/B testing platform to make analyzing the end result easier. Google’s Website Optimizer is free for sites that don’t have a testing platform already.
Test the Optimization
Once the conversion optimization is in place for a month or so, test its performance against the baseline data. The team will probably need to take quick measures every couple of days or weeks to ensure that nothing is going drastically wrong, but the optimization needs to have a change to mature before being judged successful or lacking. In addition to testing the impact that the optimization has had on the exact pages and keyword phrases affected, cast the net wider and look for unexpected changes across the site. For instance, did a strategy succeed in increasing conversion in one area at the expense of another higher-margin area?
In all areas of optimization, the data must guide the decisions. Decisions without data are shots in the dark. It’s equally likely that an optimization will have a negative impact, if the optimization strategy is formed without analyzing the data.