We hadn’t had a work session with this team since the first US pandemic lockdown, over a year ago.
Maybe that’s why when the Zoom participants started showing on my screen, I imagined them in a conference room, sitting around a long white table, the way they were on our previous calls.
But I was wrong — everyone was on their own now, with different backgrounds from their in-house offices, spare bedrooms or living rooms — the prospect’s team: Sarah (VP of Marketing), Paul (Digital Marketing), and Jennifer (Product Manager); and our team: Leslie (Founder), Kate (Marketing Strategist), and me – George (Product and UX Design).
Waiting for the bomb to drop…what’s the problem?
I always go through the initial exchange of pleasantries and small talk with anxious anticipation, wondering who will drop the bomb — I mean we haven’t seen each other for a long time, there must be a problem, and most probably a big one. Why else would they have reached out for today’s work session?
Sarah, the marketing VP, switched to her serious voice. “Here it comes” I thought.
“Over the past year, we have experienced an almost 70% drop in organic traffic and over 50% loss in organic revenue. We’ve been doing everything right, but the traffic and conversion rates are just dropping.”
“Oof, there it is!” I thought, raising my eyebrows. I didn’t want to speak first after such an opening so I looked at Kate and Leslie on my screen.
Sifting through the possible causes for the drops; but have they been effectively prioritized?
“And do you have any ideas why this is happening?” asked Leslie, The Search Guru founder.
“Sure, I can tell you all about it — we’ve done tons of research and testing on the subject,” Paul, the digital marketing manager offered. “We believe it has something to do with some of Google’s updates, but we are not sure which one exactly.”
“It surely doesn’t have anything to do with bad links or duplicate content – we are not doing any of that. It might be due to higher competition, though,” Jennifer, the Product Manager chimed in. “We’ve seen a few competitors rising steadily in the Google rankings.”
Take stock: looking at the list of culprits and weighting them effectively to find the true causes and solutions.
“Are you seeing the drop in traffic in all channels or just from organic search?” Kate asked.
“Well, mainly in organic and slightly in direct. In paid search traffic (Google ads) there is a slight rise, actually.” Paul replied.
“Have you made any major changes on the website in the last 2 years?” I asked.
“Well, we’ve been acquiring smaller competitors for some time and with each acquisition we add their offerings into the site. So that’s what we’ve been doing, patching up and matching the offers into what you see today.” Jennifer, the Product Manager said.
“Congratulations! May I ask about mobile visitors — are many people browsing the site from mobile devices?” Kate asked.
Mobile traffic: Do b2b sites need to pay much attention to it, when b2b sales rarely happen on them?
“Well, not really, I think they are less than 5% of all visitors coming to the site. The site does not render very well on mobile.” Jeff, said.
“Hmm, 5%? I know you’re a b2b company and so, usually, mobile traffic is lower, but I haven’t seen anything lower than 30% of mobile users on any site in recent years,” Kate mused. Kate digs into analytics, for many b2b sites, on a daily basis, so I knew their number was off, by a lot.
“Let me check how the site looks on mobile.” I said. “Oh, Google says the homepage is not mobile friendly. Did you know that?” My fingers were now busy checking mobile speed and page insights to see if there were any easy fixes available.
“Yes, we know. But that wasn’t a priority with all the acquisitions going on. We know people are not using the site on mobile that much,” said Sarah.
Kate chimed in, “Got it. It’s very common for b2b sites to not rely much on mobile traffic, but the mobile version of the site is important for Google. Here’s the note where they announced they are switching to mobile first indexing” and pasted this in the Zoom chat:
Starting July 1, 2019, mobile-first indexing is enabled by default for all new websites (new to the web or previously unknown to Google Search). For older or existing websites, we continue to monitor and evaluate pages based on the best practices detailed in this guide. We inform site owners in Search Console of the date when their site switched to mobile-first indexing. (Read more here)
“But we just don’t count on people converting via mobile,” Sarah insisted.
“I understand. But Google will still crawl your website through a mobile bot, as it knows the majority of people use mobile devices to browse sites. The user journey often starts with mobile even if it ends on the desktop.” Kate explained.
“So you think mobile is the reason for the drop in the traffic?” Paul asked.
Now add in PPC traffic: are branded or non-branded key terms driving most of your paid search traffic? And what’s the impact?
“Yes, I think the drop in the organic traffic is because Google cannot crawl your website well enough via mobile. But there are other issues I see. I am betting, in order to compensate for the drop in the organic traffic, you pumped up the PPC spend.” Kate continues.
“Yes,” Paul confirmed, “we’ve been spending a bit more on Google ads recently and it’s been paying off. We have a ROAS* of $3-4” (*ROAS is return on ad spend, that is how much you get for every dollar you spend on ads.)
“I get that. And as branded terms have the highest ROAS I can see you’re bidding mainly on brand terms. What I see here is that PPC traffic cannibalizes direct and organic traffic. You started paying for something you used to get for free in the past.” Kate shared.
“You’re sure about that?” Paul almost cried. “I know we bid on brand terms because there are some affiliates doing it and we just have to keep up with them. But I don’t think branded traffic is the majority of our PPC spend.” Paul was responsible for managing the PPC company.
“Unfortunately this is very common and we’ve seen it in many cases. Yes, I’m quite certain. I see 65% of the PPC traffic coming from branded terms and only 35% from non-branded. You see an average ROAS of $3-4 for every dollar you invest in PPC, but the branded terms get an average $6-7 ROAS, while non-brand terms barely reach $1.5 ROAS.”
There was some awkward silence for a good half a minute. It’s never easy to hear bad news like this. Especially when what you’ve been proud of turns out to be a bit of a failure.
But why is there also see a drop in conversion rate from organic traffic?
“Even if what you say is right, how would you explain the drop in the conversion rate from Organic traffic?” Sara interjected. “We do get some traffic, but less and less people are signing up.”
“I have an idea about this,” I couldn’t stay still any more. “I’d bet $50 that the conversion rate is dropping on all channels, not only in organic. And I think this is due to the acquisitions and the changes you’ve been introducing on your packages. I checked a few of your landing pages and I could not get answers to a few very basic questions like:
- “Why would I choose package 2 over package 1?”
- “Can I get everything I need with package 1 (lowest price)?”
- “Why would I buy from you?”
“It is very likely because you had to add so many extra features over time, as you strung together the offerings from the companies you’ve acquired, the offerings got a bit overwhelmed with data, but lack clear direction and answers for the visitor.”
The team started nodding their heads. They knew some of the issues, but were not prioritizing them properly.
It is always helpful to have fresh eyes take a look. Now, instead of struggling in frustration we could get into action, together.
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