Search optimization is all about getting more visitors to your website, right? Not really. If you think about it, SEO should be about getting more customers, not just visitors. Optimization is about attracting and converting your target market, not just any old search. In fact, a badly optimized site can attract all the wrong people.
Optimizing Your Way to a Drop in Traffic
The effects of SEO are not always straightforward or predictable. One scenario that can send a chill down the spine of even the most experienced SEO practitioner is a sudden and precipitous drop in web traffic. Certainly, it’s hard to impress the owner of a website with a report that says “visits declined 30% last month and are continuing to fall.”
And while it’s not intuitive, it is possible to create such a report and take credit for a big improvement in the client’s site optimization. Let’s see how.
Websites Can Attract the Wrong Visitors: Don’t Be One of Them
A few examples make it clear how much of your existing traffic might be a waste of time.
Industrial Guardrail vs. Deck Railing. One of our clients manufactures industrial guardrail. A careful examination of their web traffic showed that many of the visits to their site were from people looking for home deck railing. You could tell this by the phrases used in searches, by how quickly they left the site upon arrival, and by a tool in Google Webmaster Tools called “Content Keywords.”
Home improvement consumers were accounting for significant site traffic and contributing nothing to the business.
After carefully reworking site keywords and content, traffic (at first) took a nose dive. But what looked like a problem was actually a step in the right direction.
Machine Parts vs. Metric Conversions. Another interesting case study was a machine parts manufacturer that happened to have metric conversion charts on their website as a convenience for their customers.
Unfortunately, the previous developer had no concept of SEO and managed (just by accident) to optimize the website for “metric conversion tables.” In this case, the lion’s share of traffic to the site was from visitors interested in using the conversion tables, not in purchasing the machine parts manufactured by the company.
Correcting this problem meant an immediate fall off as far as web visits were concerned, but all that lost traffic was meaningless to the success of the company. They would have to be patient as a better traffic pattern built up over time.
Master Remodeling vs. Gutter Cleaning. A slightly different example involves not only optimization but the marketing message and design of a site. For one high-end home construction company the problem involved calls for gutter cleaning, home repair, and other handyman services. In this case not only was the optimization of the site askew, but the graphic design and content was leading visitors astray.
In an interesting turn, the site was a little too “friendly” to homeowners looking for basic services. They needed a makeover for a high-end look and a message aimed at a more well-to-do target market. Their business is in the design and construction of luxury homes, which meant fielding calls for basic services wasted the time of not only the callers but more importantly, the company’s customer service staff.
Good News in Falling Numbers
Of course it is never a pleasant experience to tell a web site owner their website traffic has been cut in half. After all, they’ve often invested a significant amount in SEO, both in money and trust, to reach that result.
Are there any other numbers we can look at that might offer some good news?
Thankfully, there are! A variety of web statistical tools can provide the data you need. The freely available Google Analytics, for example, is good at providing the following:
- Bounce Rate. A “bounce” refers to a visitor who comes to one page on your site and leaves from the same page. It’s generally considered a sign that they weren’t that interested. A typical bounce rate is 60%. If SEO changes make the bounce rate drop, it’s a sign of reaching a better audience. People are interested enough to explore the site.
- Pages/Visit. If a visitor has some interest in a site, they will likely visit more than one page. They will explore the site. Therefore, as the number of pages per visit increases, it can be seen as a measure of how well the site is engaging the interest of its target market.
- Time on Site. A potential customer is going to have to go through a conversion experience. They need to evaluate what they are seeing and decide whether to make contact or look elsewhere. That takes time, even if it’s only a few seconds more on average. Therefore, the time on site increases, the more likely the site is engaging with the right audience.
- Visitor Flow or Paths. Exactly what are visitors doing when they reach your site? Following the paths they take in stepping from page to page can be instructive. Do they flit around as if lost? Are they walking through a logical path? If a path includes the About Us page and ends on Contact Us, it can be inferred they found something of interest, attempted to validate your qualifications, and then decided to make contact. Most paths are not so straightforward, but all have the potential to tell you something about visitor behavior.
Successful SEO does not always mean increased web traffic. Depending on what has been happening before optimization, improved search results may mean a drop in traffic. If done well, however, over time more useful traffic should be attracted and the downward curve is likely to reverse for a more successful upward trend, one that brings in the right target market and more valuable results.
Learn more about Jane and Scot Noel, the owners of Chroma Marketing Essentials, a web development company. Since 1999, CME’s reputation for developing search engine friendly websites has attracted a variety of industrial, consumer, and professional web clients.