Obviously the goal of your copy is to do a little bit of both, but when it comes right down to it, which ones is more important? We all know you need to consider your rankings because they can be a fantastic source of traffic, but it's also true that traffic that doesn't (or won't) convert means almost nothing to the average site owner. Karon Thackston does a great job of tackling this question in a post over at her Marketing Words Copywriting blog this week.

Karen explains:

I have a client who, for almost 12 months, has been asking me to rewrite their home page copy because they dropped from the top 10 to position #11 (the dreaded second page!). My question to her was always, "Is your copy still converting the way you want it to?" She answered yes every time to which I advised, "Leave the copy alone."

"But what about my rankings?"

"Is business suffering?"

"No, we're swamped."

"Leave the copy alone."

"But it's over a year old. Don't you think it needs to be refreshed?"

"Is your copy still converting the way you want it to?"


"Leave the copy alone."

I have to say, I'm with Karon on this one and for several reasons.

1.) There's nothing to say that revamping the content might actually cause the site to LOSE some rankings. That doesn't mean you can't and shouldn't take chances and test your copy over time to improve your rankings...but there is something to the idea of leaving well enough alone.

2.) If the copy is converting really well and you have as much business as you can handle, why would you risk a drop in conversions for the small chance of a hike in traffic? Unless you KNOW the new traffic will convert at the same or better rate, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

3.) The example Karon gives only mentions one keyword. What about all the other keywords driving traffic to that page? Yes, you might be able to increase your rankings for that one phrase, but what if you lose rankings for the others and what if those losses are greater than your gains?

Karon explains:

Getting top 10 rankings shouldn't be your primary goal. Attracting and keeping more business is what it's all about. If that means using search engine optimization as one tool, so be it. But too many times, website owners bow to the SEO gods and sacrifice conversions and their best business sense all for the sake of saying they are #1.

Personally, I've seen this happen one (million) too many times. It's really easy to check a search rankings. It's something tangible. You can check it in a second. It's much more difficult to track ALL of the traffic coming to a page from ALL of the search terms. It's even more difficult for some companies to get a solid understanding of how well that copy converts, or how much business that copy is ultimately responsible for generating. Just because rankings are the easiest "tangible" sign of online success...doesn't mean they should be your primary goal.

Lest you think Karon and I are old fogies who believe in doing it once and leaving it alone, consider how she closes her post:

Never Change Your Copy?

Is this my advice in every case where rankings drop? No. There are instances where you do need to change your copy if your rankings decrease.

Karon goes to explain the need to look at conversions, how your products or services have changed and whether business has fallen off in making a decision on whether to change your copy or not.

Now all that said, I would add one thing Karon didn't mention.

I'd be testing new copy. There's no reason to think it's all or nothing with the copy on your web site. The fantastic thing about paid search is how easy it makes it to test new ideas or slight tweaks to your site. You could very easily setup some Google AdWords campaign for the keyword in question and drive folks to two (or more) variations of your copy. If the new copy converts at an equal or better rate and you think there's a good chance it will improve your rankings, then I'd give it a try. You can always restore your old copy if things go badly.

All that said, keep in mind that changing something on your site with one goal in mind can impact a whole bunch of other goals. Think things through and weigh your options before making the choice to seek higher rankings. Sometimes you're just fine where you are. Sometimes you're not. Either way, the key is to think it through and whenever possible, test!

June 4, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Nice post.

Like most things in SEM, it is all about compromise. Finding the right balance. Optimization of diverse factors to get the optimal end return.

It is worth a 20% drop in conversions to get a 50% rise in traffic, but never worth a 100% rise in traffic at the expense of a 60% drop in conversions. You have to find the optimal point where the net result is improved.

In this sort of situation, I usually make staged minor changes, very small tweaks, thus keeping the change small, and easy to reverse. You can also employ A/B testing of new copy on a limited trial, but you need to be aware of which version a spider might get, and what it finding different versions on each crawl might affect. Using A/B testing only to users of a single browser (which itself can help smooth non-copy factors from the comparison) might help with that.

Of course, we often see this same matter in SEM beyond the copy. By changing the keyword phrases we target, we sometimes hear a client complain that traffic has fallen as we drop some over-generic key phrases and get further into the long tail. Often they are almost in a panic about the drop in traffic. Then the end of the month comes by and they confirm our prediction - actual business has increased.

In the world of traffic, sometimes less is definitely more.

One of the basic rules of website development/design is to design for the end users. Creating initial website copy for SEO is a rookie mistake. If you design a website with copy for the Search engines your website it will not be as good of a user expierence and may not convert at all.

Once accurate copy is created for the users and the website is completed, edits for the search engine can start, edits are on website and new web pages.

Analytics and Testing will guide you.

I've frequently gotten wonderful SERP on a particular page, only to get horrible conversion. At least, at that point, I can start to create extra messaging on the page to determine what the user is wanting (that the page isn't providing). I made a small case study of doing this at http://www.oxclove.com/marketing/articles/seo-and-ia.htm .

There are a lot of things that can be done to a page to help with its conversion without touching the text.

SEO seems to be a constant experiment in improving rankings and conversions. Great article on getting your priorities right when it comes to a web site. High rankings are worthless if they don't impact your business.

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Is the Goal of Your Copy To Rank or to Convert?