*The guest post is by Hugo Guzman who is the Vice President of SEO & Social Media at Zeta Interactive. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/hugoguzman*
I was speaking with a prospective client today that shared what they thought was their most pressing SEO issue for one of the larger sites in their network. Basically, they explained that in the process of performing a migration from an old domain to a newer one (for branding purposes) their number of indexed pages in Google dropped from around 80,000 to around 30,000 thousand, and that this drop was the primary reason for their drop in organic search engine referrals to the site.
After poking around the site in question as well as the corresponding Google Analytics profile, a key variable immediately manifested itself:
According to Google Analytics, only 20,000 or so of their pages were responsible for all of their site referrals, even back when 80,000 or so were indexed.
That basically means that there’s no way that the drop in indexed pages was directly responsible for their drop in organic search referrals, because 60,000 or so of the pages that were originally indexed never generated a single visit. They were likely pages that were in Google’s index but ranked very poorly for specific search terms.
I quickly explained to these folks that instead of using the total number of indexed pages as a primary metric, they needed to use their analytics data to understand which of the original 80,000 pages was responsible for the natural search referrals, and furthermore, what keywords were responsible for that referred traffic. It’s too early to confirm, but I’m betting that when they dig a little deeper, they’ll quickly realize that a relatively small number of pages (probably a few thousand) are responsible for 90% or more of all historical organic search referrals, and that identifying those pages and insuring that they are indexed and ranking well will be the key to resolving their current issue.
Clearly, chasing after soft and misleading metrics like number of indexed pages can lead to wild goose chases that point marketers in the wrong direction. It’s certainly a metric worth tracking and understanding, but 9 times out of 10, you need to take a deeper dive into hard analytics data to uncover the really valuable insights that can drive SEO success.