I once got a frantic email from one of my former clients wanting to know why their organic traffic from Google had disappeared overnight. They had logged into their Google analytics account one morning to find their visitors had completely bottomed out—100% of their traffic was gone. Normally I would tell my SEO clients to not worry over slight dips in traffic but 100% is something that needs to be addressed right away. I spent the whole day coming through their site, Webmaster Tools and Analytics account trying to figure out what had happened. The traffic loss didn’t coincide with any Google updates, so I knew that wasn’t an issue. There weren’t any penalties or messages from Google in their Webmaster account and the site was properly indexed—so where had things gone so wrong?
The next day I get another email from my client letting me know that over the weekend their developer had been making some changes on the backend of their site and had removed the Google Analytics code and replaced it with another; was that going to be a problem? Now this former client was not the most tech savvy person I’d ever worked with, so explaining that without that code Google wouldn’t be able to track visitors to their site was actually new information for them. When that code was removed, Google was no longer receiving any information about the site or the traffic, so it looked like something had gone seriously wrong with their SEO. When we had the code put back in Google was able to start collecting data once again and everything bounced right back up to where it was before.
The whole situation goes to show that you can’t silo your SEO success and failures because there are so many working components going on at the same time that could have an effect. For instance, a strong PPC campaign might be driving 10-20% of your traffic over the course of several months. When you decide to cut the budget on that PPC campaign (or pull the plug entirely) that 10-20% of traffic is going to get cut back with it. This drop in visitors doesn’t mean your SEO is failing, it just means that one component has changed. A similar situation could happen if a company was heavily invested in an online branding campaign—which could potentially drive a lot of branded and direct traffic to their site. When that campaign ends the number of visitors coming from branded keyword is probably going to drop because there isn’t that constant brand reinforcement driving traffic.
It’s so important that website owners and marketers not look at their SEO in a silo. SEO works best when integrated with all your other online (and even offline) marketing efforts. Social media marketing and content marketing are especially intertwined with SEO and long term SEO success. Onsite SEO is essential for SEO success, but in the end it’s only one piece of the puzzle. A great website might do well in the search engines, but great content and a strong social presence are what helps connect a website with its target audience.
When something goes awry with your SEO, it’s important to take it one step at a time when trying to diagnose and repair the issue. In the case of my former client, we could have panicked and completely scrapped their SEO campaign, redone all their keyword research, re-launched the website and blog and so forth in an attempt to fix a problem we didn’t fully understand. It is a problem I see many site owners make—they panic and change everything about their SEO without fully understanding what is going on. When it comes to measuring SEO success and failures, don’t assume there is only one factor at play!