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SEO Expectation vs Reality (And What to Do When Things Don’t Go to Plan)

Aug 1, 2020 | SEO

Most of us know the theory behind SEO – get your on-page optimisation down, create some killer content and get high-authority links back to your site and your business jumps up Google search results. Last year I worked with a client where this was the reality, but these are few and far between.

A LinkedIn post from Kathryn showcasing a successful SEO case study - 'We updated page titles and H1s across the site for a client back in December and almost immediately saw an uplift in rankings. There's still work to do to push onto pages 1 and 2 and see significant traffic increases, but I can't say this graph isn't satisfying.'Often the amount of time available or technical barriers mean you’re not able to make the impact you’d like. Sometimes everything goes according to plan but the results just don’t come through. In this post, I’ll share some of my own SEO fails and how to bounce back from what can feel like the worst case scenario.

Check yourself

Something I like to remind my colleagues at Aira of when things get stressful is that no one ever died from a failed SEO strategy. If we wanted to deal with life and death situations at work, we’d have become heart surgeons rather than marketers. Take a deep breath and check the reality of the situation, it’s probably not as bad as you think.

The most stressed I’ve felt in my career so far was when working with the below client. They were a long-term client, with a relatively small retainer, and I didn’t have the budget, development resource or access to systems needed to execute my strategy. It felt like an uphill battle and both myself and the client ended up frustrated. In the end, we passed the client onto a freelancer with a lower hourly rate and organic traffic and conversions started to climb (shown by the red circle on the graph below). Ultimately, we weren’t the right fit for the client anymore and someone else could do a better job with the same budget. These things happen and I’m happy to see the client succeeding. And no one died.

If we wanted to deal with life and death situations at work, we’d have become heart surgeons rather than marketers.

Find another angle

I was concerned about the below client when I noticed their organic traffic dropping a few months in a row after updating metadata site-wide. Enter gut-wrenching anxiety. Having looked into it further it turns out conversions were up over the same period.

It took the help of a colleague and a dig into Search Console to realise that lots of the terms that had lost visibility were completely irrelevant to the client’s business. With the new metadata, we were targeting queries with lower search volumes, hence the reduced visibility, but the users coming from those terms were much more likely to convert.

It’s worth noting that sometimes there isn’t another angle. This isn’t about bending the truth – own up to your mistakes, everyone makes them. Go to the client with a clear picture of how you can work together to improve things moving forward.

Change tactics

Quite often, if you order an SEO audit, you’ll get a mix of technical fixes, metadata updates that can be done in the CMS and content recommendations. Sometimes, your client won’t have any development resource or you won’t have CRM access due to security or licensing issues. The two need to align, otherwise you’ll have all the gear (SEO recommendations) and no idea (way to implement them).

That’s what happened with the above client, which also happens to be the same client from my LinkedIn humble brag. We had some actions that required development resource, while the development team was occupied with a migration project. We pivoted our strategy to prioritise changes that could be made in the CMS and worked with the development team on a few smaller actions. Once the migration project was complete, we pushed through the remaining tasks and were able to achieve great growth without giving the client’s team additional stress.

Get granular

Sometimes when you’re on a budget, it takes working on important keywords or pages in isolation to see great results. When in doubt, my go-tos are to pick out quick wins from queries ranking in positions 11-15 or revamp metadata on pages with high impressions but a low click-through rate.

In the case of the above client, they had been daily blogging for about a month, but weren’t seeing increased traffic to the blog section of their site. We analysed the top performing blog posts from the past year and worked with them on an SEO-focused blog post on a similar topic as a proof of concept. This post quickly started ranking well and driving relevant traffic to the site. There’s now a potential opportunity to work with the Content team on a wider SEO content strategy.

I hope seeing my SEO fails helps you feel less alone. The case studies we see on Twitter can make things seem plain-sailing, when that’s rarely the reality. I’d love to see your SEO expectations vs reality, tweet me @kathrynmonkcom.

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