Did March 10 change your search intent?

In this blog we will share with you exactly what you can do to optimize your website’s search traffic during these unprecedented times.

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Did you really think it was going to be that simple?

We’d get as much traffic as banana bread recipe websites get ever since the lockdown started had we figured this out.

But we’ve been at it and figured we’d share the process in the hope that it will help set the right direction for you (and us).

It was March 10th, a regular Tuesday - gym, breakfast, work, client meetings when I got a notification - “Dow just had its biggest drop since 1987”.

Woah, what?

I frantically stopped everything I was doing and went onto click on the notification. Dow dropped nearly 3,000 points, suffering its worst day since the Black Monday crash in 1987 and its third worst day ever. COVID-19 was starting to dominate world headlines, with the United States beginning to face the worst of it.

The severity of the situation hit me hard but I washed my hands and went about my day.

The next few weeks were confusing and frustrating.

We were far from our monthly goals and as the end of March kept getting closer, we realized that just maintaining previous numbers was a struggle, forget meeting new goals. We realized that it had to do with the current situation, but every client showed a different behavior when it came to organic traffic and leads. So we decided to decipher what was causing this behavior and what we can do to optimally work with what we have. 

We tried to find answers to the following questions

  1. How has COVID impacted clients?
  2. What are the reasons?
  3. How can we bounce back?

So, let’s find some answers - What’s really going on?

Understanding the impact (WHAT + WHY)

The very first  step was to understand how clients are being impacted. It's important to note here that for the purpose of this analysis we look into the following conditions

  1. Geography - United States (customer base for most of our existing clients)
  2. Source - Organic Search (a good indicator of intent as well as comprised majority traffic and leads)

What was measured?

Traffic 

  • Did we lose or gain traffic for different clients?
  • Did the kind of traffic coming in have a commercial intent or were they looking for information?

Leads 

  • Did we lose or gain leads?
  • What was the quality of leads coming in?
  • Were they looking for information or were they looking to buy?
  • Were they converting to opportunities?

The Methodology

  1. We chose 10th March as the dark, dark day that changed everything. So all of our analysis was broken down into the same time period before and after that.
  2. The next step was to look into Google Analytics and HubSpot for traffic impact.
  3. Once we had a sense of traffic trends, we used search console to understand user intent. (Side Note - Search Console is the most underrated SEO tool, it’s honestly a gold a mine if used like one)
  4. Now that we’d understood traffic better, we moved onto leads. The first step was to quantify trends in leads.
  5. Next, we broke down leads based on intent - were they looking for information or were they looking to have a conversation around buying. If it was the latter, were they willing to speak to sales or did they prefer trying out the software themself first?
  6. Lastly, were these leads converting opportunities?

The Findings

We looked into the different SaaS clients from an account planning software to maintenance management software. Each showed different types of trends. Let's highlight some of our findings.

For example, for a client in account management, we saw a drop in traffic in the first week of March, however as the month progressed, traffic seemed to pick up again.

But why was traffic picking back up? Were people searching more?

NO. Even though the number of impressions reduced, the amount of clicks increased. This was due to the fact that our rankings for the certain category keywords improved on Google, therefore even though people were searching less, improved keyword rankings kept traffic incoming. In this case, overall, leads dropped by 35% in the after as compared to the before.  However the number of opportunities stayed the same as well, meaning while people were searching less but those that were, were looking to do business. 

For a client in maintenance management software, traffic fell 26%. A search console analysis revealed that this drop was due to two main reasons

  1. Search volume down - Users are searching less because demand has been impacted. The break it down further, branded keywords search reduced the most significantly. Commercial keywords also marginally dropped in monthly searches. However, informational keywords saw an increase in search volume. 
  2. CTR - Even though commercial keywords dropped very marginally in monthly searches, they dropped over 8 times more in CTR (rankings remained consistent). Informational keywords also saw a significant drop in CTR in spite of having an increased search volume. Interesting ,eh?

In this case, leads were far worse impacted than the traffic. Major drops were seen in high commercial intent offerings.

We hypothesized that given the current situation, users may only be willing to explore information and are not ready to make a purchase due to budget constraints. However, in an interesting twist, opportunities in this case marginally grew, meaning those that were ready to buy were looking for a quick turnaround time to address the impact of social distancing.

For another SaaS client, a facility management software, traffic dropped around 62%. In this case traffic was broken down into - Branded, Commercial, Informational and Irrelevant.


The majority of the traffic loss was due to drop in irrelevant and branded keywords as they contributed to 85% of total traffic.

That’s not too bad. A drop in irrelevant traffic means better intent traffic meaning better leads.

Right?

That’s right.

Even though traffic dropped 66%, leads only dropped 2%.

The conversion rate is at its highest ever. To break down leads further, the number of SQLs stayed exactly the same as before meaning intent was not impacted. The number of opportunities also saw a marginal increase.

Inferences and Summary

While each account showed a different behavior when it came to the way traffic and leads were impacted, we noticed some common trends.


How can we bounce back?

We’re honestly not sure yet.

The impact of COVID is here to stay at least for the next few months, if not the next few quarters. During this time, user needs and therefore behavior will constantly change. Therefore optimizing during these times will definitely not be a one time strategy, but there are a few things that can be done.

Analyze user behavior like a hawk

Make search console your best friend. It’s not like you have a lot anyway. No for real, when we were studying the impact on search trends, we really dug deep into search console and it gave us a whole host of keywords we could never even imagine our audience using during these times. It will tell you exactly what your users need in these times and will tell you when your users are looking for information. For example, are users more active past midnight or early morning? An interesting trend mentioned in this article was how searches around “Covid” spike up at night and early morning, meaning it’s the last thing people think of before going to bed and the first thing they think of in the morning. 

Understand Google’s Algorithms

According to this article “Google has enabled their SOS alert SERP features and has made changes to their algorithm to provide higher authoritative organic search results for all related queries.” Google seems to be focusing more on trustworthy and expert organizations. It is also changing the way it is displaying its search results which may be why we saw CTR impacted to the extent we did. It is therefore important to understand changes being made and apply them to your website.

Optimize conversion rate offers 

Test, test and test more when it comes to conversion rate optimization. You never know what users may be looking for, so even though you may be short of your SQL goal, it may be a better idea to push an eBook or an infographic at the user as information is definitely more top of the mind right now. After all, an MQL is far better than no lead at all. Additionally, really understand what the users are looking for and prioritize their agenda versus yours.

Check on users

This is a difficult time for nearly everyone, except our dogs who get to see us more often. It’s important to understand what users are struggling with and have a conversation with them around it. For example, a user may be struggling with managing warehouse insights and a billion other things but may not always know to schedule a demo on a website that will help. Even when users fill out MQL forms, create an email nurturing workflow checking in on them and making yourself available for a quick chat.

Lastly, be patient. Every day during these times is a surprise and while goals may seem like a stretch at this time, it's a great time to explore the changing trends in user behavior. We will keep updating this blog as we find more answers and welcome any inputs you may have, but in the meantime remember to stay safe and sane.

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