What's more important, conversion or rankings? On one side you'll get the argument that if you achieve top rankings (which drives traffic) but you cannot convert your visitors substantially, your rankings are then wasted. On the other side you'll hear that if you build your site and are able to generate a substantial conversion rate, but don't attain top positions in the rankings (and therefore obtain less traffic), then you won't have anybody to convert.

It's the modern chicken or the egg question as it pertains to marketing online. Assuming even for a second that you had to sacrifice one for the other, which should you choose?

Ideally, you wouldn't have to sacrifice either, and in real world practice, you usually don't. As algorithms get better, and engines like Google have more access to analytical data, how users interact with your site, including page views, time spent on the site and actual conversions will play a significant role in a site's ability to rank.

This is why, as I stated in a previous article of mine, SEO is Dead, that those employing SEO from the old perspective based on keyword manipulation (on and off the page), without taking usability and other marketing aspects into consideration, are a dying breed. It simply doesn't work. But even if it did, the point about not being able to convert visitors once they arrive is a valid one. Why pay to drive 10,000 visitors to your site if you can only convert .05%? Wouldn't it be more lucrative to send only 5,000 visitors to your site and improve your conversion rate to 3%? Absolutely!

But SEO isn't measured by the number of visitors as is the case with more traditional forms of advertising. Yes, visitors need to be tracked and we do measure for visitor increases, but a SEO campaign is not built around getting your site before X number of people, but rather about capturing as much targeted traffic as possible. Different industries and keywords will produce different traffic numbers.

Ideally, you want to increase your conversion rate as much as possible, but you wouldn't make a decision to try and capture fewer leads through SEO in order to do so. No, you want to gain site exposure and drive mass amounts of traffic. Obtaining top search engine rankings isn't the only way to do that, but it is one of the most effective, which means rankings are still very important.

Many in the SEO industry are trying to move away from using rankings as the sole measure of success altogether. I applaud those efforts, and the points made are valid, but I often wonder if it is realistic. Most searchers don't go past the first, second or third page of results, which means if you don't have top rankings for your targeted phrases, you're missing a considerable sum of traffic.

But as I said earlier, top rankings are not the only means to generate traffic. Good SEO can bring traffic from many avenues, not just the search engine. But is that still SEO? No, not in the strictest sense. Can other marketing efforts bring in just as much traffic as top search engine rankings can? Sometimes, but usually this results in a much higher cost.

So, are search engine rankings still important? Yes, rankings are still important, which means SEO is still important. But since SEO is more effective with usability and conversion tracking along with other online forms of marketing, the best SEO is that which offer more than just "top ranking" services.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 24, 2006

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

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