Rebecca Berbel informs SEOs in 2023 of the importance of regularly monitoring your website and keeping yourself up-to-date on performance so that you can develop a well-informed strategy.
Rebecca says: “You should look at the performance of your website. Monitoring is the key to finding those quick wins to effectively firefight when there’s a problem. You can develop a better strategy through data analysis.”
What about your website should you monitor?
“This is where we start getting into the ‘it depends’ territory. It depends on what your website is and its overall purpose. For example, if you have an eCommerce website with lots of variability in product availability, that’s something you’d want to monitor. This would be important to ensure you’re showing up in search and that people are being directed to the correct pages.
If you’re a local shop, you’ll want to make sure you’re in other places. If you have a really complex tech stack, you might want to monitor page speed and server performance more than other sites would. It’ll depend on both the industry you’re in and the type of website you have.
However, in every case you should have a daily, monthly, or quarterly overview of what has changed or could change. This will allow you to make incremental improvements rather than waiting for something to blow up.”
Does this involve keeping a historical record of what’s changed? Is it important to look back and see if there have been any historical issues with the performance of a website?
“Yes. You should also see when there has been a change in rankings. In this case, you might also notice that there’s been a change in page speed and how fast your server is responding. This could just be a server change that your IT department implemented that you weren’t aware could be a problem.
Catch issues like these early on and resolve issues before they impact the rest of your business performance.”
What are some typical areas of performance reduction that you’ve seen?
“In the past couple of years, there’s been a lot about page speed updates. As far as eCommerce is concerned, this is often linked to how Google processes data and what its algorithms search for. Also, how product reviews appear in search and whether or not they’re a ranking factor.
There are lots of quality issues today that Google takes into account. These were less important in the past and include things like duplicate content, user experience, and running into lots of missing page errors. The helpful content update hasn’t had a huge impact across the board, yet, but it might in the future.
Everything from EAT to basic website health, whether your server is working properly, whether the site provides the content it says it has, or whether or not Google thinks that website should rank. These things are worth keeping an eye on across the board.
There are a couple of sites that do almost daily monitoring. Often, news sites do daily monitoring to see whether a sample of recent articles has registered in search, for example. They can then dig in deeper if there are problems.”
What are some typical reasons why 404s happen? How do you decide how to deal with 404s?
“Ending up with a 404 is often due to a link that’s directing to an incorrect page. That could be on your site or it could be a link that’s published elsewhere. You could just change those links, but if they’re published elsewhere there’s not a lot you can do.
One of the things you should commonly implement is redirects - to redirect an address to the correct content.”
There are plugins on WordPress that automatically 301 404s, is that poor practice?
“Not necessarily. It depends on where you’re redirecting them to and what 404s you’re redirecting. For example, let’s say you’ve changed the slugs so the address of your WordPress content has a plugin that automatically redirects the old address to the new address of that same content. This would be great practice because then you wouldn’t have to do that manually each time. If WordPress sees a 404 and you redirect that to your homepage, this is not necessarily the best way to handle things.”
If you’ve seen a significant decrease or increase in the speed of a web page, what are some typical reasons this could happen?
The advantage here is that you can randomly see a page that’s improved in speed or has had an improvement in the traffic to it from search. If you’re monitoring regularly you’ll observe some opportunities to improve across the board. You can take advantage of small improvements on your site and generalise them for a much bigger effect. A reduction in traffic doesn’t necessarily tie back to poor page performance. There could be other reasons why Google decides to reduce your rankings.”
What do you track and how do you ensure you’re tracking the right things so that when you do have a reduction in the traffic to a particular page you notice it as soon as possible?
“One of the things you can do is break down the website into different parts. A decrease in traffic to a page that isn’t essential to your SEO or business strategy will be less significant.
However, if you see a decrease in the sections of the website that are important for SEO, or your business in general, that’ll be something you need to look into. Track traffic and position on keywords.
You can group similar keywords - for example, the type of keywords that are important for business, brand keywords and other keywords you’re ranking for. This will largely depend on your site and industry. You can also track technical issues, whether that’s technical SEO ranging from duplicate content to things like 404s and website health issues. These tend to be server or infrastructure related.”
Regarding quick wins, what typical quick wins do many SEOs have an opportunity to gain in 2023?
“It depends. There are lots of possibilities - like looking at a website and realising you have systematic errors. You could make one correction that serves throughout time and the entire website. These are the sorts of things that can make a huge difference in SEO strategy. You must be able to address systematic or immediate issues.”
What’s an example of a systematic issue?
“Some sites regularly deindex certain pages because, for example, there’s a tag that hasn’t been removed by the product or tech team. In these cases, every time there’s a new release or something is added to the site, someone will need to return and fix the problem. This is an issue that usually comes significantly into play later, when a person goes back to look at a specific page and why they’re not getting traffic to it.
It’s better to perform constant monitoring so you can identify the pages that have been affected by a release. You can then reveal the reasons behind these types of systematic errors. Rather than constantly going back to fix the same old problems, you’ll be better off building an ongoing strategy through the data analysis you’re participating in.”
How do you build a better strategy through data analysis?
“That’s the core of what SEO is about today. There is a lot of data. The more you look at what that data means and the cleaner your view is, the better the tools will be able to find the ‘why’ and the commonalities between some of the data. Instead of randomly looking at pages and noticing problems, you should regularly look at how that data correlates with other things.
It might be correlated with website updates or technical interventions. With a better view of your data, you can build an effective strategy that’s adapted to the website. You can see where the weaknesses and strengths lie. If you have constant performance on, for example, branded keywords, this would be a fantastic approach if you have a strong brand.
The strategy of strengthening the brand and pushing it in certain markets will be different if you do see that strength. If your data doesn’t show that type of thing, you’ll need to adapt your strategy so it can. You’ll then be more able to convince the people you need to work with. If you don’t have data to back up a strategic decision, you’ll just be working on a small project alone.
However, if you’re able to show that something has had a significant impact on business via visibility through the search, this will allow you to push SEO projects to a more strategic level. You can then build those projects in a way that serves the business rather than trying to work against business goals.”
Suppose your data analysis identifies consistent performance issues because of technical inefficiencies. How do you quantify the financial impact on the bottom line so you can create a more comprehensive business argument for why that needs to be changed?
“One of the best ways to do this is to look at the time saved. You can easily quantify the time that it takes to correct those issues. The next step would be to look at improvements, especially if it’s a recurring issue. You can then make a more reliable benchmark as to what the negative and corrected states are, and also the difference between those. This is a good way to show there is ROI in making a final correction that could otherwise take more time to put into place.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“With data analysis, the caution is that there is a lot of information. Too much information can be counterproductive, if you have too much detail or potentially unreliable data. For example, if you have one page that keeps shifting from position 43 to 45 in Semrush on a long-tail keyword that you’re not necessarily interested in ranking for. It might even be something contradictory like ‘rental for room in july how much does it cost.’ This isn’t going to be a high-volume search, so it won’t be worth tracking or optimising for.
The idea of tracking every single possible data point is counterproductive. Leave those things alone and instead concentrate on areas with a real business impact.”
Rebecca Berbel is the Product Marketing Manager at OnCrawl and you can find her at oncrawl.com.
If you like to get up-close with your favourite SEO experts, these one-to-one interviews might just be for you.
Watch all of our episodes, FREE, on our dedicated SEO in 2023 playlist.
Maybe you are more of a listener than a watcher, or prefer to learn while you commute.
SEO in 2023 is available now via all the usual podcast platforms
Opt-in to receive email updates.
It's the fastest way to find out more about SEO in 2023.