When CRO and SEO Collide – What do you do?

Published by Asad Zulfahri on

Last Updated on

Back in April, I had the chance to participate in the Virtual Business Summit as one of 24 speakers on various topics in building a successful remote company. I sat down (virtually) with organizer Melissa Smith to talk Search Engine Optimization (SEO). We started talking about one-page scroll sites, and it led to a bigger discussion about my SEO philosophy, which is to just be nice to users. I know that may not seem groundbreaking, but you'd be surprised. When it comes to building websites, so many companies try to push things on you.

CRO Versus SEO

Good SEO has a lot to do with the quality of the user experience. Your website’s ranking is based on factors like how long people stay on your site, and whether it contains information that is relevant to what the user originally searched. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) works a little differently. The whole goal of CRO is to get something from the customer, such as a sale, an email address or an automated call to your business. This means that the user experience is set up to funnel the customer towards a specific action.

If you break it down, a company that hits you with a lot of pop-ups or incentives is really just trying to maximize their conversion rate. If you have an online business, you may find that there is a never-ending push and pull between CRO and SEO. Features that optimize for conversion rates tend to be bad for SEO. While a pop-up might be good at getting a customer to hand over their email address, it may cause countless more users to navigate away from your site. (Google sees this as evidence that your site didn't have what the user was looking for, and they will factor that into your ranking.) SEO doesn't exactly counteract conversion, it just has a different goal. That goal is to build trust with potential customers and to fill your site with content that will boost your organic search. It's much more of a long-term strategy than CRO.

So, which strategy should you go with – CRO or SEO? Well, I think there is a lot of room for compromise. The key is to balance these two approaches so that you can generate a lot of organic traffic to your site, and convert a portion of that traffic.

The Content-Conversion Compromise

Let's say you are publishing an e-book. There are some different ways you can go about using this as a marketing or lead-generation tool. A lot of times, especially at the enterprise level, companies will give you the e-book for free in exchange for your email address. (This is known as gated content.) The benefit of this from a conversion standpoint is that people are highly motivated to give their email address if they can’t get the content any other way.

But from an SEO perspective, I want that e-book to be available to everyone so the content can be seen and indexed by search engines. An e-book is even better than a blog post for SEO because it covers an entire topic from top to bottom. That makes it very keyword-rich content. This is where I would advocate a compromise. You can make the first half of the e-book available to anyone, and then require an email address to read the second half. (If they have read halfway through already, I think they are more likely to give the email than if you require it upfront.) You could also make the e-book available to anyone, but require an email address to download it.

And as an additional argument for SEO, that content can serve the purpose of explaining the value of your company. If you restrict access to it, you are just limiting the number of people who could benefit from the information you're sharing and, subsequently, form a deeper relationship with your brand.

Comparing Short-Term and Long-Term Gains

Some people say there's a trade-off between CRO and SEO. I don't think you have to choose one or the other, you just need to decide whether you are going to prioritize short-term or long-term benefits. When working with companies, I always try to convince them to look at long-term KPIs. Anyone considering investing in SEO should know that it is a long-term strategy. (And your SEO consultant should make this clear, too.) When planning your online selling strategy, you will need to look at how you can balance both short- and long-term goals. That's why I think it should be a good mix of CRO and SEO. The two should work together.

Interested in a more in-depth look at the tug-of-war between CRO and SEO? Check out Neil Patel's post, CRO vs SEO: Which One Should You Focus on Right Now? And the Moz Blog, one of my favorite industry resources, has a great post on What Happens When SEO and CRO Conflict.

Which strategy do you prefer for your website? How has it impacted your business? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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