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SEO can kill your pageviews (and that's OK)

This is one of those I’ve-always-known-but-here-it-is-on-paper kind of things: If you do a great job with SEO, and search engines can more effectively deep-crawl your web site, you may see a drastic drop in pageviews.

The story: An SEO vampire sucked away our pageviews!

A client called me, concerned because their analytics data showed a drop in pageviews. Note: Clients who look at their analytics reports are about as common as legislators who vote their conscience, and as refreshing. So I was pretty excited. Once I stopped dancing, though, she explained the problem.
Pageviews were dropping steeply, even as their rankings and traffic from organic search were going up:
pageviews falling
They use pageviews as a performance indicator, and they’ve just launched a new site design. So this is Not A Good Thing At All. If there wasn’t a reasonable explanation, they’d have to assume the new design was driving away visitors.
Looking at other data for the same timeframe:

  • Time on site and bounce rate remained stable;
  • Pages viewed/visit dropped;
  • Overall site traffic grew.

The fact that time on site and bounce rate remained were good news. But where did the pageviews go?
In a word, SEO.

Better visibility = deeper links

A year ago, Google could barely get past page 1 of my client’s site. So everyone clicked in from the home page. That added 2-3 pageviews to every visit.
Now, Google can find its way deeper into the site. It’s now providing deep links to the pages folks want to see. That’s shifted a lot of visits from the home page to deeper parts of the site. Look at this comparison of top landing pages this month versus last year:
home page loses pageviews
It’s a nearly perfect about-face, and that’s just the top 4-5 pages. The home page shed 76% of its entry traffic. By ‘entry traffic’, I mean folks who came from another site, like a search result, and landed directly on the home page. That looks really bad.
But deeper pages have seen a 500+% increase in entry traffic. I reviewed the top 100 landing pages, and sure enough, they’ve gained more traffic than the home page lost.

Lesson learned: SEO can reduce pageviews

In some circumstances, a good SEO program will reduce pageviews: The search engines can better find the most relevant content on your site, and forward folks to it. That means fewer pageviews, but happier visitors.
So, if your pageviews plunge, but traffic doesn’t, don’t panic. Dig deeper, and see if that traffic is just going somewhere else.

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CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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Comments

  1. I am just now learning about SEO. I have a background in analytics and had I not read this post, would have likely made some erroneous conclusions down the road.
    Thanks.
    Great post.

  2. Thanks Ian, that’s a really good insight. May I ask then how would you measure the success of an SEO program (from an analytics standpoint or otherwise). Is there something more to look for other than overall pageviews?

  3. @Laurence I typically look at sales (if measured) or other conversions, visits from search, keyword diversity and yes, sometimes, rankings (don’t tell).

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