Are SEOs Responsible For Rankings Or Money?

October 19, 2010
By Lisa Barone in SEO

A few weeks back at SMX East I had the opportunity to attend the SEO Myths, Mistakes & The Madness of Crowds panel. During that panel, Matt McGee threw out a number of SEO myths for speakers Michael Gray, Stephan Spencer, Jill Whalen and Shari Thurow to debunk. The group covered all the basics like PageRank sculpting, Flash, duplicate content and everything else you’d expect. The last myth Matt offered up for debunking was, “SEO is about rankings”. The consensus was no, SEO isn’t about ranking. SEO is about money. And when it was declared, I smiled. Finally, truth.

But how accepted is that truth really? Even by the practitioners of SEO themselves?

In the comments of that post, OSM reader Remixman questioned the panel’s response. His comment hit at a lot of great points and I know he’s not alone in this thoughts. I’ll republish the comment here:

At the end of the post you say “No. The goal of SEO is to make money.’ and whilst I agree that almost every sensible action a business makes is somehow connected to making money, we all seem to have lost sight of what SEO is.

The goal of SEO is not to make money. SEO is just one link in the chain of your money making process. The goal of SEO is to bring relevant traffic to relevant site pages from the search engines.

I would love to hear views on this. SEO’s are not all conversion rate experts, this is a completely different skill-set and the next link (after SEO) in your money making chain. Surely SEO KPI’s must be based on search engine traffic (quality and quantity) and not conversions. Why would you be held accountable to something you are not qualified to improve?

I think he touched on an interesting and important discussion. I’ll share my thoughts on the topic and then I’d love for you to share yours.

I don’t think it takes much to look around and see that SEO has changed. It’s evolved and, as a result, so must we. It wasn’t too long ago that the bulk of SEO related to creating structurally sound sites, ensuring they were crawl-able and tugged at the right keywords. But that’s what SEO is anymore. At least, that’s not all that it is.

Today, SEO is just as much art as it is science. SEO has become marketing and the result of that is today’s SEOs are at least partially responsible for conversion rates. To design and market a site without taking conversion rates into account would be like designing a house but forgetting to install windows or doors. If you want people to come in and do something, you have to give them a way in. You also have to watch to see how they’re entering and maybe shave the door down if you find they’re bumping their head or having trouble fitting. And that takes understanding and looking at more than just the technical aspects of a Web site. It’s why I think that while not every conversion rate expert is an SEO, I think SEOs do have to become conversion rate experts.

At least they do if they’re selling conversions to clients. If, as an SEO, all you’re promising is a usable and structurally sound site, then it’s on the client to worry about conversions. But I know at Outspoken Media, we don’t usually take on those clients. We’d rather work on the whole puzzle than give you two or three pieces.

As SEO and the search engines continue to evolve, I think we’ll see an even bigger shift to monitoring conversions. We have to. With personalized search, real-time search, and social search all entering the fray, traffic becomes an unreliable metric to determine the success of a site or a campaign. So does traffic. Who cares if you’re getting 10,000 visitors a day if they all bounce in .8 seconds?

I watch Rae, Rhea, Dawn and the rest of growing OSM team do more than just “textbook SEO”. They work with clients to perfect calls to action that encourage people to buy and design landers that set customers into a specially crafted conversion funnel. As a team we’re tackling things like social media, content optimization, A/B testing, page design and usability, etc. It’s not just about the structure of the site anymore –it’s about the meat. The meant that is designed to do way more than just rank, it’s designed to convert.

Obviously, your responsibility as an SEO is whatever you and the client have agreed upon. It’s important to set client expectations early so there aren’t any surprises down the road. But if you’re asking me what I think is involved in a complete SEO site audit, then you better bet it includes taking conversions into account. Because even though as SEO consultants, we’re merely the coach, we want to do more than just take you the playoffs. We want to make sure you make the shot when you have the ball.

But like I said, that’s just my thoughts. Like Remixman, I’m curious to hear what others think. What’s the goal of SEO to you?

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