The SEO industry has changed significantly in the last few years. Gone are they days when SEO focused exclusively on top search engine rankings. Today's SEOs, or at least any worth paying more than one dollar to, are focusing on many other aspects that were once traditionally left to more marketing minded people.

In a previous post I talked about the value in achieving a top search engine ranking. While rankings are still a primary function of the SEO, as they well should be, they should not be the only primary function. In fact if your SEO only talks in terms of getting you top rankings on the search engines, you should run away, far and fast. No really, I'm serious.

It's conversions, stupid!

Achieving search engine rankings is only a small piece in to the total puzzle of online marketing. In fact, if top rankings are the only focus of the SEO there is a significant chance that the work performed on your site will actually make things worse. Top rankings only mean so much if your visitors are fleeing your site in droves because of usability issues and/or simply not converting.

You may not see a difference between driving 10,000 visitors to your site and getting 100 sales, or driving 5,000 visitors and get 100 sales. It's the same 100 sales right? Well, no, not really. The difference is that the 5000 visitors provides a higher conversion rate than the 10,000. What's important about this is that if you work to get a higher conversion rate you get more conversions for less work. In this case, if you start with the better conversion rate, going from 5000 to 10,000 visitors will produce 200 sales instead of only 100. To get 200 sales without improving the conversion rate you'd have to double your traffic to 20,000 visitors. But 20,000 visitors with the improved conversion rate brings in 400 sales.

You see where this is going? A better conversion rate means more business. Top rankings just means more traffic. I'd go for more business!

Marketing does matter

SEO, or search marketing, is a very interesting balancing act between the creative and technical. Most SEOs started on the more technical side of things. They learned HTML, at the very least, and then started researching the engines and developed and understanding of search engine algorithms and then figured out how to apply that into websites. As SEOs got more and more technically advanced the search engines did too in order to prevent obvious manipulation.

But then something interesting happened in the industry. SEOs began to realize that the battle for rankings is only a part of the struggle for more business. While there are many SEOs that still battle solely for top rankings, those that have invested into the marketing side of the coin are finding their sites have far greater success. The technical side is still hugely important, but the knowledge gained from the technical research must be implemented in an almost purely creative way. The end result is that the site must be able to sell to its audience.

Sites that struggle only to get top rankings will ultimately fail. Maybe not in the bankruptcy sense, but in the sense that they are not maximizing their return on investment. They are spending more to get less!

To re-use one of my own analogies, its like trying to fill a buck littered with holes full of water. You'll be able to get water in the buck and may even be able to get it in faster than it leaks out, but you're consuming vast amounts of resources in order to do that. It's far easier--and smarter--to patch the holes first and then fill the bucket. Even if you can't fill the bucket near as fast as the other guy your return on investment will be far greater because you're holding onto more than he is. Not only will you be getting more first-time sales, but you'll be positioned to establish a long-term relationship and earn repeat visitors.

The value of a single visitor isn't always in that first sale. It's often in the many sales that the visitor will bring later, either through their own purchases or by bringing others to you via recommendation. A site that doesn't focus on usability and conversions won't get that kind of repeat or referral business.

There is so much more to SEO than just SEO. And if your SEO doesn't know that they, frankly, they don't know what they are doing. Is it worth paying for top rankings if your visitors are leaving in absurdly huge numbers? Or would you be better off working with someone who can help you improve your site and get you top rankings at the same time. It's your call!

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 20, 2007

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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