Most of us have been there.
In-house, it's the C-level employee with enough online marketing knowledge to be dangerous. They ask why "we're" not ranking for a term you know only gets 40 searches a month, why traffic is down, where the conversions are, and so on.
On the agency side, a derailing client call or email sends employees into a tizzy analyzing why there might be an issue, when often there is no issue at all as it pertains to search engine optimization (SEO).
These occurrences can be very time intensive. Time is a commodity none of us seem to have enough of, so it's imperative that you know how to quickly find potential problems with your SEO program from an analytical perspective.
Granularity is Key
The previously mentioned CEO or client probably looked at organic search engine traffic as a whole, saw a decrease, and decided that SEO was an utter failure.
Surface level analytical review is quite pointless and doesn't lend itself well to understanding the direction of where your SEO efforts should lie. Digging deep in analytics is where good SEOs stand apart from the rest of the pack.
Very rarely will you see common decreases across all engines, across all terms, etc., unless you're dating the developer's ex-girlfriend and he decided to robots.txt exclude the entire site late one night without telling you.
So, let's find out where the problem is. Many webmasters use Google Analytics, so it's a fair tool to use as an example. For each step below take a look at a monthly view and month-over-month view -- and, if seasonality is a concern, look at a year-over-year monthly view.
First, look at the current trends at the Source level. We want to get granular but need to know where to get granular. This often doesn't solve an issue but can indicate the presence of a large-scale problem.
Now, begin the process of asking yourself some questions, some more questions, and questions about those questions.
If you do see a problem here:
- Is the decrease only happening in one search engine?
- Is it a robots.txt issue, or site penalty due to current linking practices?
- Do you need to go look at Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Toolbox to assess any URL restrictions or evaluate current backlinks coming into the site?
Again, this often won't provide an answer unless it's a glaring problem.
Next, look at the Organic Keyword level:
Segmentation is one of the best ways of accessing issues only appearing in certain site sections or for certain terms.
Utilize the filter at the bottom of the page to filter out branded terms or filter to only include terms containing the brand name. Make sure you separate brand terms with a pipe and also ensure that no words are used in the filter that may inappropriately add non-branded terms to the branded list or vice versa.
Branded traffic is way down. How so, we rank number across all engines for this term? The likely culprit here is a lag in offline marketing.
Instead of direct searches, many often type your brand into a search engine. Take a quick glance at Google Insights also for your brand and see if it is moving downward as well.
- How are conversions for branded terms?
- Have conversions dropped or increased substantially for branded terms?
- Have there been any recent site revisions to design or layout, removal of call to actions or a change in the sales funnel?
- Is time on site pages per visit changed recently?
- Does the offline marketing message correlate with the theme, look and feel of the website or are users getting confused?
Let's flip the switch and filter for non-branded terms. Let's first look at what terms are slagging in referrals.
After reviewing your analytics for these terms, filter only to contain terms fitting your overall keyword theme and subthemes.
- Are you suffering for a wide variety of terms surrounding a keyword theme?
- Is this search behavior or have we altered our information architecture enough to not appear as an authority for this overall keyword theme and subthemes?
While filtering to only include non-branded terms, select to also view Landing Pages of the currently viewed organic Keywords:
Take a look at what pages brought these keyword referrals. Now we can attribute what avenues (pages) may be suffering in the rankings.
Look at historical traffic data.
- Did a certain term succeed in the past because a different page was ranking for it?
- Even if traffic is down for a particular keyword/landing page relationship, how are conversions?
- How is time on site?
- What is the bounce rate?
- Ultimately, is this the right page to be focusing this term(s) on?
Since we have dug down to the relationship of referral terms to landing pages, it may also be imperative to know how sections or keyword sets are performing to analyze if a trend presents itself at a folder level or if it's truly at a keyword level.
You may have seen some keywords that stand out as having an issue. But if you have 50,000 terms referring visits you may have to step back and look at the categorical of folder level to assess if a landing page is hurting one/few keywords, or a whole lot more.
Take a look at your analytics by Landing Page. Also ensure that you utilize the filter function at the bottom of the page and separated by pipes, add your main or most important folders to the filter.
What do you see?
- Are there certain folders that are experiencing large referral swings?
- Have you recently added a lot of content to one site section or removed/redirected content away from this folder?
Dig a little deeper now and similar to the above graph choose to view your analytical data by landing page filtered to only include top sections/folders of importance and also view by Keyword:
- Are there landing pages that decreased for several terms?
- Are you trying to target to many terms to one page of a site section?
- Judging by conversion and user behavior, are these the right terms to be concerned about anyway?
- Have recent changes been made to this site sections from the front or back end, new page elements, new content?
Now that you've (hopefully) found certain keyword related to certain sections/folders, you can see how this data matches up by search engine or Source. Once you've defined exactly where your problem areas are, you'll be able to create a definitive plan of action.
Instead of just saying the problem is Google, or only non-branded terms, or conversions but not traffic, you now can mold your strategy at a finite level instead of making broad, time consuming, mass changes to the site.
You may find out the problem isn't SEO at all. Usability or offline factors may be giving your SEO efforts an unknowing black eye.
Along those lines, you might be losing the traffic for a good reason if you find that traffic lost is extremely unqualified and therefore not technically an impairment to your SEO and site goals.
Not all problems sit simply at the Source, Keyword, or Landing Page level. Through the use of multi-level analytical review as well as the use of advanced filters we are able to quickly discern issues and opportunities. Analytical review can be seemingly endless in some instances and sometimes certain campaigns will force you to dig down even deeper.
Analysis of regions, for example, in the event of geo-based traffic analysis or browser settings for conversion issues, just to name a few. Taking the above approach to assessing potential SEO issues leaves you with more time, and in fact, more time to be working on your SEO campaign instead of worrying about what is seen as potential problems.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!