A lot of companies have now started implementing SEO and CRO (conversion rate optimization) simultaneously into their marketing mix. Although these two optimization approaches can and should go hand in hand, there are sometimes conflicts between the two.

Some of these are real, but most of them are rooted in marketing mythology. The aim of this article is to shed some light on these issues and give marketers a solid grasp of the idea of implementing SEO and CRO simultaneously.

If You’re Not Doing CRO Yet, It’s Time to Think Again

Conversion rate optimization is an umbrella term for various actions and practices aimed at transforming website visitors into paying customers. Instead of focusing on the number of visitors, like SEO, CRO’s goal is to maximize the paying share of those visitors, i.e. get as much revenue as possible from the existing traffic.

There’s a stereotype among marketers that CRO is only about A/B testing. Although A/B testing one of the staple activities in CRO, there are numerous others that are part of the process, such as website personalization, online surveys, heat-mapping, user testing, session recordings, website overlays, etc. Nowadays, most of those are being automated by specialized software, such as Omniconvert and Optimizely.

The main appeal of CRO is thus the fact that websites can increase revenue by optimizing their websites instead of investing more in traffic acquisition. According to a study done by Prelocate, the average share of advertising expenses is almost half of the entire marketing budget (48%), which means it is constantly eating up sizeable sums of money; if you spend some of it on maximizing your conversion rate instead, you get increased future returns for many periods to come.

In many respects, the evolution of CRO’s popularity is similar to what happened in the SEO market: 10-15 years ago there were still websites that thought SEO was optional; most of them are now getting nowhere near the amounts of organic traffic enjoyed by their more savvy competitors. Likewise, conversion rate optimization has been around for a while but it’s nowhere near its maturity. According to Google Trends, we can see a sharp increase of interest for conversion rate optimization starting with 2016.

And like 10 years ago there are companies today that believe that CRO is optional. While their peers are investing in higher conversions, the former risk being left behind in the ever-speedy internet race, similarly to the SEO-deniers of the last decade.

Can CRO Harm SEO?

One of the main concerns of marketers that would like to start implementing CRO strategies on their websites is that they risk harming their SEO efforts. Although this seems valid at first sight, there aren’t any reports so far of websites that have been penalized by Google as a direct result of their CRO actions.

However there are some important aspects that we should take into account here in order to make sure we avoid the potential risks involved. Some of these practices might have an effect on SEO, but most of them don’t. Here’s what you should know:

A/B Testing and SEO

A/B testing is the technique that people associate the most with CRO, so it gets a lot of attention. And the word around town is that it might harm SEO because of the old content cloaking rule that’s been in place since the early 2000s.

Content cloaking is a black-hat SEO technique that serves different content to search bots and real visitors, based on their IP addresses. This was an issue in the early days of SEO when black-hatters would create a keyword-stuffed version of a page for search engines only to serve a clean and user friendly version to real visitors. This forced Google to put a lid on it by penalizing the websites that were cloaking their content.

And because A/B testing (and especially split URL testing) works in a similar way, some marketers are afraid of getting their websites penalized. However, according to Matt Cutts, the chief SEO evangelist at Google, “A/B testing can be really helpful”.

In order to take all the precautions before running your A/B tests, here’s what you can do:

  • If you’re running split tests, then use a canonical tag pointing to the original page (or add “noindex” tags) for each new URL
  • After the split tests are completed, make sure to add 301 redirects of the variations that will not be implemented.
  • Create hit and run experiments: test a hypothesis, let the experiment run until you have enough data and stop it. Avoid multiple ongoing tests without clear finishing dates.

SEO and Mobile Overlays

Back in 2016 Google released an update by which mobile sites with intrusive overlays / pop-up banners / interstitials would be penalized in search results. Considering that website overlays are an important part of the CRO toolkit, it can be argued that this might be a conflict area between it and SEO.

Although there have been no reports of websites being penalized by this specific update so far, it’s definitely something that should not be ignored. Especially considering that most of the website overlay tools display the creatives both on desktop and mobile versions if not otherwise specified. So make sure you understand Google’s definition of ‘intrusive interstitials’ and adhere to those rules in your CRO experiments.

Best Practices for Managing CRO + SEO

Most of the cases when CRO can negatively influence SEO is when there are two different teams optimizing the website, each from their perspective, without efficiently communicating with each other.

In this scenario, the CRO team for example can change page titles and other on-page elements critical to SEO, or create duplicate versions of a page without using proper canonicals. This can lead to rankings drops, but not something so bad that it can’t be recovered from with proper fixes.

However, in order to avoid such scenarios here are some tips and best practices to keep in mind while implementing both strategies in the same time:

  • Create testing procedures that aim at avoiding SEO accidents and follow them each time you roll out a CRO test/update.
  • Make sure the CRO and the SEO teams are in constant contact and are collaborating instead of working in parallel.
  • Hold trainings for both teams so that CRO people learn about SEO and vice-versa.
  • Keep an eye on new Google updates that might impact CRO’s effect on SEO.

Overall, using both search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization requires some additional considerations, but if those are followed diligently, such mix usually results in more traffic and conversions at the same time, giving a hefty boost to your online business’s bottom line.

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