I recently had a conversation with someone touching on the age-old discussion of rankings vs. conversions. While the gentleman I was conversing with agreed that SEO is more than just an exercise in getting rankings—business growth does matter!—I did find it odd that he wasn’t a believer in conversion optimization.
One of the hazards of being in an industry for any length of time is that you can easily become over-confident in your abilities. On the one hand, confidence is good. Keanu Reeves would be nowhere without the misplaced confidence that he can act. SEOs, too, need to be confident that the recommendations they make will work. No one wants this conversation:
SEO: Try this.
Client: Will it work?
SEO: I sure hope so!
On the other hand, there is no amount of wisdom, knowledge, understanding or foresight that can guarantee actual SEO success. [tweet] Nor will any of that trump the actual data. That is, if you’re collecting data. If you’re not collecting data, it’s easy to be right. You can always blame a failure on something or someone else. [tweet] Being right is cool and all, but a good SEO needs to know when he’s wrong. Without being able to know that, he’s just gambling and playing the odds. He could be good at it. Very good. But, again, he’s not gambling with his own business; he (or she) is gambling with yours.
Data Works Better Than Opinions
I’m a big fan of conversion optimization, and I wish we could talk more of our clients into investing in it. Our team was recently gathered around the big screen monitor in the conference room taking a look at one of our client’s websites. We were batting around ideas, thoughts and recommendations we could make to help the client get better results, both with rankings and conversions. Our analytics strategist quickly pointed out that we can make recommendations all day, but unless we are testing them, we really don’t know what’s working or what isn’t. [tweet] Damn it, he’s right! This is why I hire people smarter than me. I’m not always right, and even when I am, I may not go about something the right way (or the best way).
This is what makes conversion optimization so important. We can be right most of the time, but it only takes being wrong once for things to go bad. Just ask Chris O’Donnell after Batman and Robin. Oddly enough, that movie didn’t similarly kill the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alicia Silverstone. Oh wait. But that brings up a good analogy. How many of these people, including directors, producers and writers, have been in the movie industry for years, and yet we are still subjected to After Earth, The Lone Ranger and White House Down? Here’s the kicker. Almost all movie studios do opinion testing of their movies to solicit people’s reactions before they are released. If opinions were accurate, a bad movie would never be made again, to say nothing about us being subjected to the entire Transformer franchise. But opinions don’t matter. Results do.
I’m a big fan of SEO. “I like it. I use it. I have a little. I keep it in a jar on top of my refrigerator. I’d like to put more in that jar.” To go back to a familiar analogy: SEO without testing is like putting water in a bucket with holes. You might be able to plug most of the holes just by guessing, but good analytics and testing will show you where your website’s conversion holes are and give you insight into how to plug them. [tweet] Experience plays a role, but it’s more like a hatchet when you need a scalpel that only a test can provide.
Don’t take my word for it; test them for yourself.