Search engine marketing is an intense game of strategy, analysis, and patience. But, it's also a game with multiple, sometimes even conflicting, goals. Depending on who you talk to you, some will tell you SEO is about rankings, while others will tell you it's about conversions. It's a classic political struggle trying to answer the question, "what will bring in the greatest profits?"

You need exposure to get the traffic that leads to new business. But, you need to be user friendly in order to convert the traffic you're getting into new business. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Anyone who has been optimizing a site for more than a week understands the value of getting strong search engine placement. Anyone that has had top rankings for more than a week also understands that bringing in new traffic that doesn't convert is pointless.

Why SEO is Like Government (and why government isn't like SEO)

SEO is a lot like government. No matter how many years we've been at it, there always seems to be more to do. And, like a good (or bad) law, we often don't see the effects right away. But, unlike government, SEO's analyze the results of their work. When a bad strategy is implemented, it gets repealed. Not very often is a bad law or government program withdrawn, regardless of the "unintended consequences."


But, I digress.

With SEO, there is almost always something that can be done to improve your site and your search rankings. But, after making specific changes, you must be patient enough to wait for the results of those changes. Then you can come back and compare the new results against previous results. This is the same whether you're making changes to improve your engine rankings or to increase conversion rates.

The changes you can make to your site are virtually endless when testing is involved. But, making too many changes too quickly, without testing and comparing the results, will almost always lead to a less than optimal marketing campaign.

Making Changes that Make Sense (and a lot of cents)

When you make changes without implementing proper tracking and testing procedures, you will often get both positive and negative results (or a combination of both), but you won't be in a position to pinpoint which of those changes were responsible for what results.

Let's say you made two changes to your home page, one was for rankings, the other for usability. If both rankings and conversions increase, you probably have performed two winning changes. But, what if rankings went up while conversions went down?

Simple, go back and undo the usability changes, right? Not necessarily.

It may be that your optimization changes improved rankings, but negatively effected usability, despite having made other usability changes. The usability changes you made may have actually resulted in a positive improvement, but that improvement was counteracted by the optimization changes that, while improving rankings, had a larger negative effect on conversions. Performing both of these changes at the same time makes it hard to pinpoint cause and effect.

Had you performed these changes separately, say the usability changes first, you might have seen an increase in conversion rates with little or no effect on rankings. The following week you would then make your optimization changes to find that your rankings went up, but your conversions dropped to levels lower than they were previously.

Now you know what to do! You undo your optimization changes, because, in this case, better rankings reduced conversions. Since you measured and tracked the results of each change, you can easily undo the change that had the greatest negative impact and then perhaps try something different to improve rankings.

Looking for opportunities to improve your site is an ongoing process. Every change and every test gives you valuable insight into what's working and what isn't. If you uncover a problem, you can't sit on your hands and do nothing. But once a "solution" is implemented, be patient and look to the results to see if it was a viable solution after all.

The Goal is Profits (not first page rankings)

In search engine marketing, there are often many goals: improve rankings, get more sales, increase conversions, drive more traffic, etc.

Profits can be achieved by improving rankings, getting more sales, increasing conversions, driving more traffic, etc. But, none of these is the goal itself. It is a means to the goal. Each of those paths can, and often do, intersect, and any of them can also lead you further away from your goal as well, if you're not careful

When I talk about getting more conversions for less money, I don't necessarily mean being able to spend less money, though that would be nice. But, getting more conversions for less usually requires spending more money, but paying less for each conversion.

Testing every change on your site allows you to keep making improvements in SEO, usability, conversions, etc. so that you can achieve your goal of getting each conversion at a lower cost than the month before. The way I see it, if marketing works the way it should, your marketing budget should always be increasing rather than decreasing, assuming, of course, that you can handle the increased business that the improvements continue to bring in.

Making sure you are using a measured approach to all your marketing efforts allows you slow, steady, and consistent growth in profits. When it's all said and done, it comes back to doing all that you can to improve your business, and measuring the results to make sure that what you're doing is working. Measuring only the end result without measuring the success or failures of the processes along the way will only result in a nice tasting goulash of a marketing campaign. Why settle for that when you can have the prime rib instead?

March 16, 2011

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.


Great Post.
I tend to lean towards the fact that rankings come first. My experience is that until you get anough traffic to a site it can be difficult to test any conversion optimisation strategies and get any kind of meaningful results.
But I certainly agree that the end goal needs to be the overall profitability of the website and that the results of any changes need to be measured and assessed along the way.
I'm not a great fan of ghoulash!!

Some Great Points!

I really like and agree with the point that measure and then implement the techniques on your website. Without tracking if you implement two different techniques then its hard to figure out which one is working and who is the real impact of the technique i implemented.

At last yes the real goals are profits...and this is the time when different companies (especially who hire inhouse SEO) that the real goal is not the top rankings in Search Engine Rankings (often great general terms that you might think is valuable for your business didn't have convertible traffic) the real target is to bring that targeted traffic that can convert.

I couldn't agree with you more!

I'm constantly reminding my clients that SEO is an ongoing process and that they won't see results immediately. But so many businesses are in such a rush to see ROI, they don't let enough time pass to really know if their SEO is working or not.

They get so hung up on their search rank position that they don't measure success or failure by any other component. It's all about converting!

"The Goal is Profits (not first page rankings)" this is very true. I hate having to tell potential/existing clients that they will have to change the design of their site or landing pages in order to convert the traffic gained from rankings. Sometimes it goes over well but other times, eh not so much.

SEO is about good content first and then backlinks second. That's it. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

Goal would obviously remain profit for majority of website developers. SEO is a sureshot means to achieve that profit. "Good Content" & "Quality Backlinks" are the vital nutrients to nurture a website which will bear fruits early if necessary discipline is maintained.

To get more conversions, need more traffic. To get more traffic need rankings. But it doesn't mean that you will be getting more conversions by getting first page ranking... Puzzle!

I am confused that how i can get profit if i am not visible in serp. When i promote my clients site i always focus for an attractive title with targeting keywords. And i hope that i will get the rankings as well as hits those convert to leads. The title is most important and your site should be more user friendly. That's all.

SEO and usability have to go hand in hand. A good SEO campaign cannot have one without the other. Getting to the top of the listings does not automatically increase ROI if the additional visitors to the site are not converting.

Andrew - Rankings don't bring profits. They bring traffic. Converting traffic can help deliver profits, but only if the site does a proper job of funneling visitors through the conversion process with plenty of enticement along the way.

Top rankings will not always add to the bottom line, so often people fight for top rankings on keywords that are to global. Good rankings on relevant key phrases with attention paid to the experience the visitor will have when landing on the site, should result in conversions.

So in answer to your question on which comes first the chicken or the egg?

Who knows, but without both you’ll have a tough time promoting the site.

Great idea to compare SEO and government)). But it turns out to be surprisingly truthful

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Who Needs Profits...When You've Got Good Rankings?!!