Just because your SEO campaign is experiencing hiccups doesn’t mean you aren’t a good SEO practitioner. Certain situations like this force you to look at the alternative factors that can affect SEO success.
When you work within the agency world, managing SEO campaigns will make you privy to a host of several different situations. Some of these are good and some are bad.
For those who work in this space, you may very well agree that when SEO is working, clients love you, and when it’s not, they starting calling you a lot more. I would love to say that I am the world’s best SEO and have never seen a down-trending month of organic traffic, a dip in organic sales, or user behavior hitting the dumps. But I won’t, I will however admit, and those in all walks of SEO (agency/in-house/site-owner) should typically agree, there are good months, great months, fair months and *gasp* bad months.
The focus here is on enduring the bad months. For those of you hell bent on white hat SEO and creating search engine friendly sites it is all but a punch in the face when you look at analytics daily, MOM or even YOY to see a loss in traffic. The rankings are there, how did this happen?
The same goes with organic conversions. The traffic is still there, why did the conversion percentage fly south?
We’ve all been here several times, scratched our heads, and sometimes even banged it against a wall, resulting in more than a few headaches trying to find out why tried-and-true SEO methods aren’t working. Despite this self-inflicted mental abuse, most of these dips aren’t the fault of the SEO. These are in fact caused by several different factors which the most frequently seen are listed below.
And as a disclaimer for the FDA, I am not stating in my column title that I can cure SEO pain, only that I can provide relief.
We can sum up the success of most SEO campaigns as the collaboration of rankings and traffic working together with usability and conversion optimization to form the end goal of a conversion. While we could write a dozen books on the last two elements, I will leave exact science of that to the usability gods such as Tim Ash and to the conversion optimization gurus such as Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg. What I do want to touch on are the quick-check items to understand unfavorable SEO data.
The Rankings are There, the Traffic is Not!
- Find the top referring organic keywords for the past few months. Apply them to Google Insights. Is there a seasonal/economic/media related trend for these keywords you are unaware of? For example, your reliance on “buy red dog leashes” is down after Casey Anthony is seen walking her dog with a red dog leash. OK, a bit extreme.
- Review impression vs. CTR data in your Google Webmaster Tools account. Have impressions decreased while your average rankings have remained stable?
- Run your top campaign keyword terms through the Google AdWords tool, export and review the by-month breakdown of search volume trends. This is something you want to pay attention to if your client is selling ice cream cones in December.
- Has your client made changes to SERP specific elements, title/meta/page-name without telling you? A quick change of enticing title element text and description to “Acme Brick Company”, ”Welcome to the homepage for Acme Brick Company” can do a number on click through rates.
- Do you have analytical tracking code on all your site pages? Run a tool such as Analytics Checkup. You never know when the client or dev team could have mistakenly dropped tracking code from important pages. Another beacon that may show this problem is a MOM Landing Page or Content comparison in analytics.
- Are the rankings really there? Relying on a keyword ranking report can be deceiving. Rankings fluctuate continuously and other SERP factors also come into play. For example, you may still have that 4th place listing but through manual review you can see that images are now displayed via universal search and your listing just got pushed under the fold of the page.
- Don’t just look at the rankings, look at the landing pages. If you have top ranking page that is now 404ing awaiting SERP elimination in the next crawl you can have a ranking that isn't driving traffic. Remedy this in the future with a custom 404 page to hopefully retain visits.
The Rankings are There, The Traffic is There, but Where are My Conversions?
- The likely culprit here is that someone has adjusted the analytical goal URLs, match type, funnel URLs or through site maintenance has dropped the conversion tracking code.
- Are you attuned to your client’s promotional schedule? Not checking the site often makes it hard to see that an important call to action may have expired, been removed, etc.
- Has your client recently removed main and sub-navigational links? Alterations to the click-path can leave visitors disconnected with the previous well performing conversion funnel.
- The traffic is there, but is it the “right” traffic? Your recent blog post may have provided a lot of heavy bounce traffic while your usual top converting terms may be trailing this month due to various reasons listed above.
While our industry serves us a plethora of other situations, these are the typical issues you'll see on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and even year-to-year comparison review. While you are likely to see even stranger predicaments, these are the quick checks you should review to avoid data review headaches.