By Oliver J. Nelson
Your agency tells you SEO is important, but through the miasma of digital doldrums, you’ve probably wondered: just how important is SEO, truly? What would happen if you were to simply ignore those meticulous marketers cautioning for a strong program, and let Google happily go on its way, updating its algorithms without you in the game. Would you really lose opportunity? Or would you be costing yourself much more by ignoring SEO? Fortunately, we’ve put together a good case study to help answer that very question.
Google released an update to their algorithm this past January, which further rewarded recently optimized sites with increased traffic on their branded terms. This event provided us with a great case study that illustrated the impact this update had on sites not yet fully optimized.
Through a recent engagement we had the opportunity to work on two websites within the pharmaceutical space that both support the same brand. One site focuses on catering to the patient, while the sister site focuses on providing technical information to health care professionals. Both sites utilize similar content (though tailored to each audience) and both shared the same design and user experience philosophy.
The Patient Site
The patient site was the fortunate one. After working to identify and implement a comprehensive SEO strategy, the site was in a good position to take advantage of any benefits provided by the algorithm update. New tagging and content updates were all aligned to targeted keyword and subject areas identified by the analysis.
As a result of these efforts, the site experienced large gains in both organic traffic as well as engagement from the traffic in January. The site dominated the first position for almost all branded terms within the franchise and experienced a significant increase in average weekly clicks as depicted in the graph below from the Search Console:
This increase in traffic is largely a result of an increase in click-through-rate (CTR) to over 12%, see chart below:
The Health Care Professional Site
Unfortunately, the health care professional site was not so lucky. While the same analysis and strategy identification exercise took place, an issue with the content management system (CMS) powering the website forced all SEO updates to be placed on hold while the organization’s CMS vendor executed repairs to the system. The result was that the site was unprepared for the January update.
What we saw was not pretty. The site witnessed key traffic-driving branded terms fall to position 6, with the balance of long-tail terms falling off page one completely. The result was a significant drop in average positioning across all terms:
With lower positioning and poorer over all visibility, CTR across these terms became abysmal, with some previously top performers dropping to a fraction of a percent as illustrated below:
While it is not uncommon to have lower average CTR against a professional site, this particular drop is clearly tied to the algorithm update and reflects the overall lack of preparation from an SEO perspective.
What Does This Mean?
Clearly the patient site enjoyed a significant increase in engaged organic traffic while the professional site suffered a setback within the space. To add more insult to injury, it will likely take time to recover the lost rankings and CTR as optimization efforts sometimes takes months to come to fruition given the nature of indexing changes and affecting rank change within the search engine results page (SERP.)
Looked at another way, the overall swing represents the true delta of inaction. With SEO, there’s little middle ground – either you are following the right practices or are you not. Your traffic will either increase or it will decrease, and the vast difference between getting it wrong and getting it right should be incentive enough to pay more attention to SEO. In this case, the total stakes between both sites equated to thousands of qualified visitors a month.
Don’t get left behind and suffer the cost of inaction. Ensure your site follows all SEO best practices: At a minimum, ensure your site avoids shooting itself in the foot by keeping on-page tactics SEO – friendly and enlisting the support of a competent agency to keep you prepared for what the engines have in store for us in the months ahead. Rumor has it that there could be a major update to Google Penguin this month – Is your website prepared?