New site owners generally have two main priorities; get as much traffic to that site as possible, and maximize the conversion rate of site visitors (which is usually the driving factor for revenue, whether a "conversion" is a product purchase or a filling out a form). The best way to drive new traffic to your site is to practice search engine optimization (SEO), and the best way to increase conversions on your site is to practice conversion optimization.
But which of these is a higher priority for new sites?
The Importance of Conversions
Conversions are a gateway to revenue for any business, and a gateway to achieving any other goal for other organizations. Unless you have a solid way to secure those conversions, it doesn't matter how much traffic you receive.
That said, conversion optimization looks a little different for each business that practices it. For law firms and other consultation-based businesses, there's a four-stage process of conversion--from onsite, to follow-up, to in-office, to post-consultation. For online stores, more conversions just means more product sales.
Optimizing for conversions is a step you can take immediately--at least to an extent. For example, you can employ basic conversion optimization strategies like making your prices more appealing, making your calls-to-action more visible, and making your forms shorter and easier to fill out. These tactics should almost be baked into your web design and development process, so you can hit the ground running, and start securing some initial conversions with the trickle of traffic you'll get when the site launches.
Of course, to perfect conversion optimization takes time and ongoing commitment. While there are some basic governing principles for what "works" to get more conversions, there are enough variables and unpredictability in the field to necessitate experimentation. In other words, you'll have to try out many different variations of your landing pages, product pages, and core offers to determine which ones work best for your brand. But in order to measure those differences effectively, you'll need a decent stream of traffic to support those experiments--which means you also need to focus on SEO.
The Importance of SEO
SEO provides the traffic you need for your conversion strategy to generate revenue (or achieve a similar goal). It also provides the fuel you need to make your conversion optimization strategies work; only with sufficient visitors will you be able to discern which variables are getting you results.
The problem with SEO is that it takes time. Depending on the level of competition you're facing and the resources you're expending to make advancements, it could take up to 4 to 6 months before you start seeing results. That means no matter how much you emphasize SEO over conversion optimization, you'll be stuck waiting before you see an influx in inbound traffic. It also means the earlier you start optimizing your site, the better.
Things get more complicated when you consider the many individual strategies and tactics that fall under the SEO umbrella. To see better results, you'll need to employ:
Switching your attention on the group of tactics that makes the most sense for the present is the best way to stay consistent in your approach to SEO while still making use of conversion optimization.
The Best Approach
SEO and conversion optimization work best when they're working together, so one can't be said to be more important than the other. Instead, what's important is setting goals for your website development, and establishing a timeline that allows you to keep balance between the two.
For example, you should have some onsite optimization and some conversion optimization complete before your site ever goes live. After that, it's a good idea to set your SEO strategy on rails, so you can take advantage of the months of persistence necessary to see solid results. And once your SEO strategy starts generating traction, you can use the new stream of traffic to experiment and push your conversion optimization strategy further.
Conversion optimization is really the only way to get more conversions, but SEO is just one method you can use to secure more traffic--it just happens to be the most efficient. If you're looking to complement the advantages and disadvantages of SEO, you can adopt an alternative traffic generation strategy, like paid advertising or referral links. As with most business strategies, balance is the key to success.
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