Traffic More Important Than Ranks
by Bob Sakayama
Bob Sakayama is the CEO of NYC based consultancy TNG/Earthling, specializing in the optimization of search motivated traffic. A student of Google, Bob is often called upon to reverse chronic traffic loss, whether triggered by a penalty or long compromised seo. His deep background in the causes of Google penalties has been a contributing factor to the success of his clients, and has been demonstrated on Google-Penalty.com, quoted in Forbes, the topic of guest speakerships, online forums, and interviews. He created the first search enabled content management system, Protocol, which has been deployed on thousands of websites. His clients include both very large and very small businesses, along with seo agencies in multiple countries, and investors seeking search risk evaluation of an online business.
Everyone is way over focused on ranks. It's easy to understand because ranks are so easy to find. And ranks drive traffic so high ranks usually means good traffic metrics. They're bragging rights, so they're also marketing tools.
So if the agency is pointing to the number of page one ranks you may be surprised to find that the keywords getting that rank are never searched. Everyone has lots of page 1 ranks for obscure search terms that never get clicks, and they're really not bragging rights. To avoid being mislead by seos promoting ranks, look instead at traffic gains over time. Ranks for terms with very low traffic or terms with little or no competition are easy to achieve, yet provide no real value.
But the traffic can't be easily gamed. And you can get traffic improvement even when you have no major terms on page 1. Many businesses thrive without ever having super high ranks because the niches they dominate rely on terms that have very high conversion rates on terms that rank on page 2 or 3 because the competition is not answering those queries well or living up to the searchers' expectations.
I'm often called in because the traffic numbers are falling and have been for a while. The cause is often a mystery until some forensic work reveals:
+ a technical issue. Site automation can create huge problems when it goes awry.
+ mismanaged seo. This includes problems with parent/child relationships w/ category/products or crawl budget issues.
+ an organizational issue. Very common to see parent/child conflicts when a lot of content goes after the same keywords.
+ non-compliant link building. Very common when SEOs have been hired to improve ranks.
+ a third party attack. Negative seo is very real and there are services that take down sites for money.
+ a Google penalty. Running afoul of Google's guidelines can trigger a devastating rank/traffic loss.
+ large blocks of text with no other web assets. Google needs to see images, video, charts, breaking up long blocks of text.
Whether the issue has been discovered and fixed can only be determined only after some time goes by - adjustments to the search results take a long time. When a site is in a downward traffic trend, the fix should reverse this and it becomes apparent in the traffic chart. In this case the creation of a definitive bottom in the daily traffic is the signal we want to see. But even after the house is in order, it may take some months for the payoff.
The number of page one ranks is irrelevant. SEOs like to brag about the number of page one ranks. But a search term on page one that generates no clicks/traffic is worthless.
Everyone is very impatient when it comes to their site's performance. Google does not move quickly in reaction to the changes made on a website. Not only do they have to first index the changes, but then digest the semantic revisions and then begin the process of reordering the search results. In this world, a month is quick. And while I aver that traffic is more important that ranks in the big picture, traffic is dependent on ranks. So before you see traffic improvement, you will have to see either higher existing ranks, or more urls holding ranks - these are not the same thing. In many cases it's preferable to see more urls holding ranks because this diversifies the traffic across more searches.
Another consideration that impacts success is the motivation behind the search. For example, a person searching for a product may behave very differently than a person searching for a service. Product searches probably need to be on page one to generate productive traffic. But when looking for an important service like legal assistance for a complicated problem, or an assisted living residence for a loved one, people tend to look way beyond page 1, and so the traffic on these kinds of searches can benefit even if the result is a bit deeper.
Setting up the conditions to achieve productive traffic is likely to take a while. A truly rich content set may take years to develop successfully as search terms and related topics are fully developed. It's impossible to make this happen overnight. Search is the long game. Sometimes the VERY LONG game.