How SEOs Explain Traffic Changes To Clients
The past year has been a tumultuous one for SEOs. I can say personally that I've seen some of our strongest performing sites take pretty substantial hits in traffic for all kinds of reasons.
After what I would consider an uneventful several years as far as Google updates, once 2012 wound down many of us were left trying to explain some very different looking numbers to our clients. Of course this has lead to an increasing amount of communication with our clients about exactly what is happening and why. A short run down of the explanations of traffic drops I've had to explain the past few months would include:
- Sudden inclusion of local/shopping/image/video results
- Prominence of Google+ in branded searches
- Expanding real estate of AdWords
- Ranking drops due to preference for "big brands"
Fortunately, we try to be pretty proactive when we see changes in traffic. We have alerts for traffic death set up in Google Analytics (good post here on alerts to set up) in case something drastic happens, but our staff also reviews some basic and traffic metrics each week so we can get to the bottom of any unusual activity. If we discover something we go to the client so they're not surprised when they next take a look at their numbers.
I'm sure other SEOs have dealt with these same issues (and others) but it lead me to wonder exactly how other pros in our industry deal with these situations while maintaining both their own sanity as well as their clients'.
Thoughts from other SEOs
In general I like pointing to popular and trusted resources online, such as Search Engine Land or Search Engine Roundtable, which covers big updates, and also Mozcast (mozcast.com), which shows how volatile search results have been. These help add credibility to my own advice as to why an update has impacted them positively or negatively - of course, if something negative occurs, this is pretty much a requirement, as any reason why traffic has dropped without backing may simply be seen as me covering my own butt.
Explaining why traffic has dropped to a client is not always the end of the world. Unfortunately, as digital marketers we cannot control every aspect of the buying cycle for our clients, although they wish we could. These include, algorithm updates, seasonality, people's search query behavior changing based on what device they are searching with, and emerging competition to name a few.
We are confined by the system in which Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the smaller search engines have created and must constantly be learning the latest trends in the industry and changes that make a tactic that once worked well, obsolete.
I also always reiterate to my clients that one of the values we add to their business is that you have someone proactively adapting to the ever changing digital landscape. So no matter what changes occur we produce benefits for our clients.
As far as local, image, video, and shopping results are concerned, it all depends on the industry the client is in, and what channels work well for that client's vertical.
For example, an e-commerce client that ships all around the world, isn't going to want to focus our time and effort on local listings when it has a global consumer audience.
Ryan Cote - Ballantine Digital - www.ballantinedigital.com
A drop in traffic could be due to several reasons: algorithm updates and increased competition to name a couple. But if you're talking about a drop in traffic because of the changing landscape of Google's SERPs, I would use Google Webmaster Tools to paint a better picture of the actual impressions the website is receiving. I would also use Google Trends to show the actual search trends of their keywords. It's possible their main keywords are just not being searched for as much.
We make tens of millions from Organic Search Traffic every year, and Google's algorithm changes have helped and hurt us over the years. I'm lucky my President understands SEO very well, but when something changes, my method of explanation is to show how what's happening to us changes the overall SERP page info. Google continues to change how they rank brands, so when we drop for one of our 2500 brands, I show my manager how our competitors have fallen as well. The context of how this is affecting everyone, and then how we can capitalize on it, is key to fully explaining the impact of a change. It's also always good to give different angles on the same change. Sometimes we drop for a particular keyword, but because of our strength in long-tail keywords we see very little change in revenue. Vanity keywords are nice to win for, but I'd rather rank for converting keywords any day of the week.
Explaining a drop in traffic to a client amidst Google's changes would be specific to their business and industry and specific to where they are seeing a loss in traffic. For example, if they have a local brick and mortar shop, they may be losing out on local traffic if their site is not properly optimized to their targeted area or if they do not have their local pages claimed and completed (Google Places for example). If they are an ecommerce shop, they might be losing traffic now that Google has moved to a paid inclusion model, and creating a strategy for Product Listing Ads may be a method to bring traffic back the website. It is important now to have a strategy for each channel - local (through local SEO, possibly local), shopping (through PLA's), video, and image search (through video and image optimization), as well as for organic search.
About Adam Henige
Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage Marketing, an online marketing company specializing in SEO, PPC and social media. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and SEOmoz.