How to Optimize Traffic from Organic Search

By Ben Hunt
Owner, Ben Hunt Limited


A few years ago pay-per-click gave marketers a revolution for generating profits. It provided an easy way to push traffic to sales pages, measure the results. Then we could optimize the landing pages to boost conversions.

Today, PPC has lost its appeal for most of us. The market for clicks is now saturated, so the biggest spenders can gain an advantage over smaller businesses.

A really useful barometer for traffic generation ROI is to see what Affiliate marketers are doing. Ask a top affiliate where they got their traffic 3 years ago, and they would have said PPC with its on-demand traffic and easy monitoring. Ask them today, and they’ll show you a much broader traffic-generation portfolio.

The bottom line is, even for short-term profits, PPC is no longer viable in many markets, particularly for smaller businesses.

But, as everyone knows, content generation is expensive and difficult. And link building is even more so. Right?



Organic Search = Massive ROI

I’m a great champion of white-hat SEO. I believe that PPC cannot get near organic SEO for long-term returns, and I can prove it.

Here’s the traffic to my most popular landing page over the last 24 months.

This page has had 316,034 landings since May 1st, 2010.

Traffic for my best designed websites article since May 2010

What is that traffic worth? Well, the most popular search term for that page is “best designed websites”. Google AdWords tells me the current estimated cost per click for that phrase is £2.27 ($3.62). Assuming that the typical advertiser is going to make at least that amount from each click, let’s take that as the market value of each visit.

AdWords cost-per-click data for 'best designed websites'

So, with 20,162 landings last month, my page attracted $72,986.44 worth of traffic – in a month (or $1.14 million over the past 2 years). Of course, I then have to convert that traffic into business, which is another story.

How much work did it take to tap into that great traffic? Writing and publishing the post took me about four hours in total.

Four hours’ work for $72,000 worth of traffic per month! That’s a great return on investment.

Here’s the down side. I wrote that post about 5 years ago, so there can be a lead time with organic. It’s like the old Chinese proverb:

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is now.

Long-term, I suggest that organic is unbeatable for ROI. We just need to be committed to long-term organic farming, instead of being hunters chasing the short-term gains of PPC.

So organic search traffic can be great. But somehow it doesn’t fit quite as neatly into the conversion optimization model.

PPC (and CRO) tend to focus at the hot end of the conversion path – where prospects have declared what they need, identifying themselves as ready to buy. These conversion paths are pretty short and direct.

It is much harder to visualize how we can manage, track, and optimize organic traffic, particularly down in the depths of prospects’ minds as they start to brew a conscious need, where there is scant commercial intent.

Content websites can seem like a soup. We see traffic entering, mostly through thousands of long-tail search phrases. Maybe we can increase the amount of traffic. But, once they’re in, visitors have an access-all-areas pass. They follow their noses from article to article. We can try to interrupt them with ads along the way, and we can even split-test those promotions in the attempt to squeeze some value out of the chaos.

This is not the way it has to be. I believe content websites can be made into highly effective conversion funnels.


Optimizing Soup

Most of us don’t know how to do organic right. How can we organize, monitor and optimize this organic chaos into something that makes sense?

Is it possible to stop building soupy websites? Yes, absolutely.

I spent a year devising a really simple, complete model for building a great organic platform…  one that grows in value over time, which uses the full power of Google to get you more traffic.

Plus, it’s a model that makes it really easy to track and optimize conversions.

The key is to break down the path that’s common to every conversion, which enables you to create a comprehensive content strategy and action plan.

The answer lies in those mysterious depths – at the inception of the conversion path.

After studying Eugene Schwartz’s “Breakthrough Advertising”, I broke the conversion path into six distinct steps of awareness. These steps form a common sequence that everyone must complete – in sequence – whenever we make any form of commitment. I call it the Awareness Ladder.


The Awareness Ladder

Step 0 = No problem. (Note: You can’t address this market through organic search, because they are not searching for anything.)

Step 1 =  Aware of the problem, but not aware of solutions. People at this step are searching for “problem” phrases like “Help with…” or “How can I..?” or simply stating the problem.

Step 2 = Aware of some alternative solutions, but still looking. You can also identify prospects at this point by their search phrases, such as “Alternatives to…” or “What is the best..?”

Step 3 = Aware of your solution

Step 4 = Aware of the benefits of your solution to them

Step 5 = Convinced and ready to commit
Here are a few insights from the Awareness Ladder:

In the vast majority of markets, the most of prospects are down at Steps 0, 1, and 2. However, most marketing effort focuses on people who already know what they want to buy (Step 3), e.g. “Rolex watches” or “Emergency plumber Newport”.

Most websites do not bother to create content for people at Step 1 and 2, because the conversion path seems too long and flaky.

Wherever anyone is on the Awareness Ladder, they only thing they need is to get the next step of awareness. That dramatically simplifies the publisher’s goal.

We can arrange content consciously around the steps of the Awareness Ladder. Each piece of content needs to achieve just a few simple things, then link to the next logical step.

It then becomes easy to optimize the click-through from each step to the next step.

The non-commercial content at the early steps is perfect for organic SEO, providing generous, helpful content that is great for attracting links.

However commercial your proposition, I believe this organic model is the power-up you need to get better search rankings, maximum traffic, and a neat conversion funnel.

If you’re going to Conversion Conference Chicago, sign up for my session (2.15 on Monday June 25th), where I’ll give you the complete model and show you how it all fits together to deliver massive ROI.


About the Author

Ben Hunt picture

Ben Hunt has designed websites since 1994. He has designed websites and web-based applications for ISPs, start-ups and government agencies. He was one of the pioneering web designers who first applied direct marketing techniques to web design. Ben now teaches web designers and marketers how to craft websites that SELL.

Ben’s first book “Save the Pixel” has sold over 9000 copies since 2008 and is acknowledged the bible of simple web design. His second book “Convert!” (published by Wiley in 2011) has been described as “One of the most profound books on design and web marketing ever written.” In this ground-breaking handbook, Ben deconstructs the classic web site architecture and reveals a far more effective inverted approach, based on two key insights: “The Awareness Ladder” and “Multiplicity”.

See Ben Live!

Ben will be talking more about designing websites that attract traffic and deliver massive conversions at Conversion Conference 2012 on June 25th and 26th in Chicago. Join him in his session on “End-to-End Conversion: From Acquisition to Repeat Customer.” See the full agenda and read more about this session. Follow Ben on Twitter to say hello and do some pre-conference networking.

Want to save on your Conversion Conference pass?  Save as much as $600 when you register with Ben’s discount code CH12310 and our Early Bird Rates. Hurry, Early Bird promo expires on May 11th.

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