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Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2011 at 8:23 am

What’s the Best Place to Start Optimization?

By Natalie Hart
June 21st, 2011

If you’re reading this post, congratulations! You’re already leaps and bounds ahead of many of your competitors because you recognize that simply creating a website is not enough. Whether you’re optimizing for the first time since your site launched 6 years ago or 6 months ago, it can be a very overwhelming process. There is simply so much that you can do, and deciding where to begin is often a stressful decision. Many of you may be throwing things on the site and seeing what sticks, and while I must commend you for at least trying, chances are, you’re wasting time and money with this tactic.

So, where to start? Planning. While it may not be as “glamorous” as testing or creating a new design for your site, setting up your optimization plan will help you budget accordingly and achieve your goals. Optimization is much like fixing up your home – you can do a full gut or just paint a few rooms, but having a plan before you tear out that wall is critical to the success of the project.

First, decide how much time and what resources you are prepared to put into optimization. It’s very important to be realistic about your resources and constraints. If you’re a one-man shop, chances are expecting to dedicate 20 hours a week to optimization will translate into failure or disappointment. Believe it or not, we’ve worked with many smaller clients in the past that met the “one-man shop” criteria despite having several employees. If you only have one person working on your marketing, you’re still in that category as far as optimization is concerned.  You may be a little bit better off if that one person is 100 percent dedicated to your marketing, but they will still have lots on their plate in addition to optimization tasks.  Remember that resources include both money AND time and that if you’ve never done more detailed work with Analytics, copywriting, design and your website, many of your tasks will take longer than you expect.

Now, pause. Ask yourself: are the resources you’ve allocated realistic for the returns you seek? If you have allocated 10 hours each week and 1 copywriter, and expect to see a 20% increase in conversion, that may not be realistic. That is not to say that it’s impossible to achieve your goals; it’s important to understand that with optimization, what you put into your efforts is directly related to what you get out of them. My colleague, Mj, wrote a piece about that kind of thing earlier this year when she wrote about how to set an optimization budget that is aligned with your current marketing efforts and goals. When considering whether or not you’ve set aside enough resources to reach your goals, be sure to look at your business and your competitors. Is there space within your industry to gain a 20% increase in conversion rate, or is your market already flooded? Shoe sites are a great example of a flooded market. There are so many online these days that unless you can compete with a large retailer on price, shipping and availability, you may be able to achieve only a 3-10% increase in conversion rate with optimization efforts, because of the already saturated market.  Read more about how to set an optimization budget.

Next determine what metrics you’ll use to gauge your success. While many of our OnTarget subscription clients focus mainly on conversation rate, it’s not uncommon for a particular business to gain a higher return on a particular type of item or service, so that increasing sales of that particular product or service is another marker of success.

Now that you’ve set your goals and allocated your resources, it’s time to look for opportunities; it’s time to go to the data. Sticking with our earlier example, you’ve already decided that you don’t have the time or money to invest in a developer or designer right now. So although the data may be showing a large drop off in your 5-step checkout, fixing this right now without a developer many not be in the cards. (Side note: It’s great to recognize larger projects when looking through your data, and while I’d urge you to make these a priority, I’m realistic about the financial burden larger projects like moving to a 1-page checkout present. Gaining small wins using current resources can help bankroll larger projects that need to be tackled. Still, it’s important to remember opportunity cost: is it worth driving more, well-qualified traffic to your shopping cart only to have them drop out?)

The two top places to begin looking for optimization opportunities are:

  1. Areas of high abandonment. Areas of high abandonment are like red flags telling you that something isn’t working for your visitors. But that doesn’t always mean they are the best place to start your optimization.  One notable exception is if you find an area or page with 100% bounce, but your traffic to the area is under 50 Unique Visitors per month. This IS NOT a good place to optimize. You want to find high traffic pages with a high abandonment rate.
  2. The checkout process. The checkout process is a great place to start as well because it typically has a lot of “low hanging fruit”… if you’re a regular Grok reader, you already know that “low hanging fruit” indicates areas of the site where making small changes can yield large returns. Visitors entering the checkout process have already determined that you have a solution that fits their needs, but often they encounter some type of barrier that is prevents them from checking out. For some personas the difference between converting and not may be as simple as reassurances on the checkout page, or shipping estimates within the cart, so it’s a great place to begin your efforts.

**(These may be one in the same.)**

Remember, that whether you have 20 hours or 20 minutes, optimization is possible. Just make sure you recognize this process is cyclical. You will never fully be done with optimizing your site because your visitors will never be static with the same needs, wants and expectations, and developing technology will keep moving their expectations forward. Continuous optimization is key to a successful online business. Happy optimizing! (And go BRUINS!)

Add Your Comments

Comments (81)

  1. Great overview for someone trying to wrap their head around where to start. It can be surprising how many people have never even heard of something we take for granted every day like Google Analytics..!

  2. I am continually testing my site. My biggest issue is I need to get my visitors to listen to audio samples. The audio listeners converts at a 4 times the conversion rate than non listeners. Issue is, only 10% of the visitors are listening to audio samples even thou I have listen to audio samples all over the website, links and Graphic icons both, on the category and product pages both. Any outside suggestions on how better to engage the visitor to listen to audio samples would be much welcomed. I will then test the suggestions in Google website optimizer and share the results.

  3. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Like you said you need to keep organised and constantly look to update your site with what your readers actually need.

  4. Excellent article , sometime it takes more money and more time to optimize a website anf get more traffic but if you things in correct direction you can reduce both :D

  5. One must also understand that optimizing is a long term process and requires daily analysis. Google webmaster tools is great for technical analysis while surveymonkey can give you a broader insight on how users respond to your website or product.

  6. You are right that money AND time are both valuable resources. I think that it is important to FOCUS on the optimization techniques that bring you the most results and also take in consideration how time comsuming your efforts are.

  7. Patience and experimentation I have found are the two things that can help you fully understand optimization.Each site is different and will ahve a different type of following. The best way to win the popularity contest is to make yourself popular with the people you need to be popular with…Talk to them

  8. Hi Natalie, I am new to this. I have seen advertisements of software that is supposed to help you in optimization but automatically making submission easier. Although I still believe in the basics, I am tempted to buy some of them to make my work easier.What fo you think?

  9. @Alicia G. Aponte – a software that automatically makes submissions easier? Exactly how does it work? I’m skeptical about anything that sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t mean it won’t help a little, but will it really be optimizing your conversion rate?

  10. While running an optimization campaign for your business you need to take care of the scams which will tell you to buy their tool for some dollars and forget about SEO. always keep in mind that optimization needs creativity so you can’t rely on the softwares. Their are some tools which can do some specific tasks for you but they can’t do optimization for you.

  11. Excellent article. I struggle with spending too much time planning because I’m a “one man” operation. It feels like I need to be doing doing doing not planning when I’m dedicating resources to my web business. I loved the article.

  12. Pretty amazing article! Like Marijayne I’m a little unsure about any kind of automated system.

  13. This was some great insight. i had a page with low traffic but a high bounce rate and everyone told me I needed better optimization to lower the boucne rate. This post cleared it up for me. Thank you

  14. Hey Natalie, I just wanted to point out to the readers here that onpage website optimization according to the most recent SEOmoz test analysis only comprises about 15% of googles search algorithm. I think that a lot of time is spent making sure that on page content fits the right density, when google IS moving away from weights that favor high keyword concentration. I think in the future, becoming a link bait King (Or Queen) , will be much more valuable in the long run. Thanks for the great post, Keep with the good content!

  15. i have just recently started working on optimization for my site. i’ve been adding unique content to my site every day. I also have been joining forums and all that stuff that i can engage people interested in what i’m selling. I agree that optimization is a huge task that requires a lot of time and dedication, but i don’t have the resources for that. i figured the hour or two i spend a day working on optimization is better than nothing. And i just wanted to say that this blog has been and will continue to be helpful in my quest for better google rankings :)

  16. yes Natalie , if you have 100% bounce rate and 50 or more than unique visitor per month it means, you are not doing optimization practice, for good optimization..bounce rate should be less then 40%.

  17. Keep your focus on the content and identify the audiences for which your website is meant for

  18. Just wanted to thank you for the post, really close to what I do think optimization should be: focusing in the important leaks and great potential parts from a site. Anyway Optimizer stated a good point about the keys relevance in the G algo, I’m already awaiting Panda and its new changes (in we haven’t seen the bear yet!)

  19. Great content, just wanted to add that some software submission tools do make it easier to submit articles and videos about your site. But you still have to go through and sign up for every site that is included on the software. So it may be a long process at first but saves time later.

  20. the way i see it the best way to optimize is quite simple. if you invest in good keyword hierarchy on the site and make sure that you use synonyms and write naturally.

    you will probably gain good positions faster.

    we use the related keywords suggested by Google to track and build this hierarchies. works fine every time and very easy and cheap to create.

  21. Very amazing article! I love this blog. Like Marijayne I’m a little unsure about any kind of automated system.

  22. Web analysts and marketers tend to inherit a lot of excess baggage, so choosing to focus on only one or two sore spots on a website is hard to do.

  23. I agree that the first step of optimization is planning. First of all a detailed budget plan must be developed. You should keep in mind that you will have to spend not only your money, but your time as well. Usability testing and redesign of the site are also very important steps for successful site optimization. If you follow advice specified in the post, your goals will certainly be achieved.

  24. I think it’s very important to optimize your website and treat it like a brick and mortar business. Check out your successful competition and see what they are doing right and get ideas from that to implement in your own online business.

  25. Should start with onsite optimization first. Create robots.txt file, relink all pages on your site, check titles and meta descriptions of all pages. 2nd step – link building.

  26. Optimization has to be a routine exercise to derive the full benefits rather than working on it just once in couple of months. After all, if you are not able to promote your product after creating, it will be of no use.
    Nice post.

  27. Very nice introduction to SEO for beginners. It gives a good insight into SEO.

  28. Patience is the key for web optimization

  29. Series of site owners wasting their money and time because of wrong interpretation or practice of optimization. I see great overview out of this post which can definitely help those beginners to achieve their expected goals throughout optimization. Thank you for sharing this post.

  30. Time is really important as well as place in optimization. Another thing is the full information to function well and effective. Great post! Keep posting, I am following. =)

  31. @Cinema 4d – actually, our focus as a blog and company is on CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION, or CRO, not search engine optimization. That’s not to say we think SEO isn’t important. To the contrary: we know it is also important, and believe the best strategy is a tandem approach… quality SEO + quality CRO = online success.

  32. @vangelderdesign – as mentioned, our focus is on CRO… thus the point of this post is to highlight the best first steps for a solid CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION plan, not SEO. However, thank you for taking the time to suggest a few places to get started with SEO tactics.

  33. @duran seo – again, thank you for some nice SEO suggestions. We agree that SEO is important to a website’s success. However, our focus (and the focus of our blog posts) is on CRO – CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION. :-) Thanks, again.

  34. Patience is the number 1 factor in seo other than a site that can actually convert traffic into money

  35. Some people start planning and forget about doing, about taking action. I believe planning can be a double-edged sword. It can save you time and sometimes it can prevent you from even starting!

  36. @IG – … which is why we focus on helping sites do a better job of actually converting traffic into money. It’s what our company is about. It’s want this blog is about. It’s what this post is about.

  37. Very informative article! As a web designer, I see way too many sloppy websites these days. People just choose the cheapest web designer, not realizing that they will end up paying way more in the end to have someone clean up their mistakes.

  38. SEO means Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Optimization is a way which you can show your web site to everybody without any cost. Many of us who use internet they know which is SEO such as Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. What we want to know then we use SEO such as Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. I think you all have question why we use SEO because it’s create demand of your website and increase your visitors. By using SEO you can show your website to everybody easily.

  39. Start with good content. Great content always draws attention and traffic. Then there is the meta optimization, backlink campaign and so on…

  40. @Kethy – actually, this question is not at all about SEO, or even how to attract more visitors to your site. Consistent with our focus as a company, and the focus of this blog, it’s about CRO… how to get more of your website visitors to take action.

  41. A couple of weeks ago I went to the Google Adsense Optimize seminar and they told us about Google Page Speed.

    This is a very nice thing to do, just google for “Pagespeed” or download the Firefox addon, it will show you which parts of your site need improvement to be faster and get a higher rating…even with coding examples!

    This will help you optimize your website even further…good luck!

  42. Good advice, but; the best place to start optimization is at the point of keyword research and silo building – At The Start.
    Do it right from the start.

  43. Always good to reassess your site regularly with the use of analytics. Onsite optimisation is often overlooked once the site is live. Instead the focus moves towards offsite promotion, which is great but is only one part of the equation.

  44. Some people start planning and forget about doing, about taking action. I believe planning can be a double-edged sword. It can save you time and sometimes it can prevent you from even starting! Thanks for sharing superb article.

    -Aisha Vax

  45. I discovered that SEO is a full time job, why do I say that? Well it is because to rank for my main keywords I have to put in as much effort as my competitors. I say evaluate you competitors first because you will not rank unless you commit enough resources.

  46. first of all what a great article very informative, I like to spend about 2 hours a day building links to my website, It does get a bit boring but its something we have to do if we want to get the rankings, also i agree that content is also a must and also has to be unique and updated regularly.

  47. Analysing the parts of the page, or site, and understanding why it is weak is probably the toughest part of the process. Once you grasp why users are disappearing you can combat it. In my experience creating a fluid checkout process which *doesn’t* try to upsell produces more sales.

  48. Great article, again pause for thought. It is a good and relevant point to consider optimising the website towards conversion and treat this as a seperate matter than just getting a website appearing in the SERPS. Afterall, there is no point in reaching the top spot in google if no one actually converts on the website.

  49. Great post for thoose who do not have the time to dedicate to web building. Great valued content that has well chosen keywords combined with a solid link building program are the keys.

  50. While optimizing any website we require lot of Patience as well as efforts to see our website on first page. Planning and managing is one of the biggest point which we need to consider at the start of optimization.

    It is a good question What’s the Best Place to Start Optimization?

    AS we can start SEO from anywhere but we need to get fully knowledge about it

  51. Excellent article , sometime it takes more money and more time to optimize a website to get more traffic but if you things in correct direction you can reduce both

  52. I do the following use Google Analytics check it everyday see were my visiters are come in from and then and try and improve my visiter rate from them websites. I find this is a good method as you know where you traffic is comming from and you know that they targeted visiters.

  53. It’s a really long and neverending way to optimize your own website. But I think it’s really necessary to have a lot of content for the start.

  54. Great article Natalie, google says we need to focus on content, but it’s not totally true, without optimization, it won’t get anywhere…

  55. now days, website optimization is not really rocket science,,,,well it never was, but things are much simpler now days, create a blog using wordpress, install a few free widgets, start trading links, buying directory links, write great content and sit and wait until your site ages, its as simple as that really :)

  56. explanation is remarkable about the site optimization. but in my opinion, mixed links more successful to bring our site to rank higher. and keep in mind that content is king

  57. Time is really important as well as place in optimization. Another thing is the full information to function well and effective. Great post! Keep posting, I am following. =)

  58. In my opinion there no standard way to start the optimization. But it must be continuous and not occasional. The seo must not stop where ever we want good results.

  59. you mention checkout and it really hits me on the spot! i was wondering why my traffic doesnt convert even though checkout page has quite a good hits..turns out that it redirects to 404 page instead of submitting the form
    thanks for the great article!

  60. Great article. I still astounds me that in this day and age, when the web is the most powerful selling tool, that people aren’t undergoing SEO work on their sites.

  61. I guess it has been mentioned truly in the article that now days both money and time are valuable. Being a SEO person, I would like to advice that it is very important to focus on the optimization features because it brings you the best results. With this always consider time as an important aspect.

  62. quality SEO + quality CRO = online success — That’s great. Traffic does not necessarily mean sales. However conversions to leads – do.

  63. As website must be treated like a long term investment. Quick fixes will disappoint most owners. Stick to your core products/services. Make your site a valuable information guide to answers the customer’s questions….sales will follow.

  64. Overwhelming is correct. Takes time. I think looking at the page rank of certain sites that are already ranking for a lot of your same keywords is important. Will tell you what keywords are saturated. The google keyword tracker doesn’t always tell the whole story.

  65. You hould start with onsite optimization first. Create robots.txt file, relink all pages on your site, check titles and meta descriptions of all pages Get keywords right a tool I use for this is SeoQuate toolbar for firefox its free and you can do alot with it

  66. the best start to do an optimization is to find which the most influence factor that give your blog or site huge effect. resource must be considered both money and toime because without two of them we might not be able to do optimal in optimizing

  67. Nice article, a must read for every newbie blogger, most of SEO related blogs are loaded with tips to optimize websites, but no one has ever put a light on how to approach it and plan it in the right way. But this article is one of it`s kind. Thanks :)

  68. First of all onpage is important which include metatag,title tag,description tag,image title & Then after off page optimization which includes directory submission , writing articles ,forum submission which you can say is link building. It can help you in optimizing a Website.

  69. Good insight on the do’s and don’t on where to begin SEO.Planning goes without mention for any serious IM.

  70. Having a website that is ranked in the top 2 -3 results for my main keyword, I have to question the reasoning for performing further SEO. Whether I am ranked 1 2 or 3 I still end up having 3 adwords ads above, with a background so close to white that they are virtually indistinguishable from the organic search results. Instead of spending time and money on SEO, I would be better off just paying for adwords. Googles claim of wanting to create results be suited to the customers search is a joke when anyone can appear to rank as No 1 for a search time if they pay for adwords.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  71. It it possible to do a good optimization even investing about 10-15 hours a week. The thing is you’ll have to wait more to see results, but I agree with IG, patient is the main key

  72. If you want to optimize your web site in top position of search engine result pages then first of all you have to understand the basic fundamentals of search engine optimization. Through this article I came to know about the SEO techniques which can be applied after the panda relese for beginners like me.
    It’s a great post, you really are a good writer! I’m so glad someone like you have the time, efforts and dedication writing, for this kind of article… Helpful, And Useful.. Very nice post!

  73. Well, I also believe that we have to be realistic in making our predictions and conversions on our optimization.

    I’ve got your keyword: Consistent but not static optimization is the key

  74. I do find it interesting that so many people tend to skip over onsite optimization. I heard from many that it didnt matter that much and that we have to put all our focus towards links… But for me I learned about optimizing my website first to the best of my ability. I have only had my site up for 2 months and Im already ranked 6, page 1 for google. Not to mention very few backlinks yet. Backlinks are important obviously but Dont skip the small stuff, it might be exactly what you need to outrank your biggest competitor! thanks for the great article!

  75. A great blog with useful information!
    Thanks for sharing!

  76. Nice article, SEO can be overwhelming and this is a nice place to start!

  77. This article has been a great read. Getting sites ranked is only part of the challenge and you provided some good tips to work on conversion as that is one of the bigger challenges we face.

  78. Hey Natalie!
    That is really a brilliant post for newbies specially and the very first point you explained here is really worthy as if we are not going to plan for how much resources you are going to use then we can get stuck anytime during our optimization process. really nice post. Thanks again.

  79. Be methodical in your approach to SEO, have a plan in mind.
    Start with header tags H1, H2 etc and get your keywords into your meta description.
    Then continue with your on-page SEO.
    Good luck :-)

  80. Seo is a lesson that complicated. It takes time and effort to achieve success
    It’s nice when something is difficult it can be realized ..

  81. I think a good hierarchy of pages along with good content and inner links is probably the most important aspect of SEO. The second most important aspect would be good inner links to your site. No matter how you attach it, a good sought out SEO plan is the first step to optimizing your company online. Very good article.

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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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