Ever see one of those movies where some secret government agency has a super high-tech office in an old, dilapidated building in some rundown part of town? The camera starts on the outside, looking over a ghetto as it moves down the street. It zeros in on a rundown building that a squatter would be embarrassed to live in. Then, as the camera moves inside we are shown a state-of-the art facility worthy of a Manhattan high-rise office in the 22nd century.

Sometimes SEO is just like that, but the opposite. A lot of time and energy is spent on the "exterior" (search engine rankings) while ignoring the interior (building a great website.)

Imagine yourself driving through a newly renovated area of town. The asphalt is freshly laid with bright yellow lines down the middle. Young, budding plants have been planted along the sidewalks between the street and newly stuccoed office buildings that look to be full of leather bound books smelling of rich mahogany. Now imagine walking into one of those buildings to find torn up carpet, water-stained ceilings, crumbling sheet rock on the walls, and someone doing their business off in the corner.

Imagine the change of emotions you'd feel. Stepping up to the door you feel confident that you're walking into a place that's going to meet your needs. But as soon as you open the door, you're hit with a stench that is the forebear of whats to come.

Focusing on search engine rankings while ignoring the quality and usability of your website may be a great way to get visitors in the door, but what will they find once they get there?

Putting your money where it counts.

When you're on a budget, as many businesses are today, you really want to spend your money where you're likely to get the greatest benefit. Unfortunately, money isn't always spent on what is actually the most beneficial, but rather what is perceived to be. While SEO can help you gain exposure and drive traffic to the front door of your website, if what's behind those doors isn't up to expectations, all the money getting them there is simply a waste.

A couple years ago I had my wisdom teeth removed, had a root canal and then a cap put on one of my teeth all in a couple of months time. I had to see several different dentists, each a specialist in a different area, so I got to see quite a few dentists offices, noticing a stark contrast between them.

Most of the offices were roomy and full of nice furniture, but one stood out as a genuinely scary experience, especially for someone who suffers from mild claustrophobia. The receptionist's desk was two and a half feet wide and piled high with about a years worth of "stuff that can wait."

I was placed in one of the procedure "rooms" looking right at someone else being examined by one of the nurses. As I laid back in the chair to get some X-rays, the nurse had to duck repeatedly around overhanging equipment while stepping over a small office trash can to get out to the hallway. It was like trying to perform an operation in a closet.

This is what many business websites are like when they focus on SEO and ignore their website design. There is nothing wrong with investing in SEO to drive traffic, but SEO is not the end of the story.

Conversions matter

A while back we had a long-time client undergo a major site redesign. They had held their rankings pretty solidly over the years but the site was design was getting stale. We had also been prodding over the previous months to address their site's many inefficiencies. Because their business had been growing significantly since we started working on their SEO campaign, they were never in a real hurry to make any changes. But finally they made the move.

The client invested in a major redevelopment of the site and rolled it out to the public. Almost immediately something amazing happened. Their conversion rates jumped by 30%!

This jump wasn't the result of new keywords optimized, or previously optimized keywords suddenly moving up in the rankings. The increase in conversions was directly tied to making their site more appealing and user-friendly.

The new site design cost them about what a years worth of SEO cost them. With a much more user and search engine friendly site, the efforts we were able to shift the efforts of the SEO campaign from creating band-aid solutions to being able to invest in a far more focused keyword targeting campaign.

With the additional revenue the client began talking about expanding the online marketing efforts; and why not? With a newly polished, high-tech interior, why not do all that you can to drive even more traffic to the higher-converting site?

No one can deny the value of getting first page placement for relevant keyword phrases. But many small businesses still need to be convinced that there is more to marketing than rankings and traffic. Bringing traffic into the slums isn't all that difficult to do. Getting someone to buy from you while they're there is. Lucky for you, it's not too great of a distance to go from trash to cash. Conversions do matter. And in the end, conversions are what matter most.

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.



First of all, I love the quote about exterior vs. interior, and I'll talk about that in a tweet to you later today, but I do want to ask your opinion on the new CMS group that has taken over the design world over the last 24 months. Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal have all becoem almost the go-to platforms for web design, so my question to you is: How does this exterior vs. interior argument deal with the fact that people are using box solutions instead of building sites from scratch. Is it a problem for CMS users too, or moreso for those who build HTML/PHP/etc sites from scratch.


Elija, you make a fair point but making the "interior" of the site is more than just the underlying system, though that weighs heavily. Usability aspects come into play a great deal. This is everything from placement of content, navigation, colors, calls to action, design elements and a whole lot more.

Sometimes SEO is just like that, but the opposite. A lot of time and energy is spent on the "exterior" (search engine rankings) while ignoring the interior (building a great website.).. I Agree With this.. You must considered both interior and exterior!!

It's so easy to get narrow minded and only focus on one or the other - 'the interior' or 'the exterior'. Both are equally important though. Great post and reminder!

No doubt usability goes a long way. You can get all the traffic you want - if your site doesn't give your users what they want (and maybe what they didn't know they wanted) it's all for nought.

Good post.

ps It's worth mentioning that Harlem is actually located on Manhattan. So there's actually no distance at all between the two.

@mike - shows what I know about NY geography. :)

WONDERFUL post! But Stoney, you gotta come visit your pal CK (who lives in NYC for 13+ years) as Harlem is Manhattan (and a very, very historical part of Manhattan at that--all the jazz greats, the Apollo, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Blvd!). And now that Bill Clinton has had offices there for over 5 years... it's actually a very pricey part of the city. Hey, just gives you an excuse to come to NYC!

PS: And Brooklyn wouldn't work either as that's all the rage since '00 and is billed out as the new Manhattan now ;-)

PPS: Happy Holidays!

I guess my ignorance is no longer bliss. Thanks for the heads up CK. :) I've edited the post, hopefully this is more accurate. :)

Absolutely right !! I want to take it to even one step further. Focus on interior from the very first day launch of your website. This way your initial traffic will even start to become your loyal and trusted customers.

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