by Courtney Eckerle
The question of SEO campaign effectiveness is one Jennifer Stagner, Technical Support Manager, Tops Products, is asked to "quantify often."
The challenge for marketers in SEO is to make sure every element is running smoothly with a wide net, including domain and page authority, inbound links, referral paths, Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, content, keywords, HTML construction, social media, inbound and outbound marketing campaigns.
While reviewing Google Analytics data, Stagner noticed a substantial amount of inbound traffic was coming to the office supply company's e-commerce website via a referral path from a prominent online automobile website.
However, despite this high inbound traffic count, Stagner noted the bounce rate was even higher. For every 100 visitors that were clicking through to the Tops Products website, Stagner saw 82 of them were instantly exiting the landing page.
"Given that we had just rolled out a fresh, modern site, this was surprising," she said.
Tops Products' SEO has the consistent objective to "drive traffic to our site, and hopefully that will result in a high number of conversions and additional revenue. We also want to deliver a great experience for the user and provide valuable ad content," Stagner said.
In order to meet their marketing objectives, Stagner and her team set about finding the reason why such a large percentage of people who were landing on the page were leaving just as soon as they had arrived.
Deciding to dig deeper into the issue to identify what was causing the bounce rates, Stagner and her team were able to use Google Analytics to find the problem and input a 301 redirect that stopped Tops Products from hemorrhaging site traffic.
This campaign resulted in a 39% bounce rate reduction and a 400% increase in conversion rate.
Step #1. Develop SEO strategy, and monitor avenues for bounced traffic
Stagner said Tops Products has a "very expansive SEO strategy" in order to make sure that users have a consistent and smooth path onto their website.
"We look at a number of different buckets … including not just link acquisition and analysis of the inbound links and referral paths, but also the HTML construction of the page, the keywords and contents that are on the page," she said.
She said are all optimized to help Google determine the relevance and return it in search results.
Domain authority is also consistently looked at, for "how much trust is there for our website as compared to the competition."
Another aspect is local citations.
"The Yelp.com entries are really important. We look at all of these different buckets and try to optimize as many of them as we possibly can," Stagner said.
The core foundation of analyzing all of these avenues is Google Analytics, she said, to "quantify the value of any effort and also the return on investment that we would make."
Stagner and her team also use Google Webmaster Tools to "submit a site map that helps Google index our pages and find those long-tail keywords and long-tail products for users. It also helps me determine the health, and any crawl issues with the site," she said.
With such an expansive SEO strategy, and so many ways to monitor, the amount of information can be substantial to track.
"We actually do a substantial amount of long-tail business and that's because we have 14,000 products, 3,000 of which are on the website," Stagner explained.
Used on a niche seasonal tax software download product, for example, "one of the ways we help with long-tail keyword strategy is we will use the Google keyword tool to measure the search interest monthly for a particular keyword, and try to make sure that our content is optimized for search interest as measured by Google," Stagner said.
The first step is for marketers to make sure they are using Google Analytics to view referral traffic by source and medium.
"So when you log into Google Analytics, you're going to see your source options, and as you click through, you'll see where the links are that are passing traffic through your site," she said.
Step #2. Identify the issue and find false links
"We had created a fantastic marketing partnership with a really well known automobile website," Stagner said, adding it was a "great fit" for one of their products, a bill of sale form.
Even though "we had done this great work … Google Analytics actually revealed that this partnership was passing a ton of traffic to our e-commerce site," she said.
Through their monitoring system, Stagner said they soon realized that while all the traffic was good, the overall result was harmful to the health of their SEO program.
"As soon as visitors got to the site, they were instantly exiting the page," she said. "They weren't making any purchases, they weren't spending any time on the page and we wanted to know why. We didn't see any kind of conversions and the bounce rate was pretty astronomical."
That is when Stagner and her team decided to dig into their data, take a closer look and implement a plan to fix the issue.
They discovered over ten different links on the automobile website funneling traffic to Tops Products.
Next, "we went and looked at those links on the site to see what images were there, what anchor text was there, what was the consumer seeing. That is when we found out what the problem was," she said.
On the automobile website, the links to Tops Products were marketed as, "Get your bill of sale form right now," however once a user clicked the hyperlink it was showing up as a married living trust product.
"Which is the furthest thing you'd want if you’re looking for an automobile bill of sale form," Stagner said.
Step #3. Correct false links
Stagner and her team set about identifying all of the incorrect links from that automobile website.
"We had set up a redirect site," Stagner explained. All the redirects were configured so every time someone clicked the links, instead of going to that living trust for a married couple, the consumer would automatically go to the correct page — the automobile bill of sale form.
Stagner said in their case, "we did have a system set up where we could just have our webmaster set up a 301 redirect if a link isn't going to the right place."
She advised, "If you don't have that kind of functionality, it would be as simple as contacting the other website."
"After we fixed all those redirects, we waited a few weeks to see if there would be an impact on bounce rate or conversion," she said. The result when they went into Google Analytics was a "pretty dramatic increase."
She attributed the increase to customers having a smooth path to the product, and her team securing that fundamental aspect of their SEO strategy.
"What they were expecting to get before they get the link, is exactly what they get once they click the link," she said.
Since Stagner and her team fixed the existing links, "customers were clicking through, they were spending significantly more time on the site, they were actually making a lot of purchases."
Stagner said she and her team learned a "great lesson here:" even with a tremendous amount of work put into engaging in marketing partnerships and getting a link or product placement on another website, it can all be undone by small issues.
"If you don't manage the technicalities and have a quality control system in place for ensuring that you're actually passing value through, you could be missing out on substantial amount of revenue," she said.
From this lesson learned, Stagner said they have started to apply this concept to all of Tops Products' links having high bounce rates or low conversion rates.
So far, this principle has been applied to situations with another automobile site, as well as an accounting site, which had a similar problem, except with images, she said.
"We used the same model to fix all of these, and we're starting to see the sales roll in at a very consistent rate because of it," Stagner said.
Many different elements come into play in terms of SEO that Stagner said they have learned "how to stay organized and use resources like Google Analytics to quickly identify the root cause of an issue and how to fix it and optimize it for the future."
The aftermath of this campaign was a:
- 39% bounce rate reduction
- 400% increase in conversion rate
Time and resource management is key to a strong SEO strategy and to manage these technicalities, according to Stagner.
She and her team have had to enact some more advanced strategies when "we don't always have time to go on Google Analytics everyday and click through all its charts and graphs and try to recreate the information that we know we need."
In order to best utilize time to find the information they need quickly, Stagner said they use Google Analytics API, which allows them to make data calls directly to Google, and then pull that information into a key performance indicator dashboard.
"I use that dashboard to eliminate all the time getting the data, and I spend that time actually analyzing the data. We found that's been a great way for us to eliminate some of the length and labor out of the process and really get to the benefits," Stagner said.
Overall, honing their search engine optimization program is a topic that "at Tops, we're all passionate about, and we get really geeky and excited about these little tiny changes that make such a huge impact in sales," Stagner concluded. For more how-to articles and case studies, sign up for the free MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing newsletter.
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