No way out

Disturbing Trend with Big Business Points to the Failures of SEO

SEO brings traffic; it does not, necessarily, bring sales. Creating content that is buyer-value focused does.

Over the past year, we’ve seen an emerging trend among big business clients. It’s disturbing, this trend, because it points to the fact that a lot of businesses believed the SEO hype and didn’t pay attention to what the actual practitioners were saying. So we’ll say it again.

SEO is not the end all, be all of online marketing. It’s a layover point on the way to success; not the final stop.

Look at a car, as an example. It takes a lot of parts for a car to work and get from point A to point B. You can have all those parts but the wheels, and the car still won’t go. That’s what you’re looking at with inbound marketing. SEO is the wheels, but you still need the rest of the car to make it go.

Emerging Trend in Big Business Websites

Several potential clients have come to us lately with a big, fat, noticeable problem. They talk about needing optimization. They talk about keywords, traffic and links. In other words, they use a whole lot of SEO lingo to describe what’s happening. But they miss the boat.

When you’re getting 2 million hits for over 2,000 relevant key terms and phrases… When you have over 300,000 links to your site with relevant terms as anchor text on strong pages… In other words, when you have the kind of traffic site owners dream of, SEO is not your core problem. (By the way, these aren’t numbers picked out of the air – these are actual numbers for a site we recently reviewed).

That’s not to say your site couldn’t use more optimization, but it does mean it isn’t the core issue. The traffic is already coming in. It’s already relevant, interested traffic.

So what boat are they missing?

Somewhere along the line, these (and many other) business owners got the idea that traffic means conversions. They assumed that more traffic meant more people buying. As we have seen by the trend of potential clients, this is far from true.

Search Engine Optimization vs. Selling Your Product

To be blunt: SEO alone will not sell your product. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 million visitors if no one wants to buy your custom-made banana peel high heels for $300. It can’t make your product look interesting. It can’t make your prices worth paying. It can’t make the shipping costs look attractive, your services needed or your site usable.

If you have a crappy product, site or service, SEO brings publicity to your crappy product, site or service.

Little Italy
Touch, Taste, Hear, Smell, See

Touch, Taste, Hear, Smell, See

When you walk into a store to buy something, your senses are engaged. Think about that new car smell, or the smell of new clothes and furniture. You can touch these things, run your fingers over material and feel how soft or smooth it is. You can see the shine on the chrome bumper of a car or the dazzle of sequins on a dress. You can hear a clock chime, a car motor purr or a toy chirp. The only sense that isn’t engaged in most cases is taste.

On top of that, consider the way things are displayed. Cars are parked at an easy to get in angle. Jewelry is displayed on velvet backgrounds. Clothes are hung on the wall or draped around mannequins.  In grocery stores, products are lined in such a way to move you through the whole store for those impulse buys.


Online, the only engaged sense is sight. We can’t reach in and touch the products. Therefore, your website has to make up for the missing elements through sight. Somehow, you have to grab that buying instinct with only what the person can see. How do you do that? By grabbing them by something far more powerful than the physical senses: emotional desire.

Tapping into the Powerful Emotion of Need with Content and Calls to Action

Need is a powerful emotion, but it doesn’t have to be there initially. What has to be there is the potential of need, or the “I want” syndrome. Does the visitor digging through your hand-made cuckoo clocks really need one? No, but they want one.

So what builds that emotion? How do you turn want into need?

It sounds sneaky. To some, it even sounds underhanded. What it really is, however, is marketing and buyer psychology.

Buyer psychology isn’t a myth. There’ve been enough repeatable studies to point towards science and fact. By guiding the buyer through “converting” content and calls to action, you’re allowing them to convince themselves they really need your product. How do you do this?

Well, we’ve covered this topic a lot over the past year, probably because of the trends. Here are a few posts that go far more in to depth than we have time for in this article:

In Presenting Your Product as a Masterpiece: You Can’t Market a Piece of Junk, we covered how to use product descriptions to sell. In short form, this means including the features, benefits, values and display pictures in an easily digestible, attractive format.

Online Marketing: Are YOU Practicing Converting Conversation explains how online conversions are much like a relationship, and must be careful managed. This article includes four rules for practicing the art of converting conversation. Are You Outstanding or Just Standing Out is the follow up, with several ideas of how to stand out from a constantly building din of online stores.

Finally, Has Your E-Commerce Shopping Cart Ran Away With Your Sales gives several solutions for shopping cart abandonment issues.

Sneaky Marketing or Good Business Sense?

If you think it’s sneaky, the way products are marketed, consider this. Did you really need that new T.V., car, shirt, shoes, etc. you bought? If you still had clothes, you didn’t need a new shirt or shoes. If you had a car, but it wasn’t pretty, you didn’t need a new one. As for the T.V., you don’t really need one of those at all. It’s not necessary to your survival.

All of these products were bought, by you the consumer, because you or the seller convinced you that it was a need – even though it was really a want. That’s how a consumerist society flourishes. So again, we say, you have to guide the buyer from the first step of clicking on a search result to the final step of clicking that last button on the buy.

The Final Word

It’s frustrating – for the client and for us – to see all that traffic disappear into the NetherNet. SEO brings traffic; it does not, necessarily, bring sales. Creating content that is buyer-value focused does. Creating calls to action that really mean something (buy now just means spend money) brings sales. SEO brings traffic so the sales are possible.

You don’t have to join the businesses suffering from too much traffic and not enough sales. Adjust your focus to included value-added content!

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16 Responses

  1. You are absolutely right about the conversions. Like here I am taking an example of Google Adsense. if you are getting more than million hits in your blog and you do not optimize your site for Adsense then it will ruin your earning and at lat, you are thinking that my niche is having less Page RPM. So, do the right thing- read articles related to “how to convert traffic into customers?” there are so many books and articles present in the web. Just, you have to search it and you get the right option and if you get any problem in SEO conversion then you can ask me too. just you have to go my blog and you can find my email and social profiles there. Thanks

  2. I’ve sometimes encountered panic with clients when their traffic numbers begin dropping, even though their sales numbers are rising.

    And what’s with that? You’re doing better in average sales than you ever have, and you’re complaining because less traffic is coming in! *deep sigh* educate, educate, educate… 😀

    Thanks Doc – always a pleasure to see you on the Article Archive!

  3. Many site owners that are not tech savvy mainly encounter hurdles in conversion. Even if they to generate mammoth traffic still they don’t get valuable conversion. I must strongly agree with the other on what Hugo pointed out, better to set aside those less priorities and just keep focus on the one that gives positive prospect and to keep in good track record.

  4. Indeed, point that stuck out to me here is the importance of a compelling call to action. Well done. Some suggest that Google is moving to make page 1 of SERPs all paid placements. While that is one way to get rid of spam, it sure would have adverse affects on the SEO community. Thoughts on that welcome.


    1. Google will always do what the powers that be think is best for the company; it is, after all, a mega corporation – and since when have mega corporations really had the best interests of humanity in mind?

      Having said that, anything’s possible – BUT – we use Google because it gives better results than other engines. Have you used Bing?? If and/or when Google replaces those better results with paid placements on the front page, they have to know they’d lose a lot of users. Therefore, it’s not in the best interests of the company to make a move like that. Doesn’t mean they won’t, but if the front page turns into ads, I predict a large portion of Google users defecting to Duck Duck Go or other search engines.

      Did you see the recent fiasco with Bruce Clay offering paid inclusion into the SERPs? It was a huge PR fail – and caused a lot of concern about the possibilities. Not just because of the future of SEO, but also because it’d flat out ruin the SERPs we’ve all become used to.

      Google has a lot of power, but even the world’s most popular search engine can be replaced if it outlives its usefulness.

      What are your thoughts? Do you think I’m completely off base? You think users will continue with Google in that type of circumstance?

  5. This is definitely an interesting conversation – and one that I’ve had myself on a number of occasions. Traffic for traffic’s sake (unless your business model is primarily around ad sales) is often meaningless for most brands – although I suppose most clients that would be willing to pay for eyeballs in other areas (branding on television, display, PPC coverage without click-thru, etc.) would probably disagree with you. These clients, however, are probably more likely to have assigned a cost or value to these “eyeballs” and are *hopefully* at least analysing how those eyeballs contribute to sales further down the line.

    Although I’ve never fully understood the paying for eyeballs idea, I do think one issue with big brands is the degree to which the disassociate the reason for investing in SEO in the first place – and obviously doing so without a goal in mind becomes a bit of a box-ticking exercise and makes for very disjointed campaigns that can be very frustrating.

    All told I tend to agree with your thoughts (and Hugo’s addition for that matter) I did also want to share that structurally sometimes it can be quite difficult to positively affect CRO as part of an SEO sell or as an SEO pitch (in fact I’ve lost a pitch on the sole basis of suggesting that to hit the target set CRO would need to be in scope)… so I think there’s still cause to be careful in how far we go with this.

    I won’t dispute (for a second) that going after the “right” keywords is important – more important than chasing traffic, but the unfortunate part is that many big brands don’t “get” online and they certainly don’t get why their “SEO” should be the foremost expert in the room on all things online marketing. It makes things a bit more difficult in practice.

    1. Thanks for your comment Sammy. As a matter of fact we had another potential client contact us with the same dilemma. Oodles of traffic but nothing is converting. It’s no longer a matter of having your site search engine optimized but it’s important to spend time on a content strategy, campaign and of course social if there’s a fit. Managing and tracking has become the bloodline to most of these problems.

  6. Just the conversation I was having with one of my clients and colleagues the other day, SEO and Internet Marketing can put your brand out there in front of potential searchers, but it doesn’t grantee sales, and conversions. Hence having your site up to scratch for your targeted audience (understating their behavior, and what attracts them to make decisions) is as important.
    Generally business owners when they see that they are not converting visitors or getting sales, the general thought that comes to mind is the need of more traffic to convert more sales, but instead the focus should be on what can be done with the current traffic, if I’m getting XX amount of new unique visitors that come to the site from my targeted keywords, what can I do with these visitors to improve sales.

  7. Of course it’s all content centric. If we really want to address what happens once the technical SEO is done, it’s content.

    Unfortunately most SEOs do churn and burn

    … but it’s crap. Just because they do it, doesn’t mean they should. It’s not quality nor does it give the link value…the links, if any, are not earned for quality but for quantity. Pride, my friends – it’s about pride.

    Thanks for the great comments and conversation!

  8. Great points ! Better SEO may increase traffic but it really does nothing for conversion “rates”. It’s only after clients stop focusing strictly on page ranks and number of visits, and start focusing on deeper analytics, conversion paths and quality content that they can move the conversion rate needle. When a client truly “gets” the difference between “Search Engine Optimization” and “Conversion Optimization” (and the difference between SEO-optimized-content and Conversion-optimized-content) — that’s when the real opportunities start opening up 🙂

    1. It’s only after clients stop focusing strictly on page ranks and number of visits

      True, but you can’t really blame them, can you? When SEO is pushed as the end all be all (after all, it was once, wasn’t it?) of online marketing…. maybe it’s time for marketers to change the way optimization is marketed. It really begs the question – has our way of marketing our service changed with the way we perform the service? The answer is probably no.

      Maybe, just maybe, the SEO community as a whole needs to update the content describing the service, so clients who read before they go looking for SEO will be better informed… just a thought…

      As always, Glenn, it’s good to see you on here!

  9. I would also add that in many cases, the problem is that the keywords that actually have a proven track record of driving conversions/sales/revenue aren’t the one’s being given top priority. In other words, marketers are focusing on the terms that drive the most traffic instead of leveraging their analytics to identify the terms that have a proven track record of ROI but that don’t yet have top positioning.

    1. Excellent point, Hugo – it’s a fact that when someone has a list of potential keyterms to go over they often ask “well, yeah, but what’s the volume”? They see key term xyz (vague) has an average AdWords volume of 50,000, while key term abc (definite buyer persona) has an average volume of 10,000, and usually point to xyz.

      Ah, well – we’ll keep pushing the facts in our content until we run out of facts to push lol

      Thanks for the great comment, Hugo!

      1. Completely agree here. I think more often than not many non-technical SEO’s and those in-experienced with analytics do not take the time to configure their goal funnels and conversion tracking properly. If done right you should easily be able to dive into GA and generate a report on which keywords are driving the most high-value conversions, whether from AdWords or organic search.

        Too often these days SEO has become a simple churn and burn of content farming and submissions, many people do not take the time to truly understand and embrace the power of analytics, and use data to drive their decisions and refine their content strategy. That’s my little rant.

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