A few years ago, I had an SEO client who had not previously done any SEO work. I performed my typical SEO process of researching keywords to find all the phrases people looking for the type of product this company sold would type into the search engines, and optimized the website accordingly. Within a few months, they started to see search engine traffic for those keyword phrases as well as numerous variations of them. Traffic was growing at a nice rate each month, calls to local dealers were increasing, and life was good!
They redesigned the website.
The redesign wasn’t a complete surprise, as we had previously discussed it. I had provided them and their developers with how to bake their SEO into their redesign and reminded them to send me all their new sitemaps, wireframes, and design mock-ups as they were working on them.
But they didn’t.
About a week before they were scheduled to go live with the new website they sent me a link to the development site, and much to my horror, nearly every trace of SEO had been removed!
There were basically no Title tags and very little content. What content they did have was written with no thought whatsoever to the carefully selected targeted keyword phrases each page had previously been using.
When I pointed this out to them, they realized that the lack of Title tags was simply an oversight (phew!) and they were able to input the old ones fairly quickly. They also re-added the old Meta descriptions, which had also gone AWOL. Thankfully, they weren’t changing their site architecture or URLs, so we didn’t have to scramble to fix that or create redirects.
The content was another story.
They were not interested in either using the previously optimized copy or writing some newly optimized content. They had severely truncated most of the copy and it was not at all descriptive of the products that they offered.
While the words on the page are certainly not everything, they are a strong signal to the search engines as to what a page is all about (as they should be). I didn’t think that having the keyword phrases only used in the Title tags would be enough to sustain them in the rankings.
They insisted that their new copy was what their target audience wanted to see, although as far as I know, they hadn’t done any testing to confirm this. I couldn’t give them a definitive answer as to whether they’d lose keyword traffic or not with this new content because you can’t ever know for sure what search engines will do. But I did tell them that my educated guess was that they would most likely lose targeted search engine traffic.
They decided to risk it with what they had.
Things were tense the first month after they went live with the new site, but when I reviewed their web analytics, there was no loss of keyword traffic — yay! In fact, traffic overall was up and I thought that maybe the Title tags and their links could in fact carry the optimization.
Unfortunately, in the next month organic traffic for their targeted keyword phrases had dropped substantially. And things were even worse in the month after that. For the most part, they lost nearly all keyword traffic that wasn’t using some form of their brand name in it. Thankfully, this brand-name traffic was up.
But brand traffic does not equal SEO.
Getting lots of search traffic on their brand name was certainly nice. Brand traffic tends to convert better than general keyword traffic. But that’s because it’s coming from people who are looking specifically a certain company. If you’re dong a good job with your overall marketing and branding programs, you should see a healthy dose of brand keywords in your web analytics. While important on many levels (and ever more so after Google’s Panda Update) it’s still not SEO.
If you only have brand traffic, you’re leaving money on the table.
What this company and others who aren’t doing SEO are missing out on is search engine traffic from folks who don’t already know their brand. All those folks who are seeking a certain type of product or a service, but they don’t know the various companies who offer it. And this is where SEO comes in.
SEO is simply another form of marketing that has the potential to bring in new customers. If your website isn’t showing up for keywords other than your brand name, you stand no chance of getting sales from those new customers. That means that you’ll be losing sales to your competitors who have done SEO.
If you’re not looking for new customers, then by all means, don’t do SEO. But in this economy, it’s the rare business that can sustain themselves through only existing customers!