SEO is Pointless (But You Don’t Have to Tell Your Clients)

By Jordan McCollum

Sad, but true: our industry is pointless. But don’t go and trash your beautiful keyword research (or worse, kill this browser window!). Of course SEO has a purpose. Simply stated, the purpose of “pure” SEO is to generate more qualified traffic to a website. And that’s good—more is better. Right?

Not always. Sometimes, more is just more.

How can you tell if your SEO is pointless? Here’s an example: Jim Bob’s Weddings-and-Webdings contracted with an SEO company. Six months into the contract, Jim Bob is forwarded a disturbing article that claims “SEO is Pointless.” He calls his SEO for the conversion rate, as suggested in the article. After some prying, Jim Bob finally gets a breakdown:

Pre optimization: 335 unique visitors/month 5 conversions/month
Post optimization: 9500 unique visitors/month 50 conversions/month

Initially, these numbers look vaguely impressive. After all, Jim Bob is now getting ten times the conversions that he was before. But Jim Bob persists: what’s the conversion rate? Calculate out the percentages: Jim Bob’s gone from a low-but-okay conversion rate of 1.5% to a much-less-respectable 0.5%. Jim Bob terminates his contract. Jim Bob’s ex-SEO suffered from tunnel vision and focused on delivering more traffic instead of more value.

Some clients are satisfied with a lower conversion rate as long as they have more conversions. Don’t let those complacent clients lull you into thinking that SEO should end at a landing page. No amount of traffic can compensate for a website that won’t convert, losing visitors like water through a sieve. This is even more true in a PPC campaign, where you have to pay for each visitor. Eventually, the client will realize that they’re paying for something pointless and worthless, and you’ll lose them as a client.

SEO cannot just be about getting visitors to a site or even making the site nice for them to play on. There must be a goal that is larger than simply bringing more people to the site. Why do your clients want higher rankings and more traffic in the first place? To get more buyers, not more page views.

So what’s an SEO to do? Think about that statistic I mentioned earlier: conversion rate. With a little work, Jim Bob’s Weddings-and-Webdings could creep up to a 3.13% conversion rate. Before you point out that 3.13% is less than 3 percentage points better than the SEO’s original effort, fire up the calculator for a little more math.

Jim Bob’s SEO is proud of 9500 uniques/month. Now, instead of sitting back and waiting for the revenues to roll in (and getting fired), the SEO turns her attention to the Weddings-and-Webdings site itself and make a few adjustments to get up to the 3.13% conversion rate. The 50 conversions/month jump to almost 300 conversions/month. Want an even more impressive statistic to share with Jim Bob? That’s 600% lift—or 6000% lift over the pre-SEO+Conversion Rate Enhancement numbers.

How can you offer such amazing value to your SEO clients? The plan is three-fold: adjust client expectations, deliver and report.

1. Adjust client expectations. Why is this important? Chances are your SEO clients will be very well-educated about (and fixated on) the “search engine” part of SEO. They want rankings and the commensurate traffic. That’s good. That’s why they’ve hired you. But don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal of their website: sales, leads or whatever other conversions they track. If they find out in 6 months that their conversion rate has dropped significantly—or if their revenue hasn’t increased proportionately with their traffic—then they’ll realize that more is just more, and they don’t want to pay for “just more” anymore. If you can always keep the ultimate goal of not just more traffic but more conversions in sight, you can show your client the value your services provide.

2. Deliver. Great. Now your client expects you to improve their conversion rate. How do you do it? Here are a few tips to get you started:
* Examine exit pages and bounce rates. Look at the pages which turn people off, especially people who’ve just found your site. Are your landing pages turning people away? Your 55 question, 17 page order form? Reexamine the pages that drive your visitors away. Are they targeting the right audience? Are they too complex or too simple? Can the visitor see where to go next?

* Create clear paths. Show visitors what they should do next. Say they arrive on a landing page. They can learn more about your products, order now or see related products. Don’t make your visitors ponder long and hard about where to go from here. Put more calls to action in your text and graphics, placed prominently above the fold. Guide them down the “conversion funnel.”

* Simplify, simplify, simplify. This goes hand-in-hand with creating clear paths. Make your navigation standard throughout the site, easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to use. Eliminate any unnecessary fields and steps from your order form. If visitors use site navigation to abandon a shopping cart, eliminate it from the checkout process.

3. Report. Make sure you and your client track the conversions generated in your campaign so that you can show the value of your efforts.

These tips only scratch the surface of conversion rate enhancement techniques. SEO as an end unto itself may be pointless, but all your keyword research and content creation need not be in vain. Just keep the true goal of the website in sight and you’ll be on your way to providing your clients real, demonstrable value in no time. Stop your clients’ websites from losing potential customers like a sieve and start funneling them through the conversion process with conversion rate enhancement services.