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The Relationship Between CRO, CTR, and SEO

I watched an interesting video on SearchEngineJournal this morning, and it got me thinking. The guy from SEJ was talking to the head of eBay’s SEO team, and the eBay guy talked a bit about how they’re currently quite focused on user experience — particularly, on CTR: Click-through rate. This got me thinking that there’s probably a lot of people who don’t really grasp how CTR affects a site’s rankings.

Defining Terms

  • CTR: Click-through Rate — the percentage of people who visit your site and perform whatever action your site’s call-to-action asks them to.
  • CRO: Conversion Rate Optimization — the practice of making small changes to your website, testing how those changes affect CTR, and keeping the changes that improve CTR while discarding the ones that don’t.
  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization — The process of positively affecting how your website ranks on Google and other search engines’ results pages.

Establishing the Relationship
SEO has a lot of factors involved in it, but one of the factors that people don’t often discuss is that Google pays attention to where a user goes from your landing pages. If they click the “back” button and return to the search results to pick another page, Google takes that as a sign that the user doesn’t consider your page relevant to their search results. If they “click through” to your shopping cart page, your contact us page, or some other business-relevant page, it comes across as a single that yes, your page was relevant enough to the search that Google should treat it well.

That means that the greater your CTR, the better your SEO. But how do you actually improve your CTR? With CRO! We love acronyms!

Optimizing Conversions
CTR is already an insanely important number, because if you’re an online business, CTR amounts to “the number of visitors that turn into customers.” But with Google paying attention to your CTR and using it as a ranking signal, it goes from “very important” to “absolutely one of the most important things you can focus your attention on.”

Optimizing your conversion rate, unfortunately, isn’t exactly a speedy thing. The basic method of CRO is called A/B testing, and it looks like this:

  • First, you brainstorm about ‘things that could be keeping surfers from converting.’
  • Then, you arrange that list in order of ‘those things that are most likely to be keeping customers from converting.’
  • Next, you pick the top problem, and you brainstorm a list of ways to make it a non-issue for your visitors.
  • Pick the method of non-issue-ifying that issue that seems like it’s going to do the best job of eliminating the problem.
  • Then, you create an alternative version of your website that has that single change made on it.
  • Set up your URL so that it randomly sends half of your visitors to the original site, and half to the modified site, and keep track of which one produces more conversions over the next couple of weeks.
  • Keep the version that has the better CTR, and ditch the other version.
  • Start over, and keep repeating the process until your CTR doesn’t improve over several iterations.

When you’ve maximized your CTR, you’ve done yourself a huge service — because not only have you made sure that as many of your visitors as possible turn into customers, but by improving your SEO, you’ve also increased the number of visitors you get in the first place. Understanding the relationship between CRO, CTR, and SEO can help you get there.

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