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Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2010 at 10:30 am

What Are the Overlaps Between CRO and SEO?

By Brendan Regan
April 7th, 2010

SEO.001FutureNow is not a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firm.  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 conversionStill 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 un-paid (“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. un-qualified.
  • 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 copy writing 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 togetherThe challenge to online marketers (who hire and fire us) is: think more holistically, and structure marketing initiatives, goals, and incentives that discourage the territorial behavior.

Who knows, maybe someday we won’t need two acronyms ;)

Add Your Comments

Comments (106)

  1. I am part of the camp that believes Google and other search engines may also take into account things such as bounce rate, user engagement (in terms of time on site) and even conversion themselves (given that many sites use Analytics to measure goals) in their rankings algorithms (albeit a small part). So there is another way in which CRO and SEO actually overlap and effect each other.

  2. Even though most of my job is SEO for small business, I believe that CRO should come first. Why bring a lot of visitors to an ugly and difficult to use website ?

  3. Couldn’t agree more. Searchers are an important segment to consider for CRO. The SERP is the first microconversion. Also a string overlap between building findable websites, usable websites and websites that convert. Huge synergies to achieve with a more holistic approach.

  4. I think SEO is the most important thing. Then I consider the CRO.

  5. For me, the resulting traffic of SEO dictates the approach to CRO because, you never really know what that traffic is ‘high quality’ for until you watch it and see what they do, search for and linger at on your website. I can’t recall ever tailoring my SEO to better fit my CRO.
    Over the past decade, I’ve launched several successful forums and there is a very similar rule to success with forums. “Accept the group of people that you get and cater to them rather than try to change the forum to be more what you yourself envision that it should be.”
    Thanks Brendan. I enjoyed your post. It is very insightful.

  6. [...] What Are the Overlaps Between CRO and SEO? Published: April 7, 2010 Source: Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc FutureNow is not a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firm. 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… [...]

  7. [...] What Are the Overlaps Between CRO and SEO? Published: April 7, 2010 Source: Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc FutureNow is not a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firm. 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… [...]

  8. CRO isn’t as important to me right now because all I really use is Adsense and that is already getting a high CTR. So for me SEO is still the most important.

  9. Plug the holes in your leaky bucket (website) before you pour more water (organic traffic) in.

    I totally agree with this. Visitors should be able to find something worthwhile in your website to increase conversion and so that they would want to come back again and again. If there’s lots of traffic but you have an imperfect website then eventually that traffic will be lost because they will find a better website than yours.

  10. I think SEO is the most important thing. Then I consider the CRO.

  11. Yeah honestly the problem is most people focus on SEO, when their conversion is terrible. They think that getting thousands of visitors will solve all their problems, but it will only waste more people’s time.

  12. SEO and CRO can work together very well.

    There’s a post and good discussion on our blog called “How to Combine CRO with SEO”

  13. I agree, CRO should be first, then SEO drives DOLLARS not CLICKS.

    As SEO continues to evolve and large companies get better at conversion, SMBs will need to sharpen their CRs or they will get left behind even more, no matter how good they are at SEO.

  14. My assessment is SEO practitioner finds SERP very important to a website. Now CRO will comes along if you know what you are doing as SEO person that’s why Niche is also important.

    “Quality and not Quantity is a must when building links”

  15. CRO is even more important in SEM. Since SEO is essentially free to some extent, any return can be deem an infinite ROI. But you pay for SEM, and thus really important to focus on CRO.

  16. SEO is a prerequisite to CRO. Without SEO, you have no traffic and it really doesnt matter about CRO then.

  17. Great post. SEO has always gotten so much attention but CRO is the hidden gem. The two obviously go hand-in-hand but CRO is an elusive art. Thanks for the post.

  18. Considering them two heaps, the SEO heap and the CRO heap…I think the CRO heap is included in the SEO heap.

  19. @Money hints

    In that case a conversion for you is an adsense click. You can optimise your site for these conversions, for example by testing different positions that ads appear on the page.

  20. I realized that in my case its time to concentrate on CRO. Thanks for the tip.

  21. In order of importance, (From a professional seo’s standpoint)
    SEO is most important, because without traffic there will be NO sales.
    CRO is second, there is no point in paying for all that bandwidth used by traffic if you are not monetizing the traffic.
    I always try to keep CRO in mind when developing a new site.
    Thanks great blog and info BTW.

  22. I don’t believe in SEO any more. The market is already divided and everything is indexed. You have no chances to change anything.

  23. Both deal with visitors. It is all about the end user experience.

  24. @ Booking King

    I totally disagree. SEO is, and will always be very important to the success of any online presence.

  25. both deal with visitors.it is all about the end user ecperince

  26. thank for the insight. I’m in the opinion both should work hand in hand.

    SEO is use to drive in organic traffic, CRO is to made the visiting a pleasant and fruitful for visitors. When both work in hormony, perhaps we’re then seeing a perfect online marketing business.

    -Ample

  27. Someone said that ” SEO is not everythink. Only helper”..I think soo..

  28. Wow. This is very miond opening. I have only been concentrating on SEO and I have not even considered CRO. I am going to have to change my whole game plan now. Thanks a milli.

  29. Good SEO gives you more traffic to your website, and hence, has a potential to convert some kind of sales or exposure. 80% of organic searches to your website are from search engines. Check your Google analytical and see for yourself. So to Booking king commenter when you say you don’t believe in SEO anymore, you are fooling yourself.

  30. Nice. Like the image that shows there are points that the two activities interact. Those who have success focusing only on SEO (not CRO) are probably finding this because of the nature of their product or service, or their competitive environment – not because CRO isn’t important to businesses generally.

  31. While the above definition might suggest that SEO focuses on the volume of traffic to a given web site, the reality is SEO is the first step to CRO. The primary goal of SEO is to tailor the increase the page relevance to certain keyphrases that propective customers might use to query the Search Engine. Therefore when doing SEO you are actually focusing on bringing a very targeted traffic, people who are most likely interested in what you have to offer. In that sense SEO and CRO are intertwined.

  32. Brendan,
    Great article! I espically liked your leaking bucket metaphor. Why increase traffic when your not keeping what you have? Thanks for the info.

  33. Hi Brendan:

    I liked the way you have articulated this.

    I think it’s more and more about the quality of the content and credibility.

    Create the content to answer the question the web site visitor has and it helps SEO and CRO.

    -Deven

  34. SEO are so important for site popularity, after all SEO works we can pay attention on CRO.

  35. I think, while building the website, we have to keep both the metrics in place i.e., SEO & CRO and design it. As it’s said, serp = traffic, landing page = quality, keywords = conversion.

  36. How much of a risk is website optimisation to your SEO?

    If you’re running MVT you could find your most effective combination for conversions is actually detrimental to your search engine ranking.

  37. @Andy Moore: We believe the answer is “slight, if any,” and Google agrees. It’s true that post-experiment changes that improve CR could hurt your ranking. If it drops you from page 1 to page 2, I might not make the change. But if it dropped me from #2 listing to #4, I’d definitely do it.

  38. A very good article – it does not seem that there are very many companies that I have seen that really have this combination / art down, or they are not very vocal about it. Great article!

  39. Completely agree, both are important and positively influence the success of each other so they do need to work together. I see most people start with SEO and look at CRO later though.

  40. Search engine optimization is so important to web development with or without CRO concerns. SEO is half the battle in web work.

  41. I´ve always had hard time to separate conversion optimization and search engine marketing as different fields.

    The point in all web marketing is to optimize the buying process. This means you need to consider both SEO and Conversion issues from the beginning.

    Okay, some techniques are purely SEO and some are purely CRO. But in the end (at least in smaller markets) you need more holistic approach to success.

  42. Nice. Like the image that shows there are points that the two activities interact. Those who have success focusing only on SEO (not CRO) are probably finding this because of the nature of their product or service, or their competitive environment – not because CRO isn’t important to businesses generally.

  43. Yeah honestly the problem is most people focus on SEO, when their conversion is terrible. They think that getting thousands of visitors will solve all their problems, but it will only waste more people’s time.

  44. I like the ‘search experience optimizer’ term better than search engine optimization. I hate seeing a ton of traffic only to have a garbage conversion rate.

  45. In fact I believe SEO and CRO absolutely *need* to work together. Without enough traffic, it is difficult for a new site to determine if its conversions are any good — and a lot of new sites rely on SEO for traffic. And of course without conversion, all the traffic in the world won’t produce sales (and profits).

    One way to overcome this problem is to first use some other traffic generating method, like paid search (eg Google Adwords) to drive traffic to your site for a small price. With a reasonable amount of this traffic, you can see if your site converts at a good rate.

  46. Dear author, I think SEO can make CRO. Firstly you have to pass time for SEO, then you can work for creating reader to customer. CRO concept can be spreed rapidly like as SEO.

  47. Good article Brendan. The biggest issue isn’t what we know and understand but rather trying to get clients to see where the relationship between SEO and CRO starts/ends.

    We have many clients who expect our Search team to also convert the visitors they get. When we explain that SEM and CRO are complimentary but different skills needing different people and budgets they don’t usually want to get it!

    This will hopefully change as people finally see the differences and understanding of the digital skills improves.

    So, I don’ think the challenge is getting the practitioners to work together – they are clever enough to know that – but rather it is to get the clients to understand it!

  48. “…I think SEO can make CRO. Firstly you have to pass time for SEO, then you can work for creating reader to customer. CRO concept can be spreed rapidly like as SEO…”- in my opinion creating your website for human realities, not search engines, will do good SEO and CRO both!

  49. This is an interesting article. Talking to clients in a conversational way while using the appropriate keywords is a challenge. Maybe it is a mix to separate tire kickers from purchasers.

  50. 这是一个有趣的文章。谈话的方式向客户交谈时使用适当的关键字是一个挑战。也许这是一个从买家组合,以单独的轮胎踢球手。

  51. I don’t think that in near future these two terms will be acronyms as in seo there may be or not be, a well designed landing page but in CRO there must a excellent landing page for a definite conversion
    !

  52. It can be looked two ways. You could bring in tons of traffic, but without CRO you wont convert them into sales. And vice versa, you need both. A balance is essential.

  53. You can take adventage of so many thinks to improve your CRO without lossing your SEO position! That’s great!

  54. Well, you could look at it two ways. If you don’t optimize for conversions, who cares how much traffic you have? But if you don’t have any traffic in the first place, why optimize for conversions?

    Ouch, my head hurts.

  55. After reading most of the comments it seems most people are favoring one over the other. I favor balance.

    If your goal is to earn from adsense and attain a high CTR, I believe the first paragraph on your web page should at the least impress your visitors. I personally feel visitors would be more inclined to click trough after a few good words.

    This post is great information for SEO pros and website owners. It covers the balance needed to get a action from a website visitor.

  56. I tend to say SEO first, then CRO. The balance between is a good thing. But I think the strategy should be SEO first.

  57. yes, i gree with the point, SEO first ,then CRO.get more customers is
    the goal both for SEO and CRO

  58. I think SEO should be done first before you get enough visitors to be able to test conversions then CRO should be done but also continue doing SEO.

  59. Driving traffic is important to a website, so also is converting those visitors into customers. A site needs SEO for getting traffic, and if combined with CRO it will really boost your SEO efforts!

  60. I agree that CRO has to come before SEO but in reality both can coincide quite nicely. People who tend to go overboard with SEO techniques don’t have good long term results with Google anyway. Moderation is the key.

  61. You can take adventage of so many thinks to improve your CRO without lossing your SEO position! That’s great!

  62. Just because disciplines such as SEM, SEO, CRO and how they all blend together more and more and influence each other a holistic view of various online marketing disciplines is becoming increasingly important.

  63. I think that CRO is more important then SEO.
    SEO is unusefull without CRO.
    CRO is the main obiective of a SEO action.

  64. Of course SEO is the first, and after CRO. No doubt!

  65. Traffic is important to a website, a site needs SEO for getting traffic, and if combined with CRO it will really boost your traffic!

  66. I don’t even think they are overlaps as much as they go hand in hand.

  67. Nice and Informative article .I think SEO has much importance then CRO.

  68. Isn’t the overlap between SEO and CRO all that really matters?

  69. SEO are so important for site popularity, after all SEO works we can pay attention on CRO.

  70. CRO is as important an activity for eBusiness just as SEO and SEM, it will ensure that the page the user lands on is focused on giving them the right information for conversion. If a site isn’t converting, the site optimization is just a waste!

  71. Sometimes, the best way to improve your CRO is having good quality traffic first. Maybe it is not the best way to do things, but internet marketers recommend it.

  72. CRO improves the quality of the websites for the visitors while SEO increase the number of visitors.

  73. Both are important and both have separates responsibility in web marketing.

  74. I’ve always put SEO first, but simply because I know SEO pretty well and would always implement basic on page SEO whether there’s anything to convert or not. Now I’m getting into marketing, I’m having to learn about conversion rates and it’s not easy!

  75. CRO and SEO should never hurt each other.but there always conflicts between them in practice.We need find a golden ratio between CRO and SEO.

  76. After reading this article i think CRO and SEO both have own role to achieve or gain business from websites.Both are important.

  77. I usually feel that having a ‘crappy’ looking, simple page, and bad content will make visitors want to ‘exit’ my site by clicking an ad.

  78. SEO and CRO work better together!!!

  79. [...] Source:What Are the Overlaps Between CRO and SEO? Share and Enjoy: [...]

  80. I think one thing we have to realize is that in a lot of situations, companies have already committed time and budget to SEO. As CRO professionals we need to make sure we show how we can work with their SEO team.

  81. Just read today and found this post extremely interesting.
    I think the main problem is the lack of understanding the difference between SEO and CRO.But i know very well and CRO is definitely become a first choice of me because i don’t just want more traffic but more traffic that actually DO something.

  82. Every sites need to attract visitors and its also need to visitors will becomes a customer.Both things are important in online business.Or in other word we can say that, CRO will make your SEO more effective.

  83. I think both are important and have own responsibility.
    A great volume or quality of traffic to a web site with low conversion rate is not going to help your business same like a
    great conversion rate on a site with super low traffic.

  84. thank for the insight. I’m in the opinion both should work hand in hand.

  85. I agree that they both go hand in hand. I always try to make sure that my keywords are words that will generate sales and not just traffic. If people are only looking for information, they usually won’t buy.

  86. Nice and Informative article .I think SEO has much importance than CRO.

  87. SEO are so important for site popularity, after all SEO works we can pay attention on CRO.

  88. Great post. For me SEO is the more important because it drives traffic in you site and through that your site will become more popular. People will visit your site as open as Google display your site in the first page.

  89. I don’t believe in SEO any more. Everything is indexed. You have no chances to change anything.

  90. Great post. SEO has always gotten so much attention but CRO is the hidden gem. The two obviously go hand-in-hand but CRO is an elusive art. Thanks for the post.

  91. [...] What Are the Overlaps Between CRO and SEO? | Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | Fut…. 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. [...]

  92. [...] View the original article here Tags: between, overlaps [...]

  93. The online marketing world has surely undergone a lot of changes. There are various shades to online marketing but its up to every company to make the right choice depending upon the type of business it conducts and the type of products it has. It is surely important to get over the territorial behaviour and think about the much wider perspective of online marketing.

  94. There always conflicts between CRO and SEO. If we find a good ratio between CRO and SEO, we have the modjo! ;)

  95. First SEO, then CRO!!!

  96. CRO improves the quality of the websites for the visitors while SEO increase the number of visitors.

    Both are important and I think tahat both have separates responsibility in web marketing strategy.

  97. CRO is next step of SEO. CRO is mostly marketing & branding process. Sometimes visitors came from search engine but felt uncomfortable with website layout.

  98. @Andri – I would add: they might feel uncomfortable with more than just the layout of the site. CRO will address all variety of factors on your site (and even in your marketing outreach), including layout, copywriting, content at a high level, organization, checkout, security, company policies, etc. Ideally, good CRO could help boost SEO efforts in the same way that responsible and thoughtful SEO will help boost CRO efforts. ;-) I’d like to see more collaboration between the two in company marketing plans.

  99. I agree with you people should go for SEO only after a good CRO is in place. As an webmaster et me share one of my experiment, I went to google got a nice list of keywords in my niche and as I am good at seo after 2 months of sweat and labour I was in 2nd position of Google for a highly searched keyword. Was it useful? NO :( . I was wondering why peope are not buying from my site and I started one Adwords PPC campaign and to my amazement I saw that the converting keywords are different than those I am optimizing for last 2 months. And the keyword already I am in google #2 eats my PPC budget but does not convert. Lesson learnt!

  100. SEO & CRO must work together!!! “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.” – this phrase of this post and it was given the main explanation

  101. I think CRO and SEO work together, but CRO is much harder then SEO

  102. I was reading through the comments and found a lot of newbies asking basic questions about SEO and CRO. I think you can start with this http://www.webhostingsearch.com/articles/25-ways-to-make-your-site-more-accessible.php Hope it helps.

  103. @Guido I think SEO and CRO both are difficult to start with. The benefit you have is that there are millions of SEO ‘experts’ publishing articles and a handful of CRO experts.

    I was thinking of making some CRO video’s for SEO experts to get them started. Would you be interested in that?

    Dennis

  104. I think that it would be most important to implement Conversion Rate Optimization before Search Engine Optimization as you may know how to get loads of traffic to your site, but it won’t grow nearly as fast when compared to a site that has awesome CRO thus creating a lot of returning visitors as well as lots of new ones.

  105. It’s very simple: SEO & CRO must work together!

  106. Wow, very good tips, I have gained a few more tips myself, especially about cro.

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