SEO and conversion? Really?


I was really surprised to read Taylor Pratt’s article about the state of SEO. If we can all just get along and respect each other, he said — not in so many words– we’re on the road to victory, and that road leads toward more conversions.


I think Taylor cares about conversion, but I just don’t think that a lot of other SEOs are on board there. Maybe I am just out of touch… but it just seems like the vast majority of SEOs show ranking reports. “You used to be in position 25 in the SERPs, sir, and now you are in position 5!”

In fact, there are really three ways to measure how well your SEO is doing:

1) Showing the customer how their position has changed in the search engines (Position)
2) Showing the customer how many more visits they got from the keyword. (Clickthrough)
3) Showing the customer how many more conversions they got from the keyword (Conversion)

Position is the easiest to prove. And after all, many SEOs feel like that is their job. Clickthrough is harder to achieve, because the click is a function of position, title tag and description. The description might be the one you wrote, or not at all. So it is capricious.

But what about conversion? Some web analytics tools allow you to easily track conversion to the first referrer and last referrer (and everyone in between.) In Google Analytics, you will always get the last “real” referrer. (Use of a bookmark or directly typing in your URL, for example, won’t overwrite a real referrer like a banner ad click, but every other kind of ad/keyword/reference will. Sure, you can do some fancy footwork to capture the first referrer, but most people do not.) This is a topic that has been addressed a lot…

Unless you take the time and effort to set up your analytics, or unless you have a site where most conversions take place on the first visit, you will often feel like your organic efforts are for naught. Sure, they’ll find you on a non-branded keyword, but will often come back on a branded keyword. So I think most sites (who aren’t going to do that kind of analytics set up, which has its drawbacks, too) should be doing trend analysis — comparing increase in organic traffic to increase in conversion, even if those conversion ultimately came on branded searches or through advertisements.


Our founder, Robbin Steif, started LunaMetrics in 2004. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a Diamond Award for business leadership. In 2017, Robbin sold her company to HS2 Solutions and has since retired from LunaMetrics.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Robbin! It’s really disapointing to see the disconnect between so many SEOs and conversions. I can’t tell you the number of SEOs that I’ve told to judge an SEO campaign by conversions (as opposed to rankings) and they look at me like I’m crazy!

    I hope that conferences will help build that bridge by offering more advanced analytics sessions to their attendees. I guess the best thing they can do is attend your conference in June!!

  • Hi Robbin,

    very interesting post, I think that the market is crying for more advanced SEO measurement techniques. I have been asked about that several times. Maybe if I could come to NY next week I would have the final answer 😉

    I have one question.

    In Google Analytics, you will always get the last “real” referrer. (Use of a bookmark or directly typing in your URL, for example, won’t overwrite a real referrer like a banner ad click, but every other kind of ad/keyword/reference will”

    I think Avinash mentioned in his post Conversion / ROI Attribution that GA will overwrite anything when considering conversions, even when a person types in the URL.

    Is it so?

  • Conversion’s usually expressed as a fraction, not a raw volume (which has less context) – Conversion = # Sales / # Unique visitors. You could also do well to look at ROI..

  • @daniel – you mean, his videos?? No, I can’t imagine he would say that. Direct (bookmark or typed in URL) never overwrites anything in GA.

    I really wish you were coming to NYC, it would be so great to see you… now that I don’t get to work with you every single day.


  • Too true, Robbin. Well said.

    An SEO expert is generally a technologist, though, and will usually have a difficult time with the conversion mindset since it involves more of the ‘soft’ skills like design and copywriting. You’re right that, if the page hasn’t changed during the SEO period, it would be great to measure conversion to ensure your SEO efforts are still maintaining a high ‘Relevance’.


  • As slightly more of a PPC guru than an SEO one, conversion mindset is my approach to SEO, and how we’ve designed our SEM dept. It amazed me that everyone in SEO isn’t conversion focused.

    Our feeling is that sooner or later, client’s attitude toward SEO will go from being “yeah we know we have to do it now cuz everyone else is” to “what ROI are we getting on what we’re paying you for SEO”?

    This is critical, because if your keywords are targeted based only on KEI and not on KPI’s, you may be SEO’ing your clients away from ROI. Enough TLA’s?

  • So does that become a meta acronym?

  • Robbin,

    I have to agree on most points. Fortunately many SEO’s have grown up and have moved beyond rankings, but I have noticed a regression in the past few years.

    I’ve noticed a growing “links or bust” mentality, forgetting that there are simple changes that can be done on websites to improve sales and conversions. By consuming themselves with search engine algorithms, pageranks and links, they forget that the biggest ROI can be attained by working on the website itself.

  • Before moving to an agency, I was brought in as vp sales & marketing where an agency relationship already existed. When i got there, the president was used to getting a report from the agency. Sadly, it was a scrape of the web logs showing all the keywords used to find our site. It was filled with 3-6-8 word long-tails that never converted.

    They didn’t report on any converting keywords (even though they had/managed the converting ppc campaign data) because we didn’t rank for those keywords. The agency had been presenting this lame report to the president for several months without providing any actionables to improve converting keywords in the SERPS. They had managed to get the site #1 for the branded company name. At the time, that was good enough for the president.

    Somebody has to tell, sell or somebody has to learn something before the proper focus on ROI can be achieved. As long as there is competition, sooner or later, they’ll find out about SEO ROI. Many of the big players are already there because the people making the analytic tools are selling those features – who’s selling to the little shop running Google Analytics (hey, it’s free!). Somebody will get to them eventually… maybe it will be Google.

  • I agree with Ranter, but seo clients really want to see their rankings at the top.

  • Seo

    1) Showing the customer how their position has changed in the search engines (Position)
    2) Showing the customer how many more visits they got from the keyword. (Clickthrough)
    3) Showing the customer how many more conversions they got from the keyword (Conversion)

    great ways noted it 10x.

  • SEO

    Just wanted to thanks for the valuable info about SEO.

  • Interesting thoughts Robbin.

    From my experience people ask for an increase in their rankings mostly. For example, saying: “Can you get me from position twenty-five to number one?” Conversions and bottom-line seem to play second fiddle to many in the offline world. My theory is it’s ego and boasting rights in their respective markets e.g. “Hey John, our site is number one in Google. Where’s yours?”

    Know what I mean?

  • I think most of SEO client want their website into top of google

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  • Quite frankly: RESULTS are all that matters… reports don’t mean jack unless you get a return on investment… and a good one at that.

  • You are absolutely right Robin.

    I would suggest using an analytics tool which is hosted on the webserver to get better conversion results rather than google analytics. There will be no delay in the results.

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