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Understanding The SEO Triangle

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There is no doubt that competition between businesses on the World Wide Web is increasing. If you aren’t feeling the heat yet, you will soon enough. In order to survive, you must have a sharply focused strategy in all aspects of your online presence.

When it comes to search engine marketing and SEO, an effective strategy requires a balance between three major factors: the cost of the campaign, the quality of the resulting traffic, and the total amount of traffic generated. To illustrate this better, we present the “SEO Triangle.”


At the peak of this triangle is “Lower Cost,” a goal that we all have in mind. If the cost of acquiring customers should exceed the profit, you’re losing money.

At the lower left is “Better Traffic.” Naturally, everyone wants better traffic. Improving the quality of traffic means a higher conversion rate, and more revenue per visitor.

At the lower right is “More Traffic.” Who wouldn’t want more traffic? More traffic means more opportunities to sell or persuade, and testing different offers etc. is only possible with enough traffic.

One of the truths of website marketing is that you can’t focus on all three of these at once. You can, however, develop a strategy that balances them properly, and take action to improve your position at all three points of the triangle. This article will look at how to improve your position in each area, and conclude with some final thoughts on reducing the impact of higher costs.

Better Traffic = Precise Targeting

To improve the quality of your search engine traffic, simply focus on the very specific search terms that represent the type of visitor you want. If you sell “toy wooden boats,” then target that search precisely, instead of the more generic “toys.” The more specific the search term, the more precisely you can target the desired visitor.

The benefits of targeted traffic are many: higher conversion rates, lower costs, and a better experience for all of your site’s visitors.

Strategy #1: Low Cost, Better Traffic
A strategy of precisely targeting search engine users can usually be accomplished at a very low cost. For many site owners, it’s as simple as reformatting your web pages to optimize for the keywords that you’re already using. The web abounds with free advice on how to optimize a web page – stick to the basics, no fancy tricks, and that’s all it takes.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the volume of traffic is likely to be very low. Simply optimizing your content will gain you a lot of rankings for less competitive search terms, but not necessarily top rankings. The more unique content you have on your site, the more traffic you’ll get, but there are limits.

As a first step, this is an excellent choice, but long term success will demand more from you. A great deal of SEO effort today is focused on generic search terms that aren’t well targeted, but the trend over time is for all search terms to become more competitive. Even extremely targeted search terms may have “accidental” competition from less relevant sites, due to the far-reaching impact of link popularity campaigns.

Strategy #2: Better Traffic, More Traffic
There are several ways to increase the amount of targeted search engine traffic your site attracts. The main methods are: keyword research to improve focus and uncover more search terms; content development to target more search terms; strategic link development to improve rankings; and pay-per-click advertising to increase your overall presence.

The least expensive of these methods is keyword research. Simply discovering the most popular combinations of search terms, and refocusing existing content to target the best search terms, will undoubtedly improve your overall results. Thorough keyword research is fundamental to any “better traffic” strategy.

Content development may not cost much, depending on your business. Many businesses have a wealth of content in marketing materials, technical documentation, even their email support archives. All they have to do is repurpose it for online use. To cover a broader range of search terms, most sites need additional content.

Some search terms, no matter how specific, will attract more competition. A #1 ranking can easily bring in ten times the traffic of a #10 position, and the difference is often a matter of a few well-targeted incoming links. Spending a little time or money to get those links can dramatically improve your rankings and traffic.

In some cases, the competition for “free” search engine listings will be too much. At SEO Research Labs, one of our top search terms is literally, “top search terms.” Nearly every search engine has a page showing their current top searches, and we’ll never outrank them. We can, however, use pay-per-click advertising to target that search term very cheaply.

Paid listings can also be a very good complement to free listings. The overall traffic that results from appearing in both sides of the search engine results is far greater than you would expect from simply adding the two together. Search engine users clearly gain confidence in your site when they see it in both places.

Strategy #3: More Traffic, Lower Cost
The idea here is to find the most popular search terms that you can compete for. “KEI” (Keyword Effectiveness Index) is largely based on this approach. Not only is this a difficult path to follow, it’s just not very effective any more. As competition moves into the available niches, this approach will slowly degrade into a poor version of Strategy #1.

Strategy #4: More Traffic, Higher Cost
We have already covered all 3 sides of the triangle. However, this article won’t be complete unless we examine one more strategy, which many readers are probably pursuing today: throwing big money at very competitive, very popular, very generic search terms.

If you think a highly competitive search term might be worth pursuing, it’s a lot cheaper to buy pay-per-click advertising first to find out whether the traffic will convert to sales. If you can profitably target these search terms with pay-per-click, you have a much better chance of success with an SEO campaign. Before embarking on this strategy, let’s consider what you’re up against, and what it takes to succeed.

Some competitors will drive up the cost of pay-per-click advertising. Others will buy links from unrelated sites to improve their Google PageRank. For some search terms, competitors will secretly buy multiple domains to increase their odds of success. It can take a lot to keep up, and the struggle never ends.

It also takes a lot more to turn untargeted traffic into sales and profits. If a competitor has higher profit margins, a better conversion rate, or more repeat business, then they probably have more resources to compete on search engines. With generic search terms, they may not even be in the same business as you.

To Decrease Cost Sensitivity, Focus On Your Website

Every algorithm change at Google brings people out of the woodwork to complain that their free traffic has dried up, and they “can’t afford” to use pay-per-click. When Overture increased their minimum bid to 10 cents a while back, website owners flooded the online forums to complain that they simply couldn’t afford the higher rates.

If you can’t afford to pay 10 cents to bring in a visitor, maybe it’s not the traffic. Maybe it’s your website itself that isn’t worth a dime. A very basic website overhaul, to improve your conversion rate, may be the best investment you could possibly make. I recommend Roger C. Parker’s book, “Streetwise Relationship Marketing On The Internet,” to anyone considering a site overhaul. It’s available for under $20 at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

We recently launched a new design for our website that better addressed the needs of different types of visitors. The result was an immediate four-fold increase in our conversion rate, and a massive rise in the number of inquiries from potential customers. This radical improvement allows us to bid in dollars, not dimes, for the right search terms.

There are many websites out there that could easily achieve similar results. Even without a complete redesign, measuring your website’s performance at every stage can point out areas of improvement. The “Grok Dot Com” newsletter (www.grokdotcom.com) offers a wealth of information to help webmasters improve their conversion rate.

Site design and search engine strategy should go hand in hand. If you’re overhauling your web site, don’t forget to do your keyword research, and keep the “SEO Triangle” in mind as you plan out your content. I wish you success!

Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22

Understanding The SEO Triangle
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