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When A First-Page Ranking Isn’t Enough

You’ve worked hard to optimize certain keywords. You’ve used social media, blogs, and press releases to get links to your site and create activity around your brand. You’ve successfully landed at the top of search results. Only…you’re not making any additional sales.

What gives?

Despite years of having it drilled into our heads that reaching the top of Google search results should be our be-all, end-all goal, it leaves a major component out of the equation:


If you’re only converting, say, 0.5% of the people that visit your site into sales, there’s a lot of room for growth, no matter how much traffic you get. If you run an eCommerce site, your goal should be closer to 2%.

Whether you’re getting 1000 visitors a month or 10,000, you’ve got to focus on conversions before those numbers will really benefit you.

First, Fix What’s Broken

The reasons are limitless for why a site might not be maximizing conversions. Your job is to dig down into the specifics of why people visit your site but leave before making a purchase. And then to fix it.

Keyword Selection

If your site doesn’t speak directly to your audience, conversions suffer. Let’s say you sell financial software to churches and the clergy. You optimize for the keyword phrase “financial software.” Maybe you even rank high for this phrase. Here’s your competition:

Unfortunately, there’s nothing about any of these results that speaks to the specific needs of the clergy. And if someone clicks on your link in this list, they might not need software specifically targeted to the clergy audience.

On the other hand, if you optimize more specifically for “financial software for clergy,” you get better results:
Now the people searching for this phrase are much more likely to be your ideal customers. When they click your link, optimized appropriately, they’re more likely to make a purchase. And there, you’ve increased your conversion with a single tweak to your keyword phrase.

Site Description

Another cause of low conversion is a misleading site description. That text that appears under your link in search results is your chance to explain exactly what people should expect on your site. If it’s too generic (see last example) or ambiguous, you won’t create a breadcrumb from Google to your checkout page.

People aren’t always accurate when they search, so it’s your task to figure out what people using search engines are looking for and direct them to the most appropriate page on your site for that term. If someone types in “men’s gift,” they’re probably looking to find a site they can shop on, not a blog post to read. If you have written a blog post about men’s gifts, make sure your description aptly explains that these are gift ideas so that the searcher doesn’t think he can buy gifts from that page.

Keywords Minutiae

If you’re ranking for low-search keywords, your in for an up for an uphill battle. Super-long keyword phrases that no one is searching for don’t really help you. Congrats! You’re now #1 on Google for “water bottle with keyholder bpa free shipping black and red!” Who the heck would search like that? Probably not enough people to make a dent in your sales. While you want to be specific with your keywords, being overly so — while, yes, technically makes it easier to get to the top of search results — makes no sense if search traffic for the phrase is nil.

Pole position

Simply being on the first page of search results sometimes isn’t enough; it also depends on where you land on the first page. Often, anything below the first three positions sees a drastic dropoff in clicks. So you can celebrate that you’re #5 in search results, but if you don’t keep pushing for one of the top three spots, you still may not see the boost of traffic and sales that you were after.

Let’s look at this example: when we search for “plant terrariums,” these sites were in the top 4 results ( was #3 but we’ll take it out since the overall topic of the site doesn’t relate):

Competitive Comparison

When we compare average potential clicks, there’s a surprising gap between each. BHG, though it ranks #2 for the search term, gets much better potential click ranking, probably because it’s a magazine site with tons of evergreen content relating to not only terrariums, but also plants. ranks slightly behind (it’s ecommerce, with less informative content), and, positioned at #4 in search results, flatlines on our chart. If you look at Alexa rankings, ranks at 293,171 for US traffic, with 273 sites linking in, while ranks 12,886 (with more than 2,000 sites linking in).

Tuned In Content

Finally, if your copy doesn’t appeal to visitors, they’ll walk out the virtual door.

Your pages have got to be all about them, not you.

Now That You’ve Identified the Problem…

Don’t sweep the cause under the rug. Do something about it. Change your keyword strategy. Revamp that copy. Pay attention to what’s working, and do more of that.

    – Make your copy customer-centric: remember the concept of “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) and focus on benefits of your products, not features. Make sure you say “you” more than “we.”

    – Create landing pages for specific products: keep it simple and only address one product or category per landing page. Optimize for one keyword per landing page.

    – Make sure your website is inviting and user-friendly: The design should be simple, not crowded, and the page should load quickly. Avoid popups and crowded sidebars.

    – Simplify steps to purchase: remove any unnecessary steps to reduce clicks to make a purchase. Test it out yourself: if it takes more than three minutes, would you continue through the process?

    – Choose keywords without a lot of competition: Look for keywords with good traffic but not a lot of competitors. The more specific you are (without going overboard on the long-tailness of a keyword) the better you’ll target your audience.

    – A/B test: test out different keywords, landing pages, and page descriptions to see which convert best. Even colors and photos can net different results, so test it all, one tweak at a time.

    – Simplify your value proposition: Make it 100% clear what people will find on your website through your value prop. Can your visitors easily explain what your site focuses on? If not, consider how you’re communicating that value proposition.

    – Use great images and video: Create visual appeal to attract new customers. Invest in professional-quality photos of products. Pay for stock photos that aren’t already plastered around the Internet, the way many free Creative Commons images are.

Patience, Grasshopper

If you’re itching for better conversion after reading this, slow down a bit. Tweaking everything on your website at once won’t help you understand what was broken in the first place. Make a list of the areas you think are causing low conversion and tackle them one at a time.

For example, if you know you’re using low-search keywords, start by changing those out for better-targeted words that more people are searching for (but fewer competitors are using). See what happens for a few weeks. Did conversion go up? Great. Move on.

Then, if you’re seeing a giant bounce rate on your home page, you can look at how well or poorly your website description that appears on Google is explaining what people can expect on your website. If they’re leaving from the homepage, chances are they’re not finding what they’re looking for. Make that change and observe.

By making incremental adjustments, you get a better handle on your site’s strengths and weaknesses. Fine tune your overall SEO and SEM strategy over time. It’s not meant to be stagnant.

Keep your eye on your conversion rate and work to improve it.


Chris Sparks, iSpionage Director of Marketing
Chris is an online marketing and content strategist here at iSpionage building awareness and engagement within our target markets. Connect with Chris or on Twitter.