SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization: Key Differences and Why You Need Both to Increase Sales

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SEO and CRO differencesSEO and conversion rate optimization (CRO) are both very important, but are quite different, like Ying and Yang. Unfortunately, many people still don’t know the differences, and why it’s important to do both for their website.

To help everyone understand this and eliminate any confusion, I have created an article explaining the differences and why it’s important for online businesses to perform both to really increase their website sales or leads.

To begin understanding and clarifying the differences, let’s start with some definitions of CRO and SEO.

Definitions of the two terms

One of the easiest ways to help you understand the two terms, their differences and importance is to consider the official definitions of CRO and SEO:

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a system for increasing the percentage of visitors to a website that convert into customers, or more generally, take any desired action on a webpage (Source: Wikipedia).

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results. (Source: Wikipedia).

CRO is also often referred to as ‘conversion optimization’ or ‘landing page optimization’.

Key differences between CRO and SEO

To help distinguish between the two terms, here are the major differences between CRO and SEO.

  • CRO’s primary goal is to increase conversion rates (like for sales or signups) and affects visitors after they arrive on your website. SEO mainly affects your visitors before they arrive on your website, in the actual search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • CRO won’t directly increase your traffic from search engines, unlike SEO efforts which is a primary method of doing so.
  • Most SEO success now comes from off-site link building efforts, whereas most CRO success comes from onsite efforts to better engage and convert more visitors.
  • CRO often uses A/B testing tools and visitor feedback tools to optimize conversion rates, SEO doesn’t focus on them.
  • CRO initiatives are often much cheaper to execute than running expensive SEO campaigns. In fact, leading web analyst Avinash Kaushik believes that in order to start optimizing your website and conversion rates, you need just 10 percent of your SEO budget.

Where CRO and SEO intersect

It’s not just all about knowing the differences though – both of these terms also complement each other and work together well too, and it’s important you know why. Here is how and where these important terms intersect and meet:

  • Some CRO factors also affect SEO efforts. For example, if your website loads slowly or has poor quality content, it not only will lower your website conversion rates, but Google may rank it lower than sites with higher quality (as seen in the Google Panda update).
  • If you do a poor job with SEO and send traffic to pages that aren’t very relevant, this will also lower visitor engagement (and therefore conversion rates) – an essential part of CRO.
  • Both of them rely heavily on web analytics data to monitor and improve success. In fact, one of the most important metrics for both SEO and CRO are now the same – webpage bounce rate (and trying to reduce it on key pages).
  • A well-optimized web page for CRO that meets visitor’s needs will gain more inbound links because more people will find it valuable and want to link to it, thus helping to improve search engine rankings for that page even further.

Why you need both CRO and SEO

Here are the major reasons you need not just SEO or website optimization, but both.

  1. It doesn’t matter how much you optimize your website rankings in Google or other search engines if your website isn’t fully optimized to meet your visitors’ needs and convert them. You are simply pouring much of your marketing budget down the drain if you don’t optimize your website— many visitors from search engines will simply leave if their needs aren’t met.
  2. If you don’t do a good job with SEO for your website, you won’t have as much traffic to your website – and without higher levels of traffic you won’t be able to do CRO very quickly to help optimize your website conversion rate.
  3. Doing SEO on your checkout, signup or registration flow pages is fairly pointless as they get very little direct traffic, but performing CRO is essential on them to increase conversion rates and online revenue.
  4. If you do CRO without understanding and improving your SEO efforts you may be wasting time trying to optimize high bounce rate pages that may be caused by poor quality SEO keywords arriving on them, and not because the page is badly designed or has poor usability.
  5. Most importantly, any website owner or online marketer who wants the greatest chance of generating significant higher online revenues and profits in the long run should engage in both CRO and SEO.

Next step: Tips to improve both at the same time

Want to improve both your SEO and CRO efforts at the same time? Here are some tips to increase your SEO traffic, and simultaneously engage and convert more of these visitors when they arrive on your website.

  • Improve your page load times. This now has a big effect for both SEO and CRO. To get started with this, make sure you reduce the amount of slow loading content on your pages, reduce your photo and video file sizes, improve the efficiency of your website code (Google PageSpeed helps great for this), and also use a tag manager tool like Google Tag Manager to combine tags from website tools.
  • Focus efforts on your key organic search entry pages. Check that you are performing SEO on these pages for the most relevant search engine keywords, as this will increase visitor engagement when they arrive on your website. Next, test and optimize these same pages to better meet the needs of your visitors – for example testing removing clutter and emphasizing key call-to-action buttons are critical for doing this.
  • Use an A/B testing tool to engage your SEO visitors better. Using these tools you can test and target your SEO visitors with specific content to match their needs and intentions better, instead of having a one sizes fits all website. Using A/B testing tools won’t be classified as cloaking by Google either (which previously there were concerns from the SEO crowd regarding this).

Next Step: Learn more about CRO and begin using it

CRO is made up of four overlapping main elements – web analytics, user experience (UX), website persuasion and A/B testing. Making strong use of these techniques will increase your chances of improving your conversion rates, and therefore your sales or leads.

To explore CRO in more detail, including the benefits, some of the best practices and what you tools you need, you should definitely read my Ultimate Guide to CRO article.

In a nutshell, for the long term success of your online business it’s important to make it a priority to focus on CRO and not just SEO.

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  • Charlie Solano

    very well said.. need and importance of seo and website optimization is very well defined. great work.

  • Linda Edwards

    Great information and nice presentation. “Website optimization is an art that tests and improves websites to better engage and convert their visitors, by combining website testing, analytics, usability, and online marketing best practices”. I totally agree with you. At first everybody should optimize his/her website in proper way that will helps in getting more traffic and more customer.

    Besides Search engine optimization or SEO is one of the
    methods that most experts advise to use for getting traffic. It is a kind of
    marketing technique that nonetheless works to enhance the tactics and
    strategies employed in a website so that it will get higher rankings in the
    search engines.

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