7 (Great) Reasons Why ‘Website Optimization’ should NOT be Confused with ‘Search Engine Optimization’

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seo-confuseThis post goes out to all those SEO firms that are bidding or ranking for the keywords ‘website optimization’ to parade their SEO services without knowing the true definition of  the growing and high impact art of website optimization (see image below – at least Omniture know proper website optimization services!)

This post is also meant to help educate all the web companies and people that still don’t yet know the difference between the two (or even know that website optimization exists!) – its important for them to know and take full advantage of!


 So without further ado, here is a list of reasons why its important to know the differences between website optimization and search engine optimization…

1: It doesn’t matter how much you optimize your site rankings in Google if your website isn’t fully optimized to meet your visitors needs and convert them. You are simply pouring money down there drain if you don’t optimize your website – many of visitors from search engine will simply leave if their needs aren’t met!

2: There are no ‘hacks’ or ‘dirty tricks’ with website optimization that can  jeopordize your website’s performance. Unfortunately in the search engine optimization world, there are many ‘black hat’ companies that claim they will help for cheap, but often have long lasting damaging results in search engines.

3: Website optimization is often way cheaper than expensive search engine optimization campaigns. In fact, leading web analyts like Avinash Kaushik firmly believe that in order to start optimizing your website, you need just 10% of your SEO budget. Because of that, website optimization often gets you a way better ROI than search engine optimization (this great book discusses this principle too).

4: There are way fewer people who can consider themselves website optimizers than search engine optimizers. I like to consider myself as one of the few, along with people like Bryan Eisenberg and Chris Goward.

5: Website optimization affects your visitor when they arrive on your website and how they convert for your goals. Search engine optimzation has an effect on the visitor before they get to your website.

6: There are way less website optimization cowboys out there! There are still way too many search marketing firms who just take your money and don’t do much (apart from great firms like ClientSide and evisibility).

7: Once you optimize your website, you should THEN, and only THEN engage in search engine optimziation with a reputable history of results. Not the other way around – if you do, you will be wasting your money because of reason #1 above.

And for those of you that are still unclear, here is a definition of the two:

Website Optimization: The art of creating and continuously improving websites to optimize the visitor experience and conversion rates, resulting in high visitor satisfaction and high repeat visit rates. Source: Rich Page, Website Optimizer

Search Engine Optimization: Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (or “organic”) search results. Source: Wikipedia 

But. Please note that I am not saying that you should ignore SEO completely – in fact, you should start to think of factors that influence SEO while doing website optimization (URL structure, page names, onsite inter-linking and keyword usage). Any website that wants the best chance of succeeding in the long run should indeed engage in SEO, but just make sure you also optimize your website for things like conversion rates before heavily focusing on it. Bottom line, just know the difference!

I hope that helps clears up the differences finally! And don’t forget, I am now offering free website improvement reviews via twitter to help you get started improving your website!

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  • Good point, Rich. I link to this article from my latest post:

    I notice that you’ve been Twitter-reviewing a number of winery Web sites. Any general thoughts?

  • Great post Rich. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told people that I do website optimization and they confuse it with SEO. A challenge in this industry is to growing the term optimization outside of SEO.

    I do have one thing issue, there are dirty tricks to raise conversion rates that people who aren’t careful can fall for. An easy example, is offering something you can’t provide or being deceitful in any other way. This is especially dangerous if you aren’t tracking the true KPI (say using click throughs rather than a full conversion.) This is one reason why performance guarantees with website optimization can’t really guarantee you anything.

    Lastly, I would add that one reason to start website optimization vs. SEO is that its a huge competitive advantage now since very few players are testing their pages.

    Keep up the good work promoting optimization!
    -Billy Shih

  • The great thing about doing website optimization is that it makes your SEO work that much easier . . .and vice verse . . . . .

  • Nice post Rich… I have to admit I don’t 100% agree, but I think you’re almost there. Specifically, point number 7: I think both website optimization and SEO have to go hand-in-hand and that you should never build a site without thinking about SEO upfront. I see time and time again sites that were built with cool tools, sticky content, nice conversion paths and fun AJAX interactions, but they FAIL when it comes to SEO, so they’ve spent all this time on it and have to go back and rebuild/find workarounds because they have zero traffic. One thing I do think though, is that chances are, if you build your site with usability in mind, you will also build a site with strong SEO.

    So, to that point, I’d venture to say there are even fewer SEOs who are also good website optimizers and vice versa… we should all aspire to see the big picture! Or, at minimum, put a good SEO and a good website optimizer in the same room ;).

    Anyone else agree/disagree?

  • Hi there,

    Great post. Website optimisation is a powerful technique that many neglect.

    However, I will have to pull you up on point 7:

    “Once you optimize your website, you should THEN, and only THEN engage in search engine optimziation with a reputable history of results”

    From what I can tell, the point of this sentence is to say “why send traffic to a site that isn’t optimised?” Now, the problem is, if you are to optimise your website using statistical significance as your fundamental driver, you need traffic. The more traffic your site gets, the quicker you’re able to come to a statistically significant winner when conducting A/B or multivariate tests.

    The first two steps in optimising website content are:

    1. Make quick fixes based on accepted best practise
    2. Get into the nitty gritty with some serious testing

    So while your point at first makes sense, you must also consider that it is impossible to optimise the site for the user WITHOUT having some decent traffic. Unless you want your tests to take 1 year each that is.

    Blog looks good by the way, this is my first visit. Won’t be my last 🙂

  • Thanks for all the comments so far guys!

    Billy – that is a great point indeed regarding being able to gain competitive advantage over other websites because so few are doing website optimization!

    In terms of the comments from Claire, Luke and Pev, the main point of my post was to raise the differences between the two. I made some clarifications in my post since you posted these. You do have to face facts though, there are still way to many SEO firms who don’t really know or seem to care that much about website optimization. You can tell by the number of SEO firms that are bidding on the word ‘website optimization’ but don’t actually offer website optimization services when you click through.

  • I think some companies are targeting “web optimization” because less internet savvy clients are using that term accidentally when actually looking for search engine optimization.

  • I agree with you when you say that website optimization needs to come first. I doesn’t do any good to have traffic come to my site if they do not stay.

    I know what I like when I go to a website and I know which ones I stay on. Like I hate the blinking signs that are trying to draw my attention, they are like a car salesman with shinny gold capped teeth.

    I personally have no problem in finding the data I need and it is not always on the front page of google. I often find the better sites a couple of pages back.

    So for me, it is first things first…a great, easy to navigate site that tells me what the site is all about right from the start. Then I can go for content…. and then decide on product.


  • It’s so true. “I want to be on page 1!” people keep telling me, and I’m now getting to the point where I’m needing to say “well the people aren’t converting, thus, you’ll only get more people NOT converting when you’re on the 1st page!”

    testing, changing, adding, testing. Happy people = happy customers = more conversions + less money spent on CPC!

    thanks to your blog i’ve been a fast learner in realizing what i’m really doing at my desk!

    thanks Rich!

  • ILikeTurtles

    Interesting points . . .

  • Hi Rich. First, thanks for the link 🙂

    It’s such a new field and many people are not aware it exists yet, as you said. I think we’re still figuring out what to call it.

    My perspective is that website optimization probably includes all on-site work to improve the website’s performance, which includes on-site SEO, load speed, usability, and Conversion Optimization.

    The on-site conversion rate improvement testing that we do is often called Landing Page Optimization, but we look at the whole site broadly and usually call it Conversion Rate Optimization.

    The primer on this is the book “Website Optimization” by Andrew B. King, which includes the topics of SEO, PPC Optimization, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), and Web Performance Optimization (ie. CSS, Ajax, etc.).

    I reviewed the book recently here:

    Thanks for starting this discussion, Rich. It’s an important one to have so we all start speaking the same language. In the end, the “real” definitions will be what sticks in our collective understanding so I’d look forward to hearing everyone else’s perspectives too.

  • Pingback: Website Optimization And Search Engine Optimization | Search Engine Marketing Blog()

  • Naveen Sharma

    (SEO) is a powerful tools that helps a website to rank higher than the other websites. The question is that why we need search engine optimization ? The simple answer of this question is that almost 90 percent of google search users only clicks top three results or golden triangle. it is always considered that if your websited does not come even on the google’s first page that’s alike your website does not exist. so only search engine optimization can rank your websites on googles first page. that’s exactly TheWebDominators.com do for you. this is the best search engine optimization exist in Florida.