In-line sharing optimization, SEO and conversion rate

Thinking in terms of goal completion is essential when working with all types of SEO, social media and more specifically, the conversion of traffic in any shape or form from these channels. In this blog post I will present a way of working, you can use when you optimize your conversion funnel for 1. primary goal completion (usually some kind of purchase, download, signup etc.) and 2. secondary goal completion (such as sharing, linking, commenting). It will be tilted towards the secondary purpose as this article really came about when talking about the updates in Google Penguin.

So what’s to consider in terms of SEO, conversion and sharing?

When selling a product online you need to think in terms of two significant frameworks. First you need to consider landing pages, and secondly you need to consider user paths/user journeys/conversion funnels (virtually the same thing as they all should lead to a completion of a transaction you have determined).

Landing pages need to be optimized for two things. They need to be optimized for visibility and they need to be optimized to build desire to complete your proposed action. Ie. your visibility creates traffic that is essential, your USP and way of meeting your visitor makes them want to buy from you. User paths need to be optimized for ease. Ie. you need to decrease the friction the user experiences when they are attempting to convert.

There are several thousands of articles written about landing page optimization. Most of them focus on how you can increase the lust or desire to complete some form of task. To convert. There are quite few however that consider full user paths. This blog post aims at discussing user paths with the goal of adding some sharing to the conversion funnel. I don’t know what it is formally called, but I choose to call it “in-line conversion rate optimization”.

Why is it important to optimize for sharing?

Recent events within SEO have made it ever so clear that you need a wide range of different types of links to your website. One of my tweeps wrote a blog post that inspired me to write this one. It is a short summary of how the Google Penguin update is effecting you and what you should think about when working with on page SEO.

In terms of conversion rate optimization and SEO, you prioritize getting traffic to those pages that convert well for you. The best way of doing so is to increase the ranking of that page for the desired search terms in the search engine result pages. When we have Penguin in fresh mind, we know that the old facts about links have been turned on their head. Links are still needed to beat the competition, however, it has become increasingly important that these are contextual, next to semantic, and more natural than before. The easiest way of creating such links is through user interaction – sharing.

Thus, users and not machines have to start building a big chunk of your link juice. Besides improving the actual content on your pages, you should also focus on when you ask the user to link to you or to share your content (which means that they put a link to your web content on another page – ie. link to you.) As I wrote on Tribaling, it really doesn’t matter how good your content is, as long as it uses mechanisms that make people share.

People share what they want to share and what they are convinced to share. As I discuss in my guest blog post on Tribaling, you really need to start understanding what and why people share in order to improve your content. Once you do understand these patterns, it will become a part of your natural content creation. Then you can focus on how to boost the results by using different tactics.

So what the heck is in-line sharing?

In meetings with clients that sell stuff through online channels, I often get into the discussion of “how to increase sharing without taking the eyes of the prize”. Ie. they do not want to ask too many things of their website visitor, as they want to optimize for the ultimate conversion goal. In terms of in-line we are going to add one or several calls to share throughout the conversion funnel or user path.

What makes this in-line is the way that we do it. We make the sharing a part of the product rather than make it another step. Think about it. If you are selling shoes, your buyers might need advice when choosing between two options. Add a create image – post to wall for advice call to action. If you are selling a subscription you can put a matching functionality on your thank you page saying – Increase your knowledge, compare your preferences with someone you trust – connect to facebook/G+ whatever.

If you have a service that require contacts – ask people to make their first additon or call or whatever by syncing with who else has the service. Even before someone has started the conversion funnel, ask them to check out who else of their friends are using the service – connect to facebook and match with your friends. If no one has done this before, then use the call to action – “Ask for matching access from MAX 5 of your friends” or something like that. They need to think that it is their fault that there aren’t any users who have used the service before… getting side tracked… however… one more thing…

Let me elaborate on the shoe example. Let’s say your visitor is selecting between buying two different types of shoes. When browsing your website they have added both of them their checkout basket. Once ready to select they click their basket icon and see all the stuff they have selected. They now feel really anxious that they are about to make a poor mistake. This is a perfect time for you to prompt them with a call to action – “Create a moodboard and ask your friends on Facebook” or G+ or Pinterest or whatever. You get the point. The user gets to post it to the wall with a pre written question they can change – “Please help me select what shoes to buy – tag yourself on the one you vouch for”. Doubble time sharing as this is posted to their walls as well. Sweet.

Getting back to it. If they select get their friends opinion – share – then great. You feed them with a message – “Great, we will send you an e-mail with feedback once your friends have replied”. Or, buy now and have the option to change your mind when your friends have had their say. Or, woops your friends couldn’t decide, buy both with free 1 day delivery and 10% off your second item. Or something like that.

You start getting it I guess. You make sharing a part of your conversion funnel, rather than making it something people do statically. You give them a reason to share whilst making their decision, or to be able to boast, or for whatever other reason you can find when analyzing your website personas. DON’T put a share button on the page unless the page itself is a shareable object. Rather make sharing a part of the purchasing process. Wow… that paragraph became a blog post in its own right. LOL… getting back to it….

How do you optimize for sharing in terms of in-line conversion?

I have written about Biconic conversion models before, but that blog post still didn’t take into account the challenge of time, which is one of the greatest friction moments of any type of user path. If it takes to much time, they have time to think, and thus they are less likely to convert as their level of arousal that was created by the landing page, decreases as time goes by.

You cannot simply add steps between the user and their completion of the goal. You need to optimize some away first. This is really the focus for in-line conversion optimization. If you add something you have to optimize something so that it runs more smoothly.

So. To get to it. What should you do? Well, I usually do the following, if I don’t have the luxury of fancy fancy analytics tools:

  • I look at the average time a user spends from landing page to completing a preferred goal
  • That average time I assume to be the time a person is willing to spend to purchase anything from me
  • This average time thus works as a comparative, or an anchor for myself
  • If I manage to decrease that time spent, then 1. either more people will convert or 2. I can increase the value of their purchase given that they can perform these tasks within the same time period
  • I then use all my time optimizing to shorten the time spent by the user
Listen. I assume that sharing increases the value of my pages and my ranking for SEO traffic. You must be cautious here. Before you have a look at this, you really need to work to build your conversion rates in general, up to some average industry level. Then do a benefit analysis/ROI analysis which I will describe more clearly later in this blog post.

What types of call to action should you use?

So. We have now defined that your main KPI is the average time spent and you should try to decrease this. The purpose of decreasing the time is so that you can start completing your secondary conversion goal – ie. increasing the value of the page in terms of visibility. In terms of Google Penguin update, this is done by getting contextual placements of links back to your web content (plus a variety of contextual stuff on your pages).

In order to make someone share your content on their way to conversion, you really need to have your sharing call to action make sense. I mean. You cannot just write “share this” somewhere on the page and expect users to do all the work. You have to stick it into their face and describe to them why “sharing is caring” or why “sharing is valuable to you”, as described above. Just as on the landing page, you need to build arousal or desire to actually perform this task.

And you DO need to do it in-line of the user path. This is an important statement. This basically means that you should use

Calculate the ROI of sharing

In the end it all comes down to ROI calculations. If you believe that an improved ranking will increase your traffic by let’s say 1000 visitors. You know you convert 15% of these. Then you know that you will earn your price times 15% times 1000 by increasing your pages ranking.

If for example you increase your conversion rate by lowering time spent to convert by more than that, you probably shouldn’t add any in-line linking mechanisms to improve your rankings. Especially not if your page is already ranking well.

However, if you find that an improved ranking would surpass the decrease in conversion rate due to the in-line linking mechanism. You should probably consider adding it. Or in other words. If you find that you have optimized your conversion rate to a place you feel comfortable, then you should try to increase traffic, if the trafic increase doesn’t mean you decrease your net revenue.

Or in bullets.

  • Conversion rate is a function of time (and some other factors)
  • Traffic is a function of links
  • In order to make someone link to you, this will take time from them
  • If you increase time, conversion rates will drop
  • In order to find your optimum you need to consider both what a ranking increase would mean in terms of traffic and you need to consider how the extra time spent by a user when converting is effecting how many of them convert
  • If the traffic increase produces more money than the decrease in conversion rate takes away – it is a rational and good thing to do


So many words for saying so little. But I truly hope that this has given you some insight into how I think in terms of sharing, SEO value and conversion. Ie. when not only taking any of the important steps out of the equation.

So in terms of Google Penguin, your rankings and thus also traffic for relevant keywords is increasingly needed to be natural and contextual. It needs to be the result of natural sharing. Thus you need to focus your work on creating content that is shareable, and create mechanisms that actually help people share. I suggest in this blogpost how you can do this by putting the call to action for sharing in-line with the user journey to the primary conversion goal.

I hope you enjoyed it!

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