6 January 2015
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SEO and Website Optimization

SEO and website optimization are related and both very important, but are quite different things, like Ying and Yang. Unfortunately, many people still don’t know the differences between them, and why it’s important to perform both for their website. And many people simply think website optimization is SEO just because it has the word optimization in it! Ultimately, conversion rate optimization is much more similar to website optimization than SEO is.

To help everyone understand this and eliminate any confusion, I have created an article explaining the differences and why it’s important for online businesses to perform both. To begin clarifying, let’s start with some definitions of the two.

Definitions of the Two Terms

One of the easiest ways to help you understand the two terms, their differences and importance is to consider the official definitions of website optimization and SEO:

Website optimization is an art that tests and improves websites to better engage and convert their visitors, by combining website testing, analytics, usability, and online marketing best practices (Source: Rich Page, from ‘Website Optimization: An Hour a Day’).

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural” or un-paid (“organic”) search results (Source: Wikipedia).

Key Differences – Website Optimization and SEO

To help clarify and distinguish the two, here are the major differences between website optimization and SEO.

  • Website optimization’s primary goal is to increase conversion rates (like sales or signups) and affects visitors after they arrive on your website.  SEO mainly affects your visitors before they arrive on your website, in the actual search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • Website optimization won’t directly increase your traffic from search engines, unlike SEO efforts which is a primary method of doing so.
  • Most SEO success now comes from off-site link building efforts, whereas most website optimization success comes from onsite page testing (A/B and multivariate testing) and optimization efforts to better engage and convert more visitors.
  • Website optimization relies heavily on using website testing tools (such as Visual Website Optimizer) to optimize conversion rates, SEO doesn’t place much focus on them.
  • Website optimization initiatives are often much cheaper to execute than running expensive SEO campaigns. In fact, leading web analyst Avinash Kaushik believes that in order to start optimizing your website and conversion rates, you need just 10 percent of your SEO budget.

Where Website Optimization and SEO Intersect

It’s not just all about knowing the differences though – both of these terms also complement each other and work together well too, and it’s important you know why. Here is how and where these important terms intersect and meet:

  • Some website optimization factors also affect SEO efforts. For example, if your website loads slowly or has poor quality content, it not only will lower your website conversion rates, but Google may rank it lower than sites with higher quality (as seen in the Google Panda update).
  • If you do a poor job with SEO and send traffic to pages that aren’t very relevant, this will also lower visitor engagement (and therefore conversion rates) – an essential part of website optimization.
  • Both of them rely heavily on web analytics data to monitor and improve success. In fact, one of the most important metrics for both SEO and website optimization are now the same – webpage bounce rate (and trying to reduce it on key pages).
  • A well-optimized web page that meets visitor’s needs will gain more inbound links because more people will find it valuable and want to link to it, thus helping to improve search engine rankings for that page even further.

Why Both? Website Optimization and SEO

Here are the major reasons you need not just SEO or website optimization, but both.

  1. It doesn’t matter how much you optimize your website rankings in Google or other search engines if your website isn’t fully optimized to meet your visitors’ needs and convert them. You are simply pouring much of your marketing budget down the drain if you don’t optimize your website— many visitors from search engines will simply leave if their needs aren’t met.
  2. If you don’t do a good job with SEO for your website, you won’t have as much traffic to your website – and without higher levels of traffic you won’t be able to run website optimization tests very quickly to help optimize your website and conversion rate.
  3. Doing SEO on your checkout, signup or registration flow pages is fairly pointless as they get very little direct traffic, but performing website optimization is essential on them to increase conversion rates and online revenue.
  4. If you do website optimization without understanding and improving your SEO efforts you may be wasting time trying to optimize high bounce rate pages that may be caused by poor quality SEO keywords arriving on them, and not because the page is badly designed or has poor usability.
  5. Most importantly, any website owner or online marketer who wants the greatest chance of generating significant higher online revenues and profits in the long run should engage in both SEO and website optimization.


Next steps: Tips to Improve Both at the Same Time

Want to improve both your SEO and website optimization efforts at the same time? Here are some tips to increase your SEO traffic, and simultaneously engage and convert more of these visitors when they arrive on your website.

  • Improve your page load times. This now has a big effect for both SEO and website optimization. To get started with this, make sure you reduce the amount of slow loading content on your pages (like heavy Flash content), reduce your photo and video file sizes, improve the efficiency of your website code (Google PageSpeed helps great for this), and also combine JavaScript calls from website tool tags so they load quicker (using something like TagMan).
  • Focus efforts on your key organic search entry pages. Check that you are performing SEO on these pages for the most relevant search engine keywords, as this will increase visitor engagement when they arrive on your website. Next, test and optimize these same pages to better meet the needs of your visitors – for example testing removing clutter and emphasizing key call-to-action buttons are critical for doing this.
  • Use a proper website testing tool to engage your SEO visitors better. Using these tools you can test and target your SEO visitors with specific content to match their needs and intentions better, instead of having a one sizes fits all website. Using website testing tools like Visual Website Optimizer won’t be classified as cloaking by Google either (which previously there were concerns from the SEO crowd regarding this).

In a nutshell, while both website optimization and SEO sound similar, for the long term success of your online business it’s important that you know these differences, and make it a priority to focus on website optimization and not just SEO.

Hopefully that helps clear up any confusion or misconceptions, and help you realize the benefits of website optimization.

Now over to you – what are your success stories of running website and conversion rate optimization in addition to just SEO for your website?

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