Organic traffic as an analytic tool. Analytics and SEO
It has become something of a cliché to state how important measurement is when making improvements to a web page and any type of online activity in general. It is a cliché that we have no intention of dispelling. On the contrary, we believe that you cannot improve something without understanding it, and as far as web traffic optimisation is concerned, you cannot understand it without measuring it.
Organic traffic is particularly valuable on many occasions for a number of reasons. One of these is its originality. An organic channel behaves very differently from those with other sources. For example, the time of permanence on the page, the CTR, the number of pages seen or the bounce rate can vary enormously between organic traffic and that of Display and PPC.
It is not unusual to interpret these differences as an added benefit of organic traffic: longer permanence on a page, a lower bounce rate and more pages seen are viewed as “better quality” traffic. We make no objections to this although, as always, things are really more complicated.
Everything is more complicated. To analyse is to compare
We recently had a client with a spectacularly low bounce rate (almost 2%) Although there were obvious issues with the website, the client was proud of this bounce rate, as you would expect. We have all heard of webmasters (do we still use this term? do they still exist?) willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a bounce rate below…20%!
Then, of course, every website is different. And of course, every project is different too. And it goes without saying that each page is different, each user is different and we are all equal under the law. However one sole measurement is not going to reveal the absolute truth. Even so, less than 2% is amazing! That really is something to be proud of.
The problem appeared when we realized that this world-beating rate was related with an Interstitial that practically “mugged the user” forcing him or her to close the notification immediately, leave the page, or risk moderate to serious eye damage.
The moral of the story is pretty clear. The client had noticed that time spent on the page could be improved, but hadn’t associated this issue with what he considered the main merit of his page. The story might seem a little far-fetched to some. It certainly was an extreme case, but how often have we seen a milder version of this situation? How many times have we struggled to improve one metric rather than to understand it and, in the end, to “use” it? How often have we tried to get a user to stay for a few more seconds of permanence on a page and forgotten to use the data to improve the user’s experience, or simply to make our page more suited to the targets we have set for ourselves?
Organic traffic as a source of information
There are a number of common arguments that crop up when defending the value of organic traffic. Those of us who work in SEO highlight, as we have, the quality of this traffic, its price, its stability… and this is all true. The behaviour of organic traffic is generally considered to be better quality than that of other channels. We often fail to mention, however, a value that’s as valuable as it is unexpected: organic traffic is simply a different channel, and for this reason alone it has intrinsic value by giving us information about types of user and the behaviour of these different and comparable users.
Can’t we say the same about other channels? Of course we can, but it is also true that organic traffic users have a certain “margin of freedom” that other channels don’t have.
It seems obvious, but we often overlook it as an element of analysis precisely for this reason: the existence of a powerful organic traffic channel gives us information about our users and especially about a certain type of user: the one who is part of our organic traffic.
The fact that organic traffic behaves differently from another channel tells us a lot about that particular channel, its conditions and the way it conditions the “captured” traffic that ends up in our web. It also tells us about the users themselves. As always, there is no magic formula. We need to study the type of traffic and the type of website we get from the organic channel. In general terms, however, we can say that the more “optimised” the organic traffic we receive is, the more valuable the information it gives us will be.
Note, though, that we are using the term “optimisation” in a slightly different sense than we usually do in SEO, even among professionals. We too fell into the trap of confusing optimisation with traffic growth when the optimisation of organic traffic mostly means achieving better quality traffic. Not only in relation with the user’s behaviour on our web, but also in the capture of searches which are truly valuable for the business model and the interpretation of a channel. The fact of their origins and the original nature of the searches represents a source of information that is potentially a goldmine for reaching our target.