What Are the Overlaps Between CRO and SEO?

I am not an SEO practitioner.  So why blog about it?  Because there still seems to be misunderstanding out there in the online marketing world about how SEO does, or doesn’t, fit into a Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) strategy.

For some background, you can read Melissa Burdon’s post from over 3 years ago about the “battle” between SEO and conversion.  Still a completely valid and valuable post today! Another good one is by Bryan Eisenberg, where he coined the phrase “Searcher Experience Optimization” as a better fit for the SEO acronym.

Let’s start with some basic definitions (Wikipedia’s, with my editing for length) to illustrate the space each discipline fills…

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO): The science and art of creating an experience for a website visitor with the goal of converting the visitor into a customer.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic”) search results.

Assuming those definitions are OK, we can now see where the overlaps might be:

  • Both deal with website visitors; CRO wants to give them a certain experience, and SEO wants to find them where they’re searching, and give them reason to visit a site.
  • Both should be extremely interested in the quality of traffic, qualified vs. unqualified.
  • Both are ways to make more money online, so both are very interesting to online marketers who want to improve the results of their business.
  • I’d argue that both are “art and science” because both are data-driven, yet require a bit of talent and experience to do well.

The virtual “places” where SEO And CRO intersect are a) on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) b) on the landing page where the prospect enters the site from the SERP and c) in keywords.  These are crucial places where the two disciplines can work together, share insights, and “optimize in both directions.”   Alternatively, practitioners can act petty, protect their turf, and halt optimization progress.

I believe the key to making them work in harmony (with exponential improvement) is to go back to Bryan’s suggested, new definition of SEO: “Searcher Experience Optimization.”

Instead of focusing only on high rankings and driving more traffic volume to a page, SEO should also embrace finding and qualifying high-quality traffic, then helping to create content that resonates with those who visit the site.  SERP listings, especially meta descriptions, need to be persuasive enough to get a micro-conversion (the clickthrough).  Landing pages certainly need to contain the right keywords, but not at the expense of good, persuasive copywriting that converts.  And keywords (which show searchers’ intent) need to be a shared focus; you cannot optimize for conversion rate if you don’t understand visitor intent, and keywords are perhaps the quickest/easiest way to get that understanding.

From there, CRO can add its expertise in site behavior, persuasion, testing, and customer empathy to further optimize the searcher’s experience.  Remember, CRO wants to create an experience for a visitor with the goal of converting them into a customer.  Search engine traffic is visitors, so it is the goal of CRO to give organic traffic visitors an experience good enough to convert them.

We’ve always recommended (always = 10 years) that conversion rate optimization should come first; plug the holes in your leaky bucket (website) before you pour more water (organic traffic) in.  A quick caveat is that if your site only gets a handful of conversions a week, you should focus on increasing traffic to the point where you can at least run valid tests.  Once a good CRO program is in place, a good SEO program can continuously find and drive high-quality, qualified traffic into the website as it continues to be optimized to convert prospects into customers more efficiently.

Despite tongue-in-cheek references across both industries to the “battle” between the two disciplines, we truly believe the two disciplines can work hand-in-hand to drive significant results for online marketers at companies of all sizes.

We’ve seen it work, but not enough times, so that’s a challenge to all the various disciplines in the online marketing world: we need to stop being territorial and work together.  The challenge to online marketers (who hire and fire us) is: think more holistically, and structure marketing initiatives, goals, and incentives that discourage territorial behavior.

Author’s bio: David Hoang works as a copywriter for Write Any Papers. He used to be a web designer, but he decided to change his career. In this case, David has an opportunity to tell others how to create a perfect website design.