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I frequently encounter some level of confusion among marketers about search engine optimization. Given that we provide Conversion Optimization services, I find myself needing to describe the difference between SEO and Conversion Optimization.

Search Engine Optimization is to Advertising what Conversion Optimization is to Marketing

First, let’s get some of the definitions out of the way. SEO refers to the efforts required to improve your search engine performance. In other words, when someone searches for you, you’re more likely to show up in the search results.

Conversion Optimization refers to the efforts required to improve the ability of your site (and the marketing driving traffic to your site) to convert visitors to customers.

And, while we’re at it, and because Marketing isn’t well understood, I like to think of Marketing as everything you do to go to market.

Because so many people use search to find things on the web, it does indeed pay to be found. Making sure you perform well in search isn’t really any different from getting a great location for your store or making sure you’ve signed up the billboard right before your exit on the highway.

So, put simply SEO helps you improve the performance of what could be compared to a very important ad. Conversion optimization, on the other hand, is a much broader concept. Its focus is identifying the most important points of interaction with your customers, evaluating their impact on performance (sales, profits, customer lifetime value), and then working over time to test, learn, and implement changes that drive improvement. These changes might be changes in your site, changes in your marketing investment, or even changes in your messaging or product offer.

Conversion optimization is similar to SEO in that it’s an effort that will really never end. You should always be working to improve the productivity of your marketing investments, evaluating your conversion rates at key interaction points, and then see how to make changes to improve performance. Think of it as the online equivalent of a constant marketing productivity investment. On one hand you might be investing to drive traffic. On the other, you are constantly working to improve your ability to convert that traffic into customers.

I’ve worked at many companies where we would have a topline growth target for sales AND a target for productivity improvements as well. We always had to think about how to grow the topline (usually by making marketing investments), but at the same time we also had to think about how to improve productivity to make sure we could get more to the bottom line.

Conversion Optimization brings those two concepts together because when you’re talking about marketing online, despite what many marketers think, you really do have the ability to think about and act on both of these concepts simultaneously.

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