This analysis reviews SEO gains achieved over the course of a 14-month period. The website belongs to a manufacturer. The project involved a number of challenges including:
- Google Penguin penalty detection and correction.
- Implementation of an SEO plan, created by Site-Seeker, on a site which we did not develop.
- Ongoing reliance upon a 3rd party developer for the implementation of SEO corrective actions and actions to improve the site’s conversion rate.
Ranking Keywords – A Critical SEO Factor
The number and makeup of ranking keywords, over time, is an important SEO success metric and is more important for judging the success than actual traffic. Why?
- Only the top few, call it three, organic positions capture a significant percentage of click throughs in relationship to total search volume. The others are too far down the page to capture much traffic. If you are only measuring traffic and not total ranking search engine positions (we monitor the top 20 positions) then you’ll miss evidence that your SEO results are improving – or not. Similar to the way in which an iceberg has most of it’s mass below the waterline, SEO improvement can first be detected below the fold on a search engine results page – the fold being the area of the page that can only be seen by scrolling down.
See, SEO is a game of inches and it’s uncommon to jump to number one without first ranking number 20 then 15 then 17 then 13 then 16 then 14 then 10 then 7 then… you get the idea. SEO success ebbs and flows with an increasing number of total top rankings and a steady positive upward ranking trend. Think of monitoring ranking keywords as an early warning radar of sorts.
The volume of organic traffic that this and many B2B websites capture is seasonal. For the subject site, we observed low traffic levels in December and from June through August. This is common for B2B sites and we used Google Trends to verify that the cause was lower search volume during these periods. In the end, both increases and decreases in organic traffic may have nothing to do with your SEO program.
- Measuring the number of ranking keywords allows us to judge success by comparing period over period vs. year over year improvement without concern for seasonal traffic fluctuations. With Google Analytics, year over year traffic results are typically used to factor out seasonality. However, economic and political issues impact year over year fluctuations making this metric suspect in some cases.
Overview of SEO Results
- Over a 14-month period, the number of top 20 Goole ranking keywords increased from 11 to 70.
- Not only did the number of top three ranking keywords increase from 1 to 23, but the site now ranks for 360% more keywords in positions 4-20.
- Equally impressive, is the fact that organic traffic increased by a factor of 25.
- The most exciting fact is that many of those position 4-20 ranking keywords are floating to the top of Google.com.
- Soon this upward movement will result in a significant increased in organic traffic; and this is the goal of the whole effort.
SEO Project Milestones and Timeline
The project began in October 2013 and concluded 14 months later in December 2014. Using SEMRush and related tools, allowed us to make these observations and augmented what we had seen in Google Analytics.
Pre-effort trends and results:
- History – before we became involved and this effort started:
- Saw a period of great success beginning in January 2010. However, there was a gradual loss of ranking keywords beginning in December 2010.
- Took a significant hit throughout 2011. Referring to the above graph, we can see that in Q3/4 2011 organic traffic dropped significantly.
- In 2013, there was a sudden, significant and sustained loss in ranking keywords.
- Current (subject) effort: Regained substantial power in 2014 – this is when were involved.
- January – New website launched.
- February – Organic traffic started to immediately increase with the launch of the new website. This positive change was due to pre-launch SEO work completed in the months leading up to the launch. This work included keyword research, development of our new on-site SEO plan (titles, h tags, descriptions, keywords, alt tags, URL structure, rich snippets, and the other usual suspects). Additionally, we developed a page-level 301 redirect plan and added an XML sitemap.
- Throughout Q1, we focused our attention on analyzing off-site factors, i.e. the quality of links pointing to the site.
- March – Penguin penalty assessment complete and conclusion made that the site was suffering from a link spam penalty. We analyzed the site’s link profile in April and found hundreds of spammy or high risk links. Below is an example of a link that is very spammy. It’s this type of link, those that were clearly created for the sole purpose of tricking the search engines into ranking the site higher, that caused the site to be penalized.
- April – Google Penguin penalty disavow file complied and submitted. To find the spammy links we ran the site through a number of tools including Link Detox, analyzed the results, prepared and submitted a disavow file to notify Google that we did not want the site to be associated with those spammy links, and then waited and waited and waited for Google rerun the Penguin Algorithm.
- August 2014 – Big increase in Google organic traffic due to continued content creation, ongoing SEO efforts and continued results from previously implemented SEO actions.
- October – Google Penguin penalty lifted and both traffic and ranking keywords increased.
So What Didn’t Work So Well?
Even better results could have been achieved if tighter coordination and faster turn around time were realized between the site developer, the client’s staff and our team. In several cases, there was a failure to make requested changes including efforts to correct html issues identified through a post-launch audit of the site and through Google Webmaster Tools. These included efforts to block duplicate pages generated by the blog, eliminate duplicate titles and descriptions, and other efforts to improve indexation and site conversion rates. Delaying or not completing these actions prevented additional progress.
Penguin is a Google algorithm update and penalties can only be applied or lifted when the algorithm is run; and Google does not announce when they will rerun the algorithm. As with many things in life timing is everything and in case, it wasn’t ideal. As it turns out we found ourselves three months into a ten-month period during which Google didn’t rerun the algorithm. The result is that we had to wait seven months to realize the fruits of out labor. That was a tough pill to swallow.
What Should Be Next?
It’s expected that the site will continue to rise in the search engines for several months and when the actions discussed in the section above are implemented, the site will be poised to see another around of significant gains in both traffic and rankings. Further, we have identified actions, discussed below, which when implemented will increase conversion rate. Recommended next steps include:
- Continued content creation – tightening up control of subjects and themes, and continued SEOing of this focused content.
- Developing white hat editorial links to replace the authority lost due to Penguin and the disavow process. A strong editorial calendar and PR efforts should be implemented to pitch stories and contribute expert content to credible outlets/sites.
- Correction of the issues relating to duplicate content, indexation issues, and conversion rates.
- Duplicate content issues relate to pages inappropriately generated by the CMS (WordPress) or not blocked from the search engines. These are the result of sloppy development practices and as previously mentioned duplicate meta data.
- Heat mapping software has been running on the site for the better part of a year, and while conclusions (and thus changes) can be made to the homepage based on this data, there is not enough data to draw conclusions about interior pages. Additional pages should be tagged and mobile pages tracked.
- Measurement and the selection of appropriate trackable metrics should focus on ranking keywords rather than organic traffic.