Are you a Google Analytics enthusiast?
More SEO Content
Huge Drop In Visits After Big Site Changes
Posted 30 July 2008 - 12:30 PM
Working w/ a website that's been around for 10 years. Site is a publishing site that supports a print publication targeting a national AND local audience (there are local issues of this publication.) The site has moderate traffic (280,000 visits a month w/ 1.5 million page views.) Primary revenue sources are from ads (so the page views are pretty important.) Most of our content is listings for local advertisers, although we do have content and articles.
Site was in poor shape architecturally and not well optimized. Development team went back to basics... redesigned the site with a new architecture. We reorganized the data into a logical hierarchy (categories and subcategories). We optimized URL structure, title tags, header tags. We put links to more popular content on the site home page and tried to sculpt our internal linking for both users and for search. We managed 301's from old URL's to new URL's very carefully. We checked reports daily for 404's and corrected those as soon as possible when they were found. We beta tested everything as much as possible (although we shoulda/coulda done more.)
I feel like this was all the right thing to do. The one thing that did come out of this were the creations of thousands of new pages. These were mostly other ways of organizing data and advertisers. Rather than just navigating from home page > category > sub-category > vendor listing, we also provided ways for the user to search by a zip code (zip code > category > sub-category > vendor listing) and by city (city > category > sub-category > vendor listing). Listings aren't duplicated... rather they reside in one place - we just created different ways of getting to that data based on user preference.
We relaunched on July 7th at midnight. Unfortunately, IT had decided to change co-location facilities on the 1st. Once the new stuff hit the site, performance shot to hell. Timeouts and huge load times. After about a week and a half, the developers had fixed a lot of problems (by caching data on some pages so the database wasn't being hit so hard). Performance has been really good for the last week or 2.
Since the launch, our visits have dropped by about 30% and page views by 40%. Page views/visit have dropped by about 2 pages per visit. Leads are down about 50%. Referrals from search have dropped by about half of what it was before (Google was sending about 8,000 visitors to our site each day, now it ranges from 5,000 to 6,000.)
I checked the number of pages indexed by Google, and it has slowly gone up since the launch. I've udpated our XML sitemap and I check some search terms that we generally get traffic from and those positions, which HAD fallen a few days after the launch, have us back to where we were previously. So that seems good. But referrals from search are still way down.
I keep looking for a ray of light - some little something that will at least assure the President and CEO that things WILL get better. So far, other than the key terms that we've tracked in the past, there seems to be nothing much. Referrals and leads are still down.
We're looking at usability and navigation, and there's some streamlining that needs to be done, but nothing that I can see that is a huge change than before the launch.
Is it just going to take time? How much time? Did I screw up royally by allowing so many pages to be pushed out at one time? Am I obsessing over nothing or worrying too much? The higher up's are antsy and I've tried to manage expectations as best as I can, but I must admit, I'm getting a little worried myself.
Posted 30 July 2008 - 02:17 PM
You've basically hit a triple whammy on the bad luck meter. Massive page content changes, url changes (both of which may have been necessary) and then a server response issue the moment the new stuff went into effect. The combination is going to affect both the search engine spiders and their ability to update their index, as well as visitor experience. That's the most serious one, so I'd certainly encourage you to double and triple check that the load issues have all be solved and the pages are now loading quickly.
The thing is, even if everything is working exact as expected I would suggest that it might be a sign of improvement that the pageview per unique visitors numbers have decreased. If your changes have made it easier for people to get to the information they're looking for, it would make sense that they're getting there in fewer clicks. It's going to be tough to tell the cause, for sure. When you're looking at those numbers are you excluding the time frame when there was a known server problem? If not, I would. It's going to skew your data if you don't, spiralling downward.
For the traffic stuff you'll have to wait a bit to see what happens. Hopefully you've got traffic numbers from a year ago to use as a comparison so that you can rule out seasonal factors. It sounds like the search engines are starting to catch up. That's good, and should continue to improve.
For the rest you may need to set up some tests to see what the traffic is actually doing. Are they getting to the page they should be on more quickly, and this is at least part of the reason the pageviews are down? It's impossible to guess at that one, but it's possible. Or are there still load issues that are causing visitors to leave more quickly than normal?
Either way, I'm confidient it can be fixed or even turned into a much better situation than it was before. But right now you're dealing with pretty limited information. So I certainly wouldn't be making any rash decisions yet. I'd keep on top of the load issues (look for spikes during high traffic times or set up a script to do it for you) and give it until at least the end of August before doing much of anything else.
Posted 31 July 2008 - 02:49 PM
That was so helpful for me! I appreciate it.
We definitely had a triple whammy with everything that happened. We do have data from past years to compare, and our business is seasonal, so I'm able to see that it's not a seasonal thing that's impacting things. I'm also not counting the timeframe when we had severe performance issues.
We are monitoring peak times to isolate other issues - that has helped us fix a lot of problems from a script/cache standpoint.
We have a new database server going in next week (badly needed) which I believe will further speed things up.
I'll take a closer look at pathing and compare to earlier months to see if the drop in page views per unique visitor is in fact a sign of improvement. I DO know we still have some high bounce rates on pages that _should_ be doing better (cleaned up, fewer choices for the user to minimize confusion, etc.) The next step we're working on is to get some users in for some usability testing. We've done this inhouse, but haven't gotten the opinion of real users. We'll be doing that in the next week or so.
I really appreciate your time - I got some of my confidence back. Pressure from higher up the food chain was really getting me to panic and start questioning myself. I believe we've done the right things... we just have to wait, watch and measure. And I'll be able to stand my ground with the supe's and reassure them with confidence.
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users