CRO & SEO: better together

Personally, I have always been an advocate of cross-channel work, mainly from a learning standpoint: challenging myself to think outside my comfort zone and learning from people who are smarter than me is extremely motivating.

Leaving my motivations aside, the main reason I have been advocating cross-channel work among my clients is because I have seen over the years how often a siloed approach proves to be inefficient and very expensive for a business.

With this blog post, I’ll aim to touch upon two of my favourite digital marketing channels and why they should be working together: CRO & SEO. Let’s start with some important theory before diving into the fun part!

CRO & SEO complement each other

How so, you ask?

Let’s get straight to the point:

  • SEO has been focusing a lot more on how to optimise the overall user experience on a website, which is something CRO (and UX) works towards as well.
  • CRO focuses on conversions, once the user has landed on a page but has no impact on getting the user to the page in the first place, but this is where SEO (and PPC) come in.
  • SEO cares about organic traffic and conversions, and CRO can help with the latter.

Put simply, this is why CRO & SEO work in unison:

  • SEO aims to increase the quality and quantity of organic traffic to a website.
  • CRO aims to increase the quality and quantity of conversions on a website.

Therefore, for an optimal experience, these two channels should be working hand in hand. 

Importance of SEO for CRO

One of the limitations of CRO is that tests are often conducted with only conversions in mind and this could ultimately harm a site’s SEO.

Let me explain it with an example: 

Say your team is experimenting with some key ecommerce pages and they are keen to make some changes which will likely improve their conversion rate. As part of a CRO test, they decide to get rid of some copy / text located on a key category page. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that such a copy not only is keyword-optimised but it is also provided with some internal links to key facets of the ecommerce website.

After removing the copy, the conversion rate on the page does improve, but the organic traffic to the page decreases due to the fact that such a copy was a relatively important on-page SEO element. 

Having a culture based on testing, this is something that we have previously tested and we would be able to advise against or at least prepare for.

Of course, every situation is different and what works for one website/client may not work for another, but having SEO to help advice on CRO tests is something that can help your business thrive in both areas.

In summary, conducting CRO tests / changes on a website, without taking SEO into account is likely to result in the following scenario:

  • conversion rate is likely to improve;
  • however, organic rankings is likely to stall / decrease, which means organic traffic stalls / decreases;
  • which may force the website to increase its paid spending to regain the lost traffic to the site.
Suggesting CRO changes without considering SEO is likely to result in a higher conversion rate, decreased organic rankings, and greater spending in paid

Importance of CRO for SEO

On the other hand, often SEO’s limitations consist on focusing too much on traffic and too little on conversions. 

Reporting on SEO is not straightforward, that is for sure. Different SEOs do things differently, but often the primary KPIs tend to revolve around rankings, organic traffic and organic visibility, leaving organic conversions off the table. This is probably because most SEOs may simply think “it’s not really my job to focus on conversions, this is a CRO task!” and they would be partially right. 

However, given what we have discussed in the previous sections of this article, SEO has indeed changed significantly, so as an industry we must adapt. We need to think of SEO as a much more comprehensive activity, that involves working closely with UX & CRO teams in order to optimise, not only the quality and quantity of traffic, but also the quality and quantity of conversions.

Let’s go back to our example:

Say your team is keen to make some SEO changes to one of your key “money” pages. A money page is the page from which a visitor can take the required action to convert. Let’s assume one of the changes recommended impacts the order of the elements on your page, favouring text over things such as social proofing, client testimonials and so on.

After making such a change, the organic traffic to the page increases but the actual conversion rate goes down, as users do not seem to convert as well, with the new page layout.

As stated earlier, this is just an example and every situation is different, but the bottom line is simple: considering both SEO & CRO when making changes to a website has become a vital aspect of digital marketing.

In summary, making SEO changes on a website (especially on your “money” pages), without taking CRO into account is likely to result in the following scenario:

  • organic traffic is likely to improve;
  • however, conversion rate is likely to stall / decrease, which may translate in fewer organic conversions;
  • which may force the website to increase search activity to compensate for the loss of conversions.

Benefits of SEO & CRO working together

Below are the top benefits of both channels working side by side:

  • Higher ROI: What if I told you your site could achieve more traffic and convert at a much better rate? This is what SEO & CRO working together can do for you. Furthermore, CRO can really help improve lifetime customer value and retention, which further improves your ROI.
  • Improved matching of search intent: Your success in SEO ultimately boils down on how efficiently you are matching search intent and CRO can be a very helpful ally to get there. By consistently offering pages that encourage clarity, limit ambiguity and rely on a better path to conversion to your site, your site will be in a much better place to match search intent.
  • Improved UX: Nowadays, UX is an increasingly important part of SEO so combined efforts between CRO and SEO can only benefit the overall site experience. A better experience means happy customers, and happy customers tend to be returning customers.
  • Improved site speed: Site speed is a direct SEO ranking factor but it is also an extremely key subject when it comes to CRO, as a slow website naturally results in higher bounce rates & lower conversions. Therefore, having SEO and CRO to work together will result in a stronger focus on improving site speed.
  • Improved credibility & trust: CRO can really impact perception on a site’s quality and authority, once landed via SEO. New customers want to know your site is reliable and that others have had a great experience, before sharing their payment details with you. A joint effort between SEO and CRO directly enhances your brand credibility, which goes a long way.
  • Improved quality & quantity of data: CRO heavily focuses on knowing the ins and outs of your audience – what they like, what they don’t like above all. Combining data between SEO (how people reach your site) and CRO (what people do on your site and why) gives you a wide spectrum of valuable insights you should use to inform your digital strategy. 
  • Improved PPC performance: this point is extremely underrated in the industry and often overlooked. CRO & SEO work in unison to further optimise your key pages for traffic and conversions, which directly impacts the overall experience you are offering with PPC: your users will land on much better landing pages. An improved landing page experience, site speed and overall relevance will guarantee a much stronger quality score, which ultimately will reduce your PPC costs significantly.
When SEO is part of CRO work, conversion rate increases, organic rankings improve thanks to better UX, and PPC quality score improves

CRO overview

CRO aims to boost online conversions by finding the most efficient user experience that drives users to take an action, and this is done through lots of experimentation. With CRO, we are looking to find opportunities where users can’t convert or won’t convert. 

Why is CRO important?

There are dozens of reasons why you should consider doing CRO, especially if you already invest time and money in generating traffic to your site. For now, let’s focus on my favourite key points that I use when talking about this channel:

  • Traffic < Conversions: it is often the case that what a business really needs is not more traffic but rather better conversions; you can spend resources, time, budget on driving traffic to your site, but if that traffic isn’t converting, it is a missed opportunity.  You might not see the returns of your hard work and end up “wasting money” on the wrong priorities.
  • Get more out of your existing customer base: you could be getting a lot more revenue or conversions from your existing customers without having to spend resources on driving more traffic.
  • Retain users: websites that are really efficient at converting customers have something in common, they make their users happy. The equation is simple: happy users are more likely to come back to your site and convert again. They are not only more likely to recommend your site online and in person, but also share it, link to it, and give positive reviews.
  • You can do it everywhere: CRO possibilities are extremely vast – from your email newsletters to checkout pages, you can test pretty much everywhere.
  • UX as part of CRO: applying CRO principles to your site and working to improve the overall journey to conversion on your site directly impacts your website overall UX. For an optimal approach, UX and CRO work together and share each other’s learnings. That’s why our CRO team is made of specialists in both areas.

SEO overview

DistilledU defines SEO as the practice of “positively influencing a page or website’s organic search engine performance.” As SEOs, our aim is to satisfying relevant search intents, measuring and learning from results, and ensuring compliance with Google’s technical guidelines.

Why is SEO important? 

Differently from other marketing channels where you can showcase an immediate effect, SEO takes time and effort. Let’s go through some of the reasons that make SEO such a key activity:

  • Organic search accounts for the majority of online traffic: several studies over the years (like this one from Brightedge or this one from Moz) have proven how organic search is the primary source of traffic. If we top this stat with another interesting one, it is easy to realise how SEO could make the difference between being found online or being invisible: according to Ahrefs’ study, 90.88% of pages receive zero organic traffic in Google.
  • Sustained results: SEO is one of the few marketing channels that, if set up and monitored correctly, can be fruitful over a long period of time. Once you have made that initial investment and created a successful SEO configuration for your site, ongoing cost to continue generating traffic will be minimal compared to Paid channels. The longevity and cost-effectiveness of SEO make it extremely important for any type of business: from small / local to global, organic is a great choice when trying to reduce acquisition costs and develop brand awareness.
  • It helps build credibility and trust: by consistently appearing for key queries that are relevant to your audience, your site can develop a level of trust and authority that will make you stand out. Earning (not buying) the top of the SERP for critical keywords goes a long way. 
  • SEO can impact the full marketing funnel: have you ever told or been told by anyone “just Google it”? Well, that is because search engines are so ingrained in our culture as consumers that we use them for any type of research and acquisition. SEO helps match a need with a solution: from the awareness phase to the conversion one, an effective SEO strategy can help you build content that addresses the full funnel.  

SEO & UX: how are they connected? 

Google has never confirmed that UX and behavioural signals are ranking factors, but in the industry we believe differently: Google’s rating guidelines explicitly talk about the importance of user experience, and there is experimental evidence that suggests behavioral signals matter. 

Google’s latest algorithm updates led us to think that SEO is not just about individual factors anymore but it has evolved to a more complex practice where user behaviour, in response to a website’s user experience, has gotten a much larger focus.

My colleague Tom Capper delivered a brilliant presentation at SearchLove 2018, which tested in depth some of the findings that came out in CNBC’s article, when Google invited a few journalists to sit in on an internal meeting where search rating guidelines were discussed. These are the highlights of Tom’s presentation:

  • Head terms are no longer just about the usual and historically renown ranking factors (links in particular) 
  • Google’s staff admitted to be evaluating things such as pogo-sticking and time to SERP interaction (both explained in the slide deck – slide 114 to 117)
  • It is worth optimising for Google’s metrics as they continuously evolve and start addressing potential factors that relate much more to UX 

Google rating guidelines directly talk about the importance of offering a good user experience, especially on mobile sites where the space is restricted and traffic has overtaken desktop. Since 2018, Google has moved towards a direction that we have been anticipating for a long time: a mobile-led world, where page speed is a direct ranking factor and the mobile version of a website is used for crawling, indexing and rankings purposes. Recently Google announced that mobile first indexing will be a default practice for all websites starting September 2020.

Additionally, for the first time ever, Google has introduced a very UX-driven feature within Google Search Console: Core Web Vitals. These are nonother than a series of metrics deemed essential to measure the quality of a good user experience. Therefore, webmasters are now provided with an easier way to evaluate their website’s user experience.

Source: Search Engine Journal

So whether Google does confirm it or not, an optimal user experience is a familiar concept among SEOs and something we have been working towards for a while now.

How to encourage SEO and CRO to work together?

After covering the why, let’s think about the how. I do not have a magic formula that will work for every business (I wish!) but what I can do is share my experience on the subject, providing a list of tips that work for us at Brainlabs & former Distilled. 

Let’s give this a go, shall we?

Culture first

First thing first: it has to be an operational & culture shift. Just saying that two channels should work together, does not make it happen automatically, so think about how you can trigger this change in your business. Any change that happens in an established process / department means some degree of disruption, which is never easy. 

Some ideas that could help get this started:

  • Get people to sit together or, in case of smart working, spend more time together: from weekly meetings to brainstorming sessions, involve different people with different skills to solve your client problems. This will help develop a much more diverse critical thinking within your team.
  • Encourage tailored training across different channels: training sessions that are actually targeted for people’s current know-how. Instead of hoping that the usual Intro to SEO session will be enough, go the extra mile and understand what crossovers channels have in the first place, working on real examples from your clients to keep things practical.
  • Hire differently: hiring people with the same skills does not necessarily add much to an already capable team, so why not consider hiring from different digital marketing backgrounds when it comes to your CRO & SEO teams? 

Find a process that works for you

Working out a process for CRO & SEO to operate together will take some time and will trigger a lot of questions at the beginning:

  • How early do we involve each other in the framework with the client? 
  • What type of involvement is necessary to make sure we are doing a good job? 
  • What output do we expect from both channels to work together? 

These are all valid points that will probably be best answered with practice.

If you are looking for some inspiration, here is what I have found to work:

  1. Assess the type of work needed: based on the task you are going to tackle, things can change vastly – assess the overall activity and put together a plan. 

Example: if you are performing a site migration, assess the technicalities of what type of migration this would be. Different tasks will require different capabilities.

  1. Involve the right teams / people: you want to involve the right people early in the processes, so that there will be enough time to prepare.

Example: if your site migration happens to involve a replatforming with design changes, then be ready to get SEO & CRO (and UX) involved early into the picture.

  1. Have a plan: put together a plan to action, which involved tasks, timelines and people. Defining responsibilities and expectations is key to avoid misunderstandings later.
  1. Test & Learn: most things will not be perfect the first time you give them a go, so don’t expect to find your answers straight away. Learn from your mistakes and keep improving your ways of working.

Final thought

As we like to say, SEO & CRO are a balancing act! In an era where efficiency is key in digital marketing, I hope this post can help you develop a better understanding on what these channels can help a business with and why they are so interconnected.