Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Managing those SE-‘Oh Shit’ moments

by Joe Ford, Head of SEO at Organic

Every SEO team has had that ‘oh shit’ moment, right? Six months of hard work down the drain as your brand’s site visibility takes a sudden drop. Whether it’s due to some unconfirmed Google update, or the result of a site change, there’s lots which can impact SEO success.

What can help lessen the impact is having experts on hand who know what issues to look for and how to solve them. Being on the front foot and aware of the frequency of these updates, which may affect SEO performance, is paramount for SEO victory.

The powers of planning, partnerships, and empowerment

SEO is never straightforward. Changes to a brand’s site structure, migrations, and algorithm updates can all play havoc with visibility.

In the world of ecommerce, sudden loss of rankings and search performance can have a real impact on your bottom line. But remember ‘oh shit’ doesn’t have to mean disaster. Planning, partnership, and empowerment are all vital in helping leading ecommerce brands improve their search performance no matter the obstacles they face.

Organic has supported many sites with complex migrations, including working with Sainsbury’s Group on many large scale migrations over the last five years. The key to the process is about your SEO partner being an integral part of the change, from inception to post live checks as well as building relationships with the team and maintaining regular contact with the various stakeholders working on the project.

Everyone who has the ability to affect the site in some way could be impacting SEO performance. Making everyone in the team “a little bit SEO” empowers brands to work at a much larger scale to get things done, but also entails including SEO thought in most processes.

It’s no surprise that this journey will start with your SEO agency and internal SEO team, but you need to delve deeper than that. Other departments, who have their own priorities, will also be stakeholders in site change. This means SEO needs to extend its internal network in order to win hearts and minds and
balance priorities to get the best work done.

SEO success in action

A key goal for brands is to get a clear understanding of any issues resulting from algorithm updates and in turn, mitigate them. 

For example, we working with Habitat because they wanted to migrate their existing site and considerably slim down their range. Around the time of the acquisition, Habitat was closing stores and prioritising their online sales, resulting in a huge change in both what they sold and stock volumes. They wanted to focus on a few core lines of homewares but knew that would cause an issue with visibility, if they were ranking for items they no longer sold. So, they resolved to limit the effects of the migration as much as possible.

We worked with the homeware brand to understand the possible effects of the migration, and the actions we could take to prevent them sustaining long-term losses from removing so many categories and products. From there, we worked with the team to understand what ‘good’ looked like with the new range. After 10 months the site saw nothing but growth since the initial migration hit, and visibility is now higher than the pre-migration figure despite the much reduced range.

Algo update volatility

We have identified five steps to allow brands to fully assess the aftermath of an update crisis and more importantly allow SEO partners to relay the most relevant information quickly and effectively. While no two sites are the same, nor are any two clients, the most common step that clients need to be reminded of is that SEO is a long game. It is all too easy to panic at a drop in rankings or even a sudden downturn in overall visibility, but in terms of the bigger picture these often end up as blips on an otherwise strong
improvement graph.

Here are five tips to weather an update crisis:

Keep calm and carry on – A core update can take several weeks to roll out. Rankings can fluctuate up and down in that time as Google makes tweaks and adjustments. So don’t make any rash decisions and wait the storm out. You might find things correct. And if they don’t, you’ll be in a better position to make the right changes after this initial phase.

Reframe the situation – Instead of feeling your rankings have dropped because you did something wrong, reframe it as being due to competitors benefitting from their good work. Why? Because that way you can see who did well, learn from them, and apply it to your own site.

Look beyond rankings – Core updates impact things like Google, Discover, featured snippets, and more.
Analyse the impact you’re seeing. Is it just shifts in rankings or are you losing visibility due to changes in other areas?

Use multiple metrics – Alongside monitoring rankings, be sure to also consider things like traffic, and
keep an eye on different areas of your site. That way you can see patterns and trends, and potentially find obvious areas for improvement. Negative changes can open-up opportunity for positive growth if you approach them in the right way.

Get comfortable with the long game – Remember that SEO isn’t a race to be won in a week. Continue to improve your site with high quality, best practice methods and you’ll keep seeing improvement.

In SEO, everyone is at the mercy of search engines, so being able to trust that your agency is doing the right thing for your brand is paramount. Far too often we see people promising quick fixes that don’t have the long-term impact you may be hoping for. It’s a long game and when you go into a partnership with someone, it has to be a strong relationship in order to get the best out of it for everyone.