Most people conducting search engine optimization campaigns for clients will be familiar with this scenario: your client is desperate to rank first for a specific keyword or phrase, and insists that more traffic be driven to their site at any cost.
To be fair, almost the entire SEO industry was built around those two unqualified metrics in the last decade. Unfortunately, they encouraged shady operators to come into the market and “guarantee” number one rankings or massive traffic increases, tarnishing the name of legitimate, sensible SEO practitioners.
This now presents a dilemma for professional SEOs. Do we listen to our clients, keep our mouths shut, and just try our hardest to meet their demands however we can? Or do we accept the responsibility to educate our valued clients on where the real value in SEO is delivered?
Let’s look at an example. Your client demands number one ranking for the search term “blue widgets,” around which their business is built. Sure, top ranking for any key term is great to have, that’s why they’re sometimes referred to as “hero terms.” But does it deliver real value?
Working that out will depend on your client’s business and its goals. The top position can be worth twice as much as the second position and almost five times more than fifth, in terms of generating clickthrough traffic. But quantity doesn’t always mean quality. Your clients need qualified traffic, bringing visitors who are genuinely interested in their content. When this occurs, the business objective of the site is achieved with the lowest possible bounce rate; that is, the rate at which people leave a site immediately after arriving.
Search engines have spent millions of dollars over the years increasing the relevancy of their results algorithms. They aim to ensure that a searcher will land on the page that most closely matches their search query. When a user bounces from a landing page, search engines regard this as a failure. It’s also a fail when a searcher has to refine or rephrase their query.
So what does this mean? It means you have two options.
You can optimize your client’s site to cast the widest possible net, attracting the highest conceivable number of visitors, and bet that the sheer volume will translate into a viable sales conversion. Or you can adopt a targeted approach—ignoring the hero terms and chasing the longtail instead—optimizing for longer, qualified terms that attract site visitors more likely to be converted into a sale.
It comes down to a choice of more visitors but fewer conversions, or fewer visitors but a greater amount of conversions. Quantity or quality traffic. You must pick the right horse for the right course.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Does the site feature a strong existing brand? If so, it may be appropriate to target the brand’s hero terms. Clickthrough rates will be influenced by brand recognition, so you can leverage high volume traffic and direct visitors to on-site conversion pages.
- Is it an ecommerce business? This is where targeting the longtail will really pay off. Exact matches for product names always have a lower bounce rate and usually a higher conversion rate for direct-to-page traffic. An added bonus is that traffic by product name is very cheap if it needs to be supplemented with pay-per-click.
- Is the site commercial in nature? Not all sites are, so they may meet expenses with on-site advertising; in this case, volume is more important than conversion. Reaching a large audience is most likely to help drive revenue.
- Does the company have a physical presence? Bricks-and-mortar businesses that create an online presence to drive foot traffic will require a different strategy to online-only ecommerce sites.
Having a clear understanding of your client’s business objectives is critical, and will determine how you approach and explain the best SEO strategy for their site. Any existing site history and traffic performance will be beneficial, though many sites will lack having the proper statistics or tracking in place.
A good way to find out why your client is starting an SEO strategy (or changing it) is to ask,” What’s more important to you: ranking number one on Google or making a sale?” The answer to this seemingly simple question will give you an insight into what drives them, as well as their understanding of search engine optimization.
By knowing your client’s expectations and determining what’s needed to meet their site objectives, you’ll be able to work out an SEO strategy that delivers the desired traffic.
Mike Hudson is the in-house web search strategy manager (SEO/SEM) for realestate.com.au. From its head office in Melbourne, he oversees the continuing growth of the company across the network of more than a dozen websites operating in Australia, Europe, and Asia. He is an avid amateur photographer, publishing his images on his personal website at http://seriocomic.com/.