Forget SEO – It’s All About Conversion! by Stephen Munday

Which SEO hat do you wear? Is it white or black? Or perhaps it’s a subtle shade of gray. Well, wherever you are on this spectrum, if you are like 99% of the SEO-fixated webmasters out there, you are doing all you can to get visitors to your site. Where you used to optimize your keywords meta tags, you now worry about anchor text and XML site maps.

So, you finesse your site, schmooze the algorithm du jour and begin to climb the slippery search engine rankings pole. But this is where you have to leave your SEO tricks behind and start thinking conversion.

Whoa there! Conversion? That’s all about making sales on shopping sites. My site’s a forum! I don’t sell anything. What has conversion got to do with me?

Everything, my friend. Everything….

SERP Conversion

You want visitors to come your site, right? That’s why you climb greasy SERP pole, after all. (And why you lay awake at night wondering when the next Florida, Hilltop or Bourbon algorithm earthquake is going to hit.) But what does it matter if you reach the peak, but no one clicks through to your site anyway?

The fact is that you have to convert prospective visitors even before they arrive. You have to pique their interest, tweak their curiosity and make sure they click your link and not the other guy’s. And all you have to use are words. No technical tricks will help you now – your only tools are plain ol’ words.

The SERPs will show words from two of three places. Two of these you can control and one you can’t:

  1. Your title tag.
  2. Your meta description tag.
  3. A directory description.

(For example, Google is known to use DMOZ descriptions in their SERPs, and Yahoo uses their directory descriptions in theirs.)

Now, there’s not much you can do about how Yahoo or DMOZ editors describe your site, so don’t worry about number 3. But do what you can do: Place your value propositions clearly in 1 and 2, and use them to lure searchers into your website.

So you have to convert people before they even get to your site. But that’s not all…. You want them to stay, right?

Flash Conversion

No, this has nothing to do with being blinded by bright lights on the road to Damascus. Nor am I telling you to go and make a 100% animated website.

This “flash” is that split second, that tiny window of opportunity that opens up when a searcher arrives at your site and decides whether they have actually found what they are looking for… or not.

Typically, you’ll have a couple of seconds to persuade the new visitor to stay and hang out. That’s all you get. It’s the ultimate in speed-dating. So, how do you wow your “date”? Do you show him a page of scraped “content” interspersed with Adsense ads? Not if you want this to be a lasting relationship.

Follow these tips and be sure to impress your “date”:

  1. Have a clear theme

    Ranking high for “blue widgets”? Then be sure your visible title, copy and images are clearly focused on them.

  2. Have a clean design

    Imagine you are taking a first date to a movie. Do you pick her up wearing your pajamas in a dirty, trash-filled car? Or do you clean the car, wash your face and dress to impress? Of course you want to impress her, so you make sure you look (and smell) good.

    It’s the same with your site: Clean design, a nice text size and pages that don’t scroll from here to eternity are going to float your first-time visitor-date’s boat.

  3. Write clearly and focus on your “date”

    Waffle on about yourself and your date will get bored. She wants you to be interested in her. And in terms of your site, that means giving her what she wants to know as quickly and succinctly as possible. This comes down to your ability to write and communicate. So, if you are like Steve Martin in “Roxanne”, make sure you get a someone else (a copywriter) to compose the lines to wow your “date” for you.

OK, so let’s say you have successfully wooed your first-time visitor date. He’s here and he has decided to stick around. You’re going steady, getting to know each other a little more. That’s all you want, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t! You want to pop the question, of course!

Getting hitched

You’ve made all this effort and spent money on getting your “date” this far, so you want to get the most out of your investment, right? You want to hear those sweet words, “I do”:

I do… want to click your Adsense ads. I do… want to become a forum member. I do… want to buy that cool digital thingy.

So how do you turn a whirlwind romance into a successful proposal? Try these ideas for size:

Have clear navigation

You want to make your date dizzy with excitement, not frustration! Make sure you have clear, consistent, well-labeled navigation and make your visitor-date’s time with you a pleasure, and not a reason to reach for the Advil.

Have a clear proposition

What do you want your visitor to do? Buy something? Sign up for something? Join something? Whatever the point of your site is, it does have a point, right? So don’t beat about the bush, and don’t hold back waiting for the right moment: Make your “proposal”, and make it clear and direct.

Happily Ever After…

You thought that was the end of the story? Wait a minute, it’s not over yet! I thought you were in this for a long-term relationship, not a one night stand?

I know, you were thinking that having made all that effort while you were dating, you could ease off now that you’re “married”. But don’t you know that the real rewards start here?

So what are the secrets of a long, blissful relationship with your visitors?

  1. Feed them!

    You convinced him to come visit once. But how often will he come back if all you give him are the same old leftovers? Cook him up something juicy and delicious, and have him salivating for more:

    Enliven your content with new, relevant pages and, not only will you set the search engine robots drooling, but you will also find you have a hoard of visitors coming back for seconds. And in this age of fast-(visitor)-food creation tools called blogs, there’s really no excuse anymore.

  2. Shower them with gifts

    Everyone likes a gift - and not just on birthdays, anniversaries and at Christmas:

    Money talks, and if you are selling anything through your site, then discounts and other offers to previous visitors and customers will draw them back like magnets. Throw in tempting freebies as well and you will have a potent marketing mix.

  3. Send them “love” letters

    Anyone who has been in a long-distance relationship (like my wife and I were for a year and a half), knows that if you can’t be together, the next best thing is a letter or email. For your website, this means an interesting ezine that is light on sales pitch and rich in information.

  4. Start a family!

    Not literally! But you can create a “family” atmosphere by adding a forum where your visitors can interact with each other – not just with you and your site. People are social animals, so use a forum to keep them coming back.

OK, so perhaps I overstated it a little in my title. SEO is not dead, so don’t forget about it quite yet. Just remember that it will only get you so far: If you want to actually achieve anything with your site, then you need to focus on conversion like a laser.

About the Author

Stephen Munday lives in Japan. His most recent project is a Japanese name translation website where you can get your name in beautiful Japanese calligraphy . This article is © Stephen Munday 2005. Permission is given to reproduce this article in whole with the URLs correctly hyperlinked.

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