Search engine optimization (SEO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) go hand in glove.
SEO can help you find out where you’re losing conversions and optimize to get them back again. But that’s only if you’re doing it right. If you’re still optimizing like it’s 2005, then you’ll have a very different experience, because SEO has changed — a lot.
Step into my time machine (I’ve always wanted to say that) and check out some old SEO best practices that seem weird now.
1. Focusing on the Mighty Keyword
When I got started as a freelance web writer, all anyone could talk about was keywords. At the beginning, SEO was all about taking a single keyword or short keyword phrase with a high search volume and cramming that exact phrase into content as much as you possibly could.
Those in the know spent a lot of time working out the optimal keyword density and passing these directives on to writers. The idea was that the more keywords your content had, the more visible it would be in search results and the more traffic you would get — and it worked, for a while.
But that doesn’t work any more. Over the years Google has got smarter about delivering quality to web users. So now marketers looking to win traffic have to deliver quality too.
Yes, keywords are still important, but mainly because of what you can learn aboutuser intent. Give users what they want and need and your conversion will improve (and your content will be more readable too.)
Moz’s Rand Fishkin gets it right: he suggests that in assessing keywords today (because they still have some importance), you need to consider:
how that matches with searcher intent and your key goals
what content you need to service those goals
the potential reach and the value to your business
2. Obsession with Ranking
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a change in the emails I get from some less-than-ethical SEO marketers.
Back in the old days, it was all about guaranteeing a high page rank by any means necessary. Gaming search engines to get your site rank up and people to the page was part of the process. That’s changed too.
A recent infographic on the Quicksprout blog shows that the old-style obsession with keywords and ranking has been replaced with an interest in user engagement and ROI. In fact, ranking isn’t even listed as something SEOs focus on and keywords have dropped into fourth place behind analytics, content creation and social media marketing.
3. Ignoring Content Quality
Let’s talk content. I still remember when writers were asked to churn out content. Quantity was more important than quality, because the thinking went that if you had plenty of articles with the right keywords, people would come to your site and stick around. And a good web article was between 250 and 500 words — end of story.
A lot of web content in the old days was lightweight and low-value, precisely because of this formulaic approach. That won’t fly now.
Content quality is an important aspect of SEO. That means content that answers users’ questions with the necessary depth and breadth. Provide value to your audience and you’re much more likely to win conversions.
All of Google’s algorithm updates have focused on reducing the amount of poor content users see while increasing the number of relevant results. But as Neil Patel points out, don’t get sucked into the long-form content trap either. Instead, focus your strategy on regularly delivering what’s appropriate and relevant to your audience, whatever the length.
4. Bulk Link Building
The other part of old-style SEO best practices (which would get you Google-slapped now) was building inbound links from wherever you could. Article marketing, directory sites, article sites, link networks, unacknowledged sponsored content — it didn’t seem to matter. Spammy link-building practices were the order of the day, till Google put the lid on them.
Again, quality rules over quantity. Today, large numbers of inbound links from questionable sources will devalue your site. A single link from an authority site, which you have earned rather than bought, is the way to go. And that’s what you get from creating quality content as mentioned above.
A high quality recommendation can lead to conversions — that’s how SEO works now.
5. Forgetting about Social
Maybe it was just my experience, but when I first started writing web content (in the days before Twitter), people uploaded the content to their website then used some of the shady practices above to get people interested. At the start, it was rare for businesses to use social bookmarking sites, and many of them didn’t appear to have content strategies.
Even when Twitter started and Facebook went public in 2006, no-one knew what to do with them at first. It was more about shooting the breeze with the people who got it. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
Social media is now a key part of both SEO and CRO because social signals show which content people are interested in and what’s relevant to them.
That’s why making it easy for people to discover and share your content and landing pages is so important. And content marketing can amplify those social signals when you have a strategy for sharing content across multiple sites.
6. Ignoring User Experience
Old-style SEO didn’t take much account of user experience. In fairness, at the time, many users were less discerning about what they expected from a website. But improvements in technology and increased familiarity have changed that, so users won’t put up with websites that don’t work for them. That’s even more true for mobile device users.
Get user experience right and you will avoid pogo sticking; get it wrong and users will click away and never come back to find out about your brilliant offer.
In other words, good user experience equals good conversions. And poor user experience equals no conversions at all.
7. Forgetting about Authority and Reputation
There have always been high profile businesses with a good reputation, but in old-style SEO that didn’t always translate to a similar online presence. Frankly, mistakes were made (some companies are still making them). But it’s not too late to change.
In SEO today, it’s all about authority and reputation. For websites, page rank has been replaced by domain authority and page authority, based on a wide range of ranking factors, as the Rand Fishkin presentation linked above shows.
He adds that the authority and reputation of your brand are also important, and there’s a lot more work to do to make this obvious. He says that in order to be successful at SEO you need to be clear about who your target customer is, who influences them and what channels you need to use to reach them.
You need to understand where customer issues align with your business goals. And you need to work out how you’re going to spread the word and make people see your business as the go-to destination rather than one of your competitors.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Are you still relying on old SEO best practices? How have you changed your approach to SEO for conversions?