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SEO Foundations

What Is the SEO Funnel & How Is It Different Than the Marketing Funnel?

 min read
January 31, 2020
The Botify Team

We're all familiar with the marketing funnel:

This framework says that before someone is ready to buy, they have to evaluate their options, and before they evaluate their options, they have to become aware of their need and the products or services that could fill it.

We call it a "funnel" because to get to the bottom, you have to start at the top and make your way down. Success at one step is contingent on the preceding steps.

SEO has a funnel too, but it's not the marketing funnel we're most familiar with.

Let us explain.

What is the SEO funnel?

Search is a process.

While it's easy to focus on the rankings and organic search traffic that SEO can produce, it's easy to forget how those ranking pages came to be.

And with SEO, it all starts with a crawl. A search engine's crawl, that is.

Crawl: The first step in the SEO funnel

Before your content can rank and be found by searchers, search engines have to discover it.

They do this by a process known as crawling.

Search engine bots like Googlebot and Bingbot use two main methods to discover and crawl links:

  1. They follow links from known pages to find new and updated pages.
  2. They crawl from a list of pages the website owner submits to Google -- a sitemap.

You can also manually ask Google to crawl (or recrawl) your page by submitting it via the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console. Bing also has the Submit URLs feature in Bing Webmaster Tools.

If submitting content directly to search engines interests you, check out what we're working on with Bing!

But there's a problem. Search engines don't have unlimited time and resources to crawl every page all the time. Their response? A budget.

Crawl budget is the maximum number of pages that a search engine will crawl on any given website. Google determines crawl budget by weighing crawl rate limit and crawl demand.

  • Crawl rate limit is determined by crawl health (how quickly the site responds to requests) and the limit set in Google Search Console (website owners have the option of reducing Googlebot's crawl of their site).
  • Crawl demand is the combination of a site's popularity and staleness.

While smaller sites don't tend to pose problems for search engines, websites composed of hundreds of thousands or millions of pages do.

The larger the site, the more likely it is for search engine bots to miss certain pages.

What happens to those missed pages? They won't be added to the search engine's index, which means they won't be able to rank, get clicked on, or make the website owner money.

Want to learn how to fix crawl budget issues? Check out our article on crawl budget optimization!

But what happens to those pages that are crawled?

Render: The second step in the SEO funnel

The modern web runs on JavaScript, so once search engines find your pages, they may need to render them.

Just like crawling, search engines don't have unlimited resources to render content. What does that mean? You guessed it, they have a render budget too.

Google calls this their "second wave of indexing." They crawl a page's HTML without executing any JavaScript and index that. Then, once rendering resources become available, they render the page and index that version.

Martin Splitt of Google recently said that, while this two-waved indexing is still a reality, crawling, rendering, and indexing will occur closer together in the future. Why? Apparently, rendering JavaScript is cheaper than Google initially thought, which means that rendering delays will play less of a role in the future.

For now though, Google still continues to index JavaScript websites in two phases, which means that they may initially miss any content or links that you're loading with JavaScript.

If it's not rendered, it won't be added to the index, making it all the more critical to have a JavaScript SEO auditing solution.

Index: The third step in the SEO funnel

Once search engines find your pages and render their content, they can be added to the index.

You can think of the index as not only where search engines store the content they find, but also where they organize it.

According to Google, "We take note of key signals -- from keywords to website freshness -- and we keep track of it all in the Search index."

Once search engines find (crawl), render (load), and store/organize (index) a page, it's ready to be served as an answer to relevant queries.

You might also like our guide to getting your pages crawled, rendered, and indexed!

Rank: The fourth step in the SEO funnel

The goal of making sure your important content is crawled, rendered, and indexed is so that searchers can find it. When someone searches a word or a phrase in Google, Bing, or any of the other major international search engines, the search engine will return results that are ranked in order of relevance.

But just because your page qualifies to rank doesn't mean it will. So how can SEO professionals and the brands they work for make sure their audience is finding their important content?

We recommend the following:

  • Know how your audience is searching -- Google (via Google Search Console, the GSC API, or RealKeywords) gives you access to the real words and phrases searchers are using to find content like yours, and what's trending up or down. Use it to improve on existing content and ideate new content!
  • Know where your audience is searching -- Make sure you're serving content that's relevant to a searcher's location and language.
  • Know what devices your audience uses to search -- Know how your mobile search audience differs from your desktop search audience, and cater your content appropriately.
  • Map each URL to its keywords -- See which queries each of your pages is showing up for. Use that information to ensure your page is a strong answer for that query!

You can learn more in our article Creating Content That Ranks.

Convert: The fifth step in the SEO funnel

Once your content is ranking well for its critical queries, you want searchers to click. You also want those visitors to take your intended actions (convert).

That may be a purchase (e-commerce), a form fill (lead generation), or traffic and subscriptions (publisher) -- however your website makes your business money, you want the rankings that result from your SEO efforts to accomplish that end.

The organic traffic that you generate through SEO activities can absolutely have a positive impact on your bottom line, but how can you understand which of your actions produced which results?

By unifying your SEO data.

When you join your crawl data, log file data, keyword data, and website analytics data, you can see exactly how your SEO efforts are impacting your bottom line (aka your SEO ROI).

See for yourself!

Never wonder whether SEO is making an impact again.

How the SEO funnel changes the way we think about SEO ROI

Organic search has the potential to be one of a brand's biggest revenue drivers -- you just have to understand the importance of each phase of the SEO funnel, and then prioritize optimizing at each of those stages.

Search engines see ~80,000 searches every second. Is your organization working on capturing its share of that opportunity?

Brands that prioritize SEO are much more likely to find that investment very profitable (91%). The top benefit was increased sales (65%) resulting from greater conversions (62%), according to Forrester Consulting research commissioned by Botify.

So if you want the sustained revenue that organic search can bring, remember, it all starts with a crawl.

Want to learn more? Connect with our team for a Botify demo!
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