It’s the season that makes or breaks many retailers’ annual revenue expectations. At the end of November, most sites have frozen their code bases and marketers are watching their digital marketing performance like hawks.
But what should a retailer do when traffic from organic search decreases, when it’s not driving the year-over-year growth hoped for, and not even matching last year’s performance? When this occurs, retailers typically ask two questions: “Why?” and “How do I fix it immediately?”
Those are perhaps my least favorite questions in search engine optimization, because they typically mean that the rest of digital marketing has been isolated — “siloed” — from SEO. Gaps can be predicted, prevented, or at least discovered quickly and resolved if SEO is integrated into every aspect of marketing — from strategy to offline advertising, social media to site development.
When SEO Is Siloed
For example, a former client rushed in recently because organic search traffic was suddenly down 25 percent year over year and falling. It had been more than a year since I worked with the site. So I reviewed the site’s analytics to see the data for myself. Indeed, it was true: November organic search visits were down 25 percent year over year and falling, as shown below.
For an ecommerce site, fewer visitors mean less revenue. A quarter fewer visitors than last year in the peak selling season, when the summer months had seen a quarter more organic search visits, is indeed an emergency.
But had an SEO professional been deeply involved with the site’s digital marketing strategy and implementation, the emergency could have been averted or at the very least discovered and resolved sooner.
In this case, an hour’s digging through the analytics identified August 15 as one trigger date, and October 25 as a second trigger date, for falling organic search visits. In addition, the organic search entry pages and keywords impacted represented a clear pattern.
Another hour’s discussion with the team identified that August 15 was indeed a release date for new features on the site and that the marketing team had modified product attribute tagging on October 25.
The end result was that the feature releases on August 15 started a slide in performance because it removed links that fed link authority to the top 10 entry pages on the site. Less authority means decreased ability to rank and fewer visitors.
The end result was that the feature releases on August 15 started a slide in performance because it removed links that fed link authority to the top 10 entry pages on the site.
The slide was magnified on October 25 when the change in attribute tagging accidentally removed those same top entry pages from a couple of the critically relevant category pages. Those top entry pages were still live at their same URLs, the bots (and visitors) just couldn’t navigate to them on the most important category pages. Again, links drive authority, and fewer navigational links to important pages means a decreased ability to drive consumers to the site.
SEO Integration Resolves Issues Quickly
The first step to resolution is prevention, which is the quickest way to resolve future emergencies.
The emergency described above sounds simple when spelled out after the fact with hard data and the specific cause-and-effect triggers identified. But every site I have worked with has had similarly explainable and preventable issues like this at some point.
We all want the coolest features on our sites to grab shoppers’ attention that encourages them to fill their carts and our coffers. Merchants have many things to focus on besides SEO, and likely SEO doesn’t even make the priority list for most. But SEO needs to make someone’s list in your organization. And that someone needs to be skilled in technical and content SEO methodologies, and needs to be integrated with the entire marketing process from idea generation to implementation.
Integration is what prevents SEO issues, or at least warns you that they will occur so you can plan for other channels to pick up the slack. Integration is also what helps you resolve issues quickly.
In this instance, an SEO expert would have flagged that this particular feature would cause issues with organic search. Perhaps the feature would have gone live anyway based on its user experience advantages or management excitement. But the team could have identified a backup plan for removing the feature if the decrease was significant enough, or for augmenting the feature with other content to mitigate the impact.
We certainly wouldn’t be having the conversation around a sudden drop of 25 percent of the site’s traffic year over year when it had previously been increasing 25 percent year over year.
To Fix, Diagnose the Problem
But actual resolution hinges on diagnosis. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. The faster you diagnose a problem, the faster you can put a solution into place.
Diagnosis requires analytics, familiarity with past performance, and the willingness of the team to discuss without animosity the data and identify potential causes.
If the developers won’t talk because they’re offended that the SEO professional thinks their code is wrong, or the creative team’s feelings are hurt that its vision might have contributed, it’s seemingly impossible to find the answer. The fault might actually be that the SEO professional failed to recognize the potential negative impact of a feature or structural change or text modification.
Who cares? Now is the time to solve the problem. Everyone needs to be at the table with a clear head to accomplish that.
Who cares? Now is the time to solve the problem.
There is no one-size-fits-all quick fix for SEO. Every SEO problem on every site is different based on combinations of technology and features and topped with unique architectures and levels of link authority. But with accurate data analysis to identify the true problem and the specific dates when those problems began, members of an integrated marketing team can put their heads together to come up with a diagnosis and a list of potential solutions.
Then, just fix it. I often say that “just” is a four-letter word, not unlike some swear words we tell our children not to say. When I find myself saying “just,” I realize that I’ve trivialized something that’s usually very complex. But with the diagnosis in hand, a talented team can always work together to find a solution that works.