Eyes on the Prize: Conversions per Hour

In the course of an average month at Ecreative Internet Marketing we work with a lot of clients in a lot of different industries on their search engine optimization programs. When we put together our monthly SEO reports, there’s a lot of data. We’re looking at keyword rankings, at traffic from all sources, backlinks, bounce rates, conversions and converting keywords.

The SEO process is fairly simple in broad terms: we research relevant keywords, do work on and off the site to increase the search engine rankings for those keywords to get more traffic to get more conversions.

The very tail end of that equation, the conversions, is the ultimate goal of an SEO program. Whether that means more online sales or more lead generations and RFQs, the reason we’re doing all this work is to get more customers buying products or services. We want to increase the revenue end of the equation.

A Focus on Conversions

It’s strangely easy for clients to lose sight of that end goal in the process of doing everything that we do. In particular, it’s easy to fixate on organic traffic — to watch that traffic line stretch ever upward, and then equate any pause in that trend as a bad thing.

But traffic only matters to us if that traffic is converting. Certainly if we’re targeting reasonable keyword phrases, more traffic is likely to mean more conversions — but we only have so many hours¬† to work in a given month.¬† If your business manufactures forged crankshafts we could focus on “forging,” “crankshafts,” or “forged crankshafts.”

I assure you that forging and crankshafts have vastly higher search volumes (and competition) than forged crankshafts — and if we can rank well for those words we’ll get a lot more traffic, and more conversions. But while we’ll likely get less traffic for ranking for forged crankshafts, the percentage of that traffic that converts will be vastly higher.

And — here’s a very important part — it’s going to be much easier for us to rank for the more specific and relevant term. We’re going to be able to do it in less time. Where it might take up to a year of significant work to rank for forging, we can probably rank for forged crankshafts in a fraction of that time.

A New Metric: Conversions per Hour

We’re used to measuring our conversions in terms of conversions per traffic. So we brag about a 10% conversion rate and complain about a 1% conversion rate — but that’s not a real metric. It measures acquisition divided by… traffic. Traffic isn’t a real thing — it isn’t a cost, except in pay per click campaigns.

Instead what we should really be measuring is acquisition/costs — and the cost in this case is time; the amount of time we spend to obtain the new sales. If we focus on conversions gained per hour of work, suddenly we see that the cost of acquisition for those forged crankshaft conversions is vastly lower than for that forging traffic — even though we’re getting 100 times the traffic from the forging keyword.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say I can choose to try to rank for security ceilings, or for detention metal security ceilings. Both phrases are relevant, but the longer phrase is far more relevant — people typing that in the search box (it’s an industry term) are definitely looking for my product and nothing else.

Let’s say it takes me 50 hours of work to reach the top of the rankings for security ceiling. This brings me 1,000 new visits to the site, and those visits yield 25 new conversions. That’s a lot of sales!

Now let’s say it takes me 10 hours of work to reach the top of the rankings for detention metal security ceilings, but that phrase only brings me 100 new visits, but those visits yield 10 new conversions.

It’s easy to say “Hey! 25 is way better than 10!” — but that first example got me only 0.5 conversions per hour of time I put into acquiring them. The second phrase got me 1 conversion for every hour of work. The conversions per hour were twice as good.

The idea here is that if I followed the second strategy of pursuing highly targeted and high converting keyword phrases for which ranking is easier, sure I got less than half the conversions, but it only took me 1/5th the time. That left me another 40 hours to pursue a bunch of other better converting — but lower traffic — keyword phrases. So if I spent the same 50 hours of work, I could get 50 conversions rather than 25 conversions.

The important thing is to keep your eye on the prize. You want conversions, and you want to get as many as you can for as little cost as you can — and that means focusing your efforts to where you can garner the highest number of conversions per hour of work — not the most traffic.

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