As I'm sitting here, I am awaiting a response from a client on renewal of their SEO efforts.
This particular client is a bit of a "dream client." Not because they are a big name or spending a ton of dough…it's because their project has been incredibly unique, ripe with all kinds of interesting challenges.
This client came to us after having "tested the waters" with various SEO firms. They were pretty convinced that "nothing could be done" to change their course. Sales were dropping, and they were so convinced of "penalties" (though they've really done nothing overtly aggressive with their past SEO efforts) that they also thought AdWords had penalized them.
This client is mid-sized with revenues around $20 million per year, selling mostly online, but also has a sales staff working both inbound and outbound leads. They add a lot of content to their site on a monthly basis (10,000-20,000 pages per month). Needless to say, it's a very dynamic environment to work within.
Though this client had worked with many SEO firms in the past, there was a lot of standard "blocking and tackling" that hadn't been performed.
Increased sales. Increase in "good" organic search traffic. No focus on "head" keywords. The site is so incredibly big that it's absolutely the "very long tail" that drives the business.
About 80 percent of the time, we follow a similar SEO process that includes keyword research, competitive analysis, site structure analysis, link analysis, recommendations, etc.
This was far from a "typical" engagement.
First things first, we needed a baseline. Believe it or not, this company had never set up ecommerce tracking for the website. And, the "goals" that had been set up in Google Analytics did little to provide actionable information to really know what's going on, or whether things were "good".
All we knew was that "sales were down". There were certainly feelings that "SEO didn't work" or "we're penalized in AdWords", but it was all "feelings". We needed to get to a point where we were making intelligent business decisions based upon "factual" information, rather than feelings.
Rather than stepping into the usual SEO process, this one began by ensuring analytics was set-up correctly, ecommerce tracking was enabled to develop a baseline.
With a site of this size, it's important to find any possible structural issues that might have a larger impact than any recommendations for any "one page", or even a handful of pages. An analysis uncovered issues of duplicate content (same page on two different URLs) for many (thousands of) pages.
Numerous "search results" pages were indexed and driving loads of traffic but no sales. Sometimes there is cause to remove "bad content" from the search engines' indexes.
There was little standardization to naming conventions of URLs and incorporated a URL rewrite to ensure consistency (which went along with our correcting the duplicate content concerns). But I still had a "feeling" that something wasn't quite right.
With a website of this size, it's sometimes difficult to dig deeply into Analytics, but it can be done. Doing so revealed an interesting pattern of visits for obscure keywords with 0 percent "unique" and very little to "no" time on site. Performing a log file analysis identified 20 "rogue" bots hitting the site, and had some concerns about the possibility of people scraping the client's content, so these "bad" bots had their access removed.
Shopping Path Analysis
With analytics now "in place" (correctly), we realized that conversion rates, well….sucked.
We spent considerable time analyzing the shopping path of a visitor to determine that they had created roadblocks to making the purchase process as simple as possible. Guest check-out was not an option (and, at the time of this writing, is still something that the client is debating, internally). Every other competitor offers this. Every major ecommerce site that we believe "does well" seems to offer this.
This client requires a registration prior to check-out. Even though the registration process isn't arduous, you are presented with a giant button, prior to check out, that states "create an account". While analytics shows us a large number of folks dropping off at this point, to date the client has not made the modification.
Note: What's noted here is not "all inclusive" of what we did for this project. We did perform keyword research/competitive analysis, etc. But, what is very interesting about this engagement is we've done little "page-based" recommendations, including titles, etc., because we needed to focus on more enterprise/scalable initiatives. Rules-based recommendations that would impact literally thousands of pages were implemented.
How to Prove SEO Success
With all of the "large scale" changes that we had made, structurally, with the website, I anticipated strong gains in organic presence/traffic.
But how to prove this?
A lot of bad traffic coming to the site (bots/"search" pages de-indexed) had been removed, so year-over-year organic traffic was going to show a decline.
'Good' Traffic vs. 'Bad' Traffic
What were this clients original goals?
Sales. Increase in "good" organic search traffic.
Getting back into this mind-set, we filtered out all "bad" organic search traffic (0 percent uniques, to account for the bots and anything with "0" (zero) TOS (Time on Site), and then reviewed sales, during the course of our (short) engagement.
But there was another challenge. The client had inadvertently "messed up" and – for a period of time – sales were being registered as "$1.00" when they should have been "$1,000" (client used a faulty conversion code; wasn't discovered for 6 weeks), so reporting on sales figures wasn't going to provide an accurate depiction of what was going on. We also don't have any sales via phone calls that we can report against (yet this we site prominently displays its 800 number on the top/right of every page).
But reporting on traffic – that's another story.
By filtering out this "bad traffic", things didn't look too bad.
Interestingly enough, "good" organic traffic had increased 10.5 percent in the past month, and 30 percent the month before (year-over-year), even though organic traffic overall was in decline.
There are so many things that we need to account for when we're trying to report on "success" in an SEO effort. If not for some filtering, things might not have looked so good.
We've asked this client to invest in call-tracking (yet another measurement that is all too often overlooked), and – had it not been for the issue with revenue tracking, I'm pretty certain that there would be a pretty compelling story there, too. In fact, with the filtering, we can see significant revenue increases from organic (30.5 percent lift in revenues for the past 2 months).
As we know, SEO reporting nowadays has little to do with ranking reports. Ensuring strong analytical measurements is key to gaining trust with your clients/company executives, because that transparency is what shows what is truly working, rather than managing your marketing based on "feelings".