Website traffic is a complex thing. I have spent the last decade analyzing it and I can tell you with certainty that most people don’t understand important subtleties in their online traffic. In this post, I want to talk about some of those. Let’s start out with a couple non-SEO related items and then we will jump into SEO specifically.
Referring Site Spam
First, referring site spam is way up in Google Analytics. There is a good chance that 10% to 30% of the traffic you are getting in your referring site report (depending on the size of your site and the industry) is total junk. This is also true for SEO traffic, but not nearly on the same scale. There is certainly false query data in a lot of the reports I have seen.
Tracking errors are much more prevalent than you think. I would say that 50% of the websites I see have some sort of tracking error issue that influences reporting. For example:
- They don’t realize the tracking code is on another site or subdomain, inflating their data
- Tracking code is missing on pages
- They set up some type of event tracking that is causing inflated visits
- They migrated a website the previous year and had a major abnormality because of it
- The list goes on.
It is very important to understand the big picture; otherwise you could be over or under reporting.
Understanding SEO Traffic Specifically and Subtle Important Points
Now, when it comes to SEO traffic there are some really important things that you need to understand. Here are a few.
New Visitors vs Returning
When it comes to subscription based websites (and sites with an ongoing customer base), generally, if you are doing a good job and growing your business your returning visitors from organic search will increase. These people search the company name and end up coming back to the site. That is why it is good to also look at new visitors that organic search is attracting and evaluate that year over year. Generally, pages that have been recently updated will attract more new visitors. I will explain more in a moment.
Websites have Different Segments and Pages
Perhaps the most important misconception that undermines true understanding of an online business is a lack of general knowledge regarding segments of the website. For example, do you think that organic traffic to member login page should be part of your SEO report? That page deals with your returning visitors… How about your forum or knowledge base? Or your customer support page? If your SEO team has not done any work on certain sections, or if those sections are not related to new customer acquisition, they should not be responsible for a decline or rise in traffic to those sections. They should be omitted.
Often we will see that companies try to look at overall traffic. But if you have a section of your website that is not meant to be ranked and has not been worked on that just doesn’t make sense. If that section is down 30%, that can kill your entire report and result in unjustified scrutiny. When in fact, your numbers for the information and service pages you have worked on are up. As a final example, consider last year you no indexed 1,000 pages because you were afraid of a Panda penalty, but those pages did 15,000 a month in traffic, you need to note that in reporting.
Maintaining Old Pages
Now, say that you hired me as an SEO consultant. We started working together about 2 years ago and have had a lot of success. In the first year you hired me, we built out 100 location pages and had a traffic increase of 140% and the same for revenue. Now, it is 2 years later and traffic is down to the location pages. Why would that happen? Well, let me explain. When you launch the new pages they get indexed by Google. Google ranks them highly and tests them, and then they settle into their normal position. Overtime, if those pages are not updated with fresh content, linked to in blog posts, generating social shares, generating social links, lacking a content updating widget, etc., then traffic to them will decline and they will eventually fade into the night. Every page you create must be maintained. Think of it like this. Say you plant 1,000 orange trees. You get a big harvest. But you don’t water them for the next two years. Those trees are not going to produce as well without some love.
Adding new Pages and Working on Specific Sections
If you are adding new quality content to your website on a continual basis, you will increase your traffic. There is no question about it. Also, if you update and improve pages you will increase the traffic to those pages. When it comes to SEO reporting, the pages that company is working on are the most important and really the only ones they can account for. Now, if they are a good SEO company they may put a template in place that has fresh content generating capabilities. I will talk about that more in a future post.
Websites generally have their list of top terms. If you fall off for a very highly trafficked term, your traffic is going to go down. Say you renew with your SEO company and when you do you remove all the external linking. Your competitor on the other hand is doing everything they can to get links to the page that ranks for their top term. They are putting it in high-quality niche directories, creating news surrounding the service so that people are linking to it and doing significant outreach, in the right way. You are probably going to fall off for that term and lose that traffic. While on the other hand, if when you renewed you signed up for local listings your location pages are going to rank higher. The point being, you only get results on the portion of your website that you work on.
Summing it Up
At the end of the day, website traffic is a complex thing. Pages have different purposes, traffic comes from different channels, locations and devices and spam and tracking errors are ever present. Understanding your analytics and how that related to SEO is near impossible for someone new to the space. Make sure you work with someone you trust and who really knows their stuff, otherwise, you could be operating off of completely false pretenses and make poor business decisions as a result. Learn more about this topic in SEO reporting the right way, 19 reports your boss wants to see.