Conversion Rate Optimisation for SEO

There are plenty of great posts out there on conversion rate optimisation, I’ve linked to a few below, however what can you do to improve conversion rates from an SEO point of view?

Lets start with something basic, there are two main ways to increase the conversion rate on a website.

  • Change the website itself by on-site changes, split testing, etc. - CRO
  • Bringing traffic which is more targeted and likely to buy - SEO
If you want to learn about pure CRO and how to carry it out, take a look at this perfectly timed article from Stephen who published this fantastic post on SEOmoz. I’d advise anyone to read this article twice and print off the PDF checklist.

Conversion Rate Optimisation is something Distilled love working on and we’ve had some great results for clients so far.  Tom wrote a post on improving your conversion rate in under 5 minutes which I’d advise you to take a look at.  Whilst this is another great article from Conversion Rate Experts with more tips and tricks on using Google Website Optimiser.

I’m going to focus on the second point above and how conversion rate optimisation ties into your SEO strategy.

For quite a while now, many top SEOs have been preaching the benefits of focusing on conversions as a metric to measure the success of an online marketing campaign as opposed to number of visitors, rankings etc. I’m a bit surprised that this came as a bit of a revelation to some people. I’ve often been in the position where clients have said:

I want to be number 1 for all of these keywords

Their reasoning is either that they want the satisfaction of being above a competitor for a generic keyword, or they’ve done some very basic keyword research and picked out keywords which get the most monthly searches on Google.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the best approach for several reasons -

  • Generic keywords usually do not convert very well
  • Generic keywords are usually harder to rank for and take more resources
When it comes to conversion optimisation for SEO, your priority is to deliver targeted traffic to the website which will improve the overall conversion rate which will bring more sales and generate more revenue.

So how do you deliver more targeted traffic?

1. Look at what is converting well already

I always think that the best place to start is to see what is happening on your website already. This of course assumes that you have an existing website and a decent amount of traffic going to it already. It also assumes that you have some kind of tracking setup for your conversions, whether it be Ecommerce tracking via Google Analytics or Goals tracking. Bottom line is you need to know where your conversions are coming from.

Lets dive into Google Analytics as that is probably the most widely used analytics package you all use - plus I like it!

You need to know which keywords are bringing you the best conversion rate at the moment. You can find this by doing the following -

Go to Traffic Sources > Keywords:

Traffic Sources - Keywords

Click the Ecommerce tab:

Ecommerce Tab

Sort by Ecommerce conversion rate:

Ecommerce Conversion Rate

Export all keywords that have generated conversions into a spreadsheet:

Export to Excel

Get rid of all the columns except for keyword, visitors and ecommerce conversion rate.

Ok now you have this data, you need to identify keywords which can bring you more traffic. This will lead to more conversions as you know that these keywords have already converted into sales.

Run all of these keywords through your favourite keyword ranking software.

Paste the results of the keyword rankings check into your spreadsheet.

Sort by keyword rank, then by visitors.

Now its much easier to see which keywords we could potentially get traffic and conversions for. Unless you are fortunate (or skilled!) enough to already be ranking number 1 for everything! Assuming you are not (yet) then the next step is to go through the list and pick out keywords where you think you can improve your ranking. This is where you need to use a bit of knowledge of your market and experience. You could be ranking second for a high converting keyword but you know that you’ve been trying for ages to knock Wikipedia off the top spot and it hasn’t happened. In this case you may want to move onto another keyword that is more easily achievable.

2. Target the Long Tail

I’m sure you know by now that if you are not targeting the long tail of search traffic then you are missing out on quality traffic, so I’m not going to harp on about this too much apart from providing this diagram with a link to more information on this:

Long Tail Searches

Source: SEOmoz

Instead I’ll share a technique which is more useful to you in quickly identifying your long tail keyphrases from your research using a bit of Excel goodness.

Once you have your big list of keyphrases in Excel, paste the following formula into the cell to the right of your first keyphrase and copy it down the entire column.

=LEN(A1)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1,“ ”,“”))+1

Where A1 contains your keyphrase

Wordcount Formula

You will then have the word count of your keyphrases.  From here its just a case of sorting by this column and you can easily see your long tail keyphrases.  Mash this up with the number of searches and your current rankings and you have a goldmine of data to work from.

One word of caution here - chances are that most of the long tail keyphrases on their own will have small search volumes.  Its only when you nail quite a few of them that you will see a good increase in traffic.  Bear this in mind when explaining your strategy to the client and make sure they are aware that you are going after quality traffic that will convert better as opposed to generic keyphrases.

Remember - we are talking about conversion rate optimisation for SEO, not ranking for tons of keywords that don’t bring the best conversion rates.

3. Look at Visitor Intention

This is particularly relevant if you are working on an Ecommerce website.  There is a process that most buyers will go through before making a purchase, especially on high value items.  The stage they are at in this process influences how likely they are to buy.

There are quite a few versions of the buying process but to keep things simple I’ll use the following diagram -

Buying Cycle Stages

Source - Search Engine Guide

In terms of pure traffic, you’d like to capture visitors at any stage of this process.  However if you are focusing on conversions, then you’d rather capture visitors at the purchase stage.

To capture people at this stage of the process, you need to filter your target keywords so that you are targeting ones which have a clear intention behind them.  This usually means looking for keyphrases that use words such as “buy, order, purchase” etc.  This sounds straight forward but I’ve seen so many SERPs that change dramatically  just by adding these words.

This technique is similar to my previous point in relation to targeting the long tail.  In general, the more words a person uses to search, the further along the buying process they are.  To give you an example -

Searcher 1 - “sheds”

Searcher 2 - “wooden shed with apex roof”

Searcher 1 does not seem to know what type of shed they are looking for, nor do they indicate any kind of intention to buy.  They could be looking for information or a picture of a shed.

Searcher 2 shows that the person has already done some kind of research because they are more specific about the product they want to buy.  They want their shed to be made of wood and have an apex roof.

The second searcher is the one that you’d target if you were looking to improve the conversion rate of your website.  Although targeting the first searcher will bring you much more traffic (and conversions) but I’d imagine the conversion rate would be lower.

Again, similar to the long tail principle, you need to be aware that using techniques such as this will not increase traffic in huge volume immediately.

The bottom line here is to segment your keywords and look for intention to buy keywords and go after them.

4. Ranking for Branded Terms and Variations

Tom actually blogged about this over at SEOmoz last year.  Sounds simple, but do you rank first for your brand/company name plus variations?  Here are a few examples of variations -

  • sale
  • delivery
  • vouchers
  • discount
  • reviews
I don’t mean to annoy my new colleagues over at SEOmoz within my first week but a search for “seomoz promo code” doesn’t return them first on Google :).  This is a good example of where they capture traffic that is more likely to convert.  Below you can quickly see brand variation keyphrases that SEOmoz will want to rank number 1 for.

SEOmoz Branded Searches

5. Getting your Money pages Ranking on SERPs

For many websites, their “money” page will not be the homepage. A money page is the page from which a visitor can take the required action to convert.  An obvious example is an Ecommerce website where an individual product page will be the money page - the page from which they buy the product.

If you can get these pages ranking in the search engines then you are likely to increase your conversion rate.  The reason being that you are cutting out a step for the visitor, instead of going to your homepage then having to find their way to what they want, you are taking them straight there.

There are a few ways to get these pages ranking on the search engines either on their own or as a double listing -

  • Build quality external links direct to them instead of to your homepage
  • Make use of good internal linking to promote the page as much as possible
Conclusion

There are two distinct elements to CRO, both are huge subjects in their own right but as an SEO, you should be focusing on the traffic you send to a website and making sure it is very high quality.  You can do this by following the steps above.

I hope that these points were useful, I’d welcome anyone’s feedback on my first Distilled blog post in the comments.

Paddy Moogan

Paddy Moogan

There’s only one Paddy Moogan and he joined Distilled after spending over two years running marketing campaigns at another web design and development agency. Before that he studied Law at Coventry University where he spent more time learning about...   read more

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11 Comments

  1. Excellent post. I still find it hard to believe that it's 2010 and SEO bloggers still have to justify long-tail SEO.

    As you've rightly pointed out, long-tail phrases are targeted phrases, targeted phrases are converting phrases and that's what pays the bills!

    I'm sick of people pretending that resource-sucking vanity rankings are the goal for everyone.

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  2. Thanks for that "Excel Goodness"...

    Another interesting approach to use and implement well converting keywords is to test them in the page-title AND/ OR the meta-description aiming at a higher CTR in the organic SERPs.

    Users tend to scan the results for keywords. If your page-title and your meta-description are well optimized for converting search queries, you might easily attract more users and more qualified traffic resulting in more conversions...

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  3. These are great points, Paddy. One thing I personally get a lot is people who come to me because their conversion rate dropped and we find out quickly that their traffic mix has changed dramatically. For example, they've had a big increase in organic search traffic, but it's converting at a lower rate than direct or referral traffic, so overall conversion goes down.

    The first thing I tell them is that this isn't always bad. If traffic went up, those visitors have the potential to convert, and their overall sales are usually up (even if CR % went down). The second thing I tell them is exactly what you've pointed out here - not all traffic is good traffic. After you open the spigot, it's sometimes good to dial it back a little and focus on your best traffic.

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  4. Paddy Moogan

    @Andy - yes its important to target the long tail and I still think many people under estimate the return from it, although you do need to bear the short tail in mind I think.

    @Sebastian - optimisation of your META data for better CTR is a good technique although there is some debate as to how much of a factor CTR from organic results is. Rand has rightly pointed out that it can be manipulated fairly easily. But as you say, from a conversions point of view, it can bring good traffic.

    @Pete - Yes I've often seen similar things, for example jumping up the organic rankings for a broad term is great in one sense, but it can negatively effect conversion rate. So you need to look at the big picture when finding out why a conversion rate has changed.

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  5. Excellent article. We too are members over at SEOMoz and I remember the article you referenced. When we first started in seo, we wanted to rank for everything. We ended up ranking well for our main keyphrases, however, our conversion rates were low. Nowadays, just like your “wooden shed with apex roof” example, we too are targeting buyers who know what they want. For instance, we rank well for 'pasco wa real estate' but today's blog entry is about 'homes for sale in west pasco wa,' targeting the buyer that knows exactly what and where they want to live.

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  6. Thank you for the great article. I really liked your idea one. I have started to do this for the sites I work with.

    I was also shocked to see how poorly some sites I worked with ranked for variations such as adding coupon to the search term and have begun to target this as well.

    Overall, really good article!

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  7. Great post! Can definitely relate to #1, working with what is already working. I'm still learning more about CRO so this gave me some other pointers to consider.

    Thanks for the tips..

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  8. "Get rid of all the columns except for keyword, visitors and ecommerce conversion rate."
    I'd add one more column - average order value, and perhaps profit (not sure if profit is available as a column though?). Suppose you just ran a big acquisition campaign at break even to later make profit on additional sales/lifetime value thinking. You don't necessarily want to keep up this break-even stuff for ever.

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  9. Also, I love the little excel formula for getting the number of words in a phrase - quite a practical tip!

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  10. Excellent and very practical article.

    I particularly love the split of searchers by their intentions (extremely important!), and the reminder on how exactly to target the proverbial "long tail".

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  11. Arnold

    Fantastic post! I appreciate all the details. I will definitely use the info

    reply >

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