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Conversion, Conversion, Conversion – the 3 rules of SEO

How do you measure the success of your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaign?

It’s a question we’re often asked, and one which our clients often have their own answer for. For some, all they want to know is where they appear in Google. For others, its how much their traffic increases.

For us, there is a clear answer – the three most important indicators of SEO success are:

1: Conversion
2: Conversion
3: Conversion

SEO should never live in isolation from your overall marketing aims. When we start working with an SEO client, the very first thing we do with them is to establish what their web marketing goals are and what actions they want their clients to perform on the site to support those goals.

Only then can we begin the process of finding keywords, optimising the site, link-building etc.

By understanding what clients need to be doing on the site to reach those goals, we can set in place ways of measuring conversion – essentially finding out just how many users actually did the things on the site that the client wanted them to.

That could be buying particular items, joining mailing lists, making telephone contact, or more esoteric actions such as increasing brand awareness or better understanding the proposition of the company.

Position *heart* Conversion

Getting a high position for your carefully selected keywords/phrases is a very important part of SEO – but it is really just one step along the line to your ultimate goal, and not the ultimate goal in itself.

Similarly the number of visitors to your site is a stepping stone, not the finish line. In some cases, you could actually see visitor numbers fall as a result of successful SEO.

That might seem illogical, but we recently had a client who wanted to know if there was a simple figure he could give his board to show the success of an SEO campaign. He felt that visitor numbers was the key.

We’d just advised him to change the page title and description that appeared in Google when his site showed up for an important keyphrase. The description was slightly misleading – and while his company offered a very particular service related to the keyphrase, the title and page description made it appear his company’s site was more of an overall information portal for the subject covered by his service.

We explained that by changing the title and description he would almost certainly see the number of people clicking through to the site fall. The important factor was not visitor numbers – but getting the right visitors.

While thousands of searchers were clicking through to that page each month, the bounce rate was horrendous. The reason? The page was optimised to appear for that search term by focussing on the term rather than the offering. The vast majority of people clicking through were either expecting something else, or not seeing what was really on offer.

As we expected, when we optimised the page for conversion, the level of traffic fell. So – very slightly – did the Google placement.

But, the number of people actually going on to engage the service – to perform the action we planned at the beginning of the campaign – rose by more than 100%.

Balancing act

So an SEO campaign that saw visitor numbers and Google placement fall? Measured by conventional SEO wisdom that would be a failure. Measured by conversion, a resounding success.

SEO needs to balance conversion and position. Neither factor should eclipse the other – having a great conversion rate for a tiny amount of traffic is no better than having a tiny conversion rate for lots of traffic. But if you are to weigh the two against each other – conversion should always be the first priority.

SEO is not about appearing as high as possible in Google for a focussed search term – it’s about appearing as high as possible for a focussed search term that leads to direct conversions.

Conversion needs to be seen as part of an SEO, not a separate discipline – optimising for conversion and optimising for position work best when they work together.

There’s actually an even easier way to measure the success of our campaign with that client. Just look in the company accounts.

The client is making more money from promoting that service online now than they were before we made our changes. For conversion, read return on investment.

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