Yesterday, the SEO team and I were reviewing our ongoing projects. "Up 15 percent, up 18 percent, up 27 percent, etc."
Everything looked great until we started discussing what I'll call ABC Company. "ABC search referrals are down 10 percent from last month. They couldn't be happier!"
For a brief moment, it appeared that the team had gone nuts. We have some charming people on the team, but I couldn't contemplate a scenario where a drop in traffic was going to make anyone happy. Something was off, but as my team explained the situation, it all began to make sense.
ABC is a company in a highly seasonal industry where search traffic rises and falls dramatically. In this case, the season was ending, and consequently the searches for this industry had dropped. For the client, a drop of 10 percent in traffic was fantastic because, as a whole, the overall industry's searches were down 50 percent.
Additionally, comparing the same time period from last year, traffic was way up. This year the client saw a number of good leads come in, whereas last year there had been none. The program had been a massive success, but without comparing numbers to industry search volume or last year's numbers, you would have never known.
The story was a good reminder that while you want to constantly measure success, you have to be careful about how you measure it. Numbers don't happen in a vacuum. To demonstrate, consider the below four industries examined using Google Trends:
Intuitively, these businesses know when the bulk of their sales happen, but it might not dawn on them when they see a perceived tanking of their search results. It makes sense that people are looking for movers in spring, ski resorts during winter, landscaping firms during spring, and baking products in the run up to the holidays.
If you sell cookie cutters, you shouldn't get incredibly excited at huge results in November, just as you shouldn't be devastated at falling traffic in January. Let the numbers guide you and place value in year-over-year results.
In very much the same way as seasonality, you'll also want to track overall health of the industry. You can do a search of manufacturing to see how that industry is doing. Luxury purchases like sail boats and yachts have decreased due to hard economic times.
Yet on the flip side, there are a number of industries growing. If you happen to be in the business of selling coconut water or producing augmented reality marketing campaigns, you should be seeing big traffic spikes. Don't attribute that all to your SEO strategy.
The point? You have to look at all the outside data. Even your year-over-year numbers might be misleading if you don't consider what's happening with overall industry search.
So next time you lament that search is down 10 percent, consider what's happening within the industry. You might be pleasantly surprised if you are beating the market overall. Or you might find out that you missed a major opportunity.
You can think of this in the same way that financial planners measure success against the S&P 500. That's the baseline. There's going to be a correlation with the market in that your funds should be up when the market is up and will also fall when the market falls. The goal is to outperform that baseline so that when the market is up 10 percent, you're up 15 percent, and when the market falls by 20 percent, you've lost only 10 percent. Viewed through this prism you can better understand the effectiveness of your SEO program.
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