eSnips is a social sharing site where users can share content and form social niche communities around their areas of interest. Members can upload and share any file type from one centralized profile, in folders representing different areas of interest, and can determine the audience for each folder. In addition, users can promote and sell their creations on the site.
The site has about 7 million public pages, with 2.2 million user profiles, 4 million public files, and 1 million public folders. Recently, eSnips experienced 3 noticeable bumps of growth, and Daniel Waisberg, eSnips Web Analyst, attributes that to a series of factors. Here is a look at the chronology.
With such a large site, server response time matters. Back in January of 2007, the page load time was about 8 seconds. If you consider this from a crawler perspective, it means that a maximum of 10,800 pages could be crawled in a day, if the crawler stayed on the site all day long. So, more than likely, the search engines crawled far fewer pages than that.
10,800 pages may be a lot of pages, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the 7 million pages that actually exist. It's quite likely that the indexing of pages on the site, and hence its traffic, was crawl rate limited. But the company added a bunch of servers in early February of 2007, and reduced the average page load time to 4 seconds.
And the effect was dramatic. Over a couple of days around March 18th, the number of pages indexed by Google doubled (from about 1M pages to 2M pages), and traffic from Google to the site increased by 50%.
The second change was introduced around March 25th, and that was the roll out of a site search engine. Prior to this, the Web site used a tag-based search, which found only files that were tagged by users with the search term. Even though they encourage users to use tags to describe their files, a large amount of files remain untagged, and were therefore undiscoverable with the search function; this in turn frustrated visitors who did not find the content they were looking for.
The new search technology takes into account: tags, files/folders names and descriptions, and word stems. By March 25, 2007 the new search technology was completed and working as planned. This significantly increased the chances of people finding what they were looking for, and greatly increased the usability of the site.
Note that the implementation used internally developed technology, but it was quite successful. The results had only a modest impact on visits, increasing it by 9%, but page views were increased by 21%. This changed immediately upon the roll out of the new site search. From this, it could be argued that the site search engine played a significant role in increasing customer retention.
This improvement took place because existing users were able to make better use of the site, and generated significantly more page views. The small amount of increased traffic from this enhancement could also have simply consisted of increased repeat visitors to the site.
Lastly, eSnips added some improvements to the home page, and expanded the community functions on the site, such as this Rock community, and this Christianity community. This set of changes resulted in another bump in traffic that took place around April 8th, and they saw an increase in visits of about 17%, and an increase in page views by about 9%.
As with the earlier change of the addition of the site search engine, I suspect that this was driven more by return visitor traffic than an increase in search engine referrals. Courtesy of the eSnips team, here are the Google Analytics visuals, starting with the visits chart:
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And now, the page views chart:
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There are a few great things in this story. One is the illustration of how page load time can affect the indexing of a very large site. Page load times were cut in half, and presto, indexing doubled. The math on that one is really, really simple.
Then the creation of the internal site search engine that improved customer functionality provided an immediate boost in page views. And, lastly, the implementation of improved community functionality added a more recent advance to the site's traffic numbers.
All of these things sound relatively simple, but so much of SEO is simple. While no single SEO tidbit of knowledge is particularly hard, what makes SEO complex is that there are so many details to master. The best SEOs know all the things you could do, know how to prioritize them, and are really good at execution.