Optimization vs User Experience

I’ve run into this problem many times:

Before optimization a site is converting about 3% of its traffic. After optimization, it’s converting about 2% of its traffic but I’ve increased the traffic to the site by 50%. Not bad right? I only lost about 1% conversion, but I’ve increased traffic by a whopping 50%.

Some quick math shows that I haven’t done anything to help the site’s overall goal.

100 visitors x 3% conversion = 3 visitors converting
150 visitors x 2% conversion = 3 visitors converting

Quite often, small changes will affect the conversion rate of a page – a couple more footer links, some content rewording, or a revised title. All your efforts could easily sabotage your returns.

Obviously usability and search engine optimization can go hand in hand – they aren’t mutually exclusive. But what if you need to choose between one or the other to spend on? Should you allocate your budget for marketing or improving user experience? Or what makes more sense for a successful website?

I’d start off focusing on a web site’s usability and user experience, long before I’d allocate funds for marketing. You should too.

Why?

First, improving your user experience/usability augments the effectiveness of your marketing campaign. It doesn’t go the other way around.

Second, marketing costs are limited by time. If you stop paying for PPC or SEO – your traffic will begin to taper off too. Not so with improvements to usability, since generally it is a one time thing. (Of course, you probably want to continually improve your user experience)

Third, dollar for dollar it’s hard for marketing to generate the same amount of returns investing in your user experience will generate. Let’s say your current conversion rate is 1% and through usability testing / conversion tweaks, you are able to increase that to 2%. In order for marketing to return the same amount of overall conversions, you would have to increase your traffic by 100%. On top of that, you would need to keep those traffic gains consistent all the time.

Fourth, many usability tweaks are common sense. For example, take a look at this thread over at Webmaster World, many of the tips are simple and would not cost anything other than a few minutes of your time.

Focus on a good user experience first, then place your efforts into your search engine marketing campaigns. Not before.

Anyone else have a story about optimization/marketing campaigns that affected conversions (for better or worse)?

2 thoughts on “Optimization vs User Experience

  1. ” If you stop paying for PPC or SEO – your traffic will begin to taper off too. ”

    A good seo work keeps over time. Make your web able to show his content to search engines is something that don’t stops if you stop paying.

    Maybe Blach Hat Seo is the Seo that you say stop working if you don’t pay, because is based on googleboming your web with keywords from link farms.

  2. Ferran:

    That’s partially true – good SEO work will maintain traffic gains over PPC for a while. But you still need to consider what your competition is doing when you deal with SEO. Are they still building links, creating new content, increasing their page count, etc?

    In order to ensure that you keep your rankings, you’ll need to continue your SEO efforts. Otherwise, your competitors may catch up to you.

    Improving your user experience is different. You are only competing against the previous version of your web site.

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