In my search engine optimization (SEO) work with several Silverpoint clients, I have the opportunity to see site usage stats for a bunch of schools. One stat we like to track is the number of visitors who come via search engines as a measure of the site’s visibility in search.
Over the last six months, I’ve observed a disturbing trend, illustrated by this representative graph from a client school:
By looking at year-over-year comparisons of traffic delivered by search engines, it’s clear that every month of the school year since October has seen a decline relative to 2010-2011 numbers.
Now, there’s been a lot of press about “over-optimizing” and Google’s moves to punish sites that attempt to game the system in order to land on Page 1 of Google’s search results pages. So, after I finished hyperventilating, I decided to look at a client site for whom we were not doing SEO. Here’s what I found:
It’s the same story – beginning in the fall of the 2011-2012 school year, fewer people have come to the site from search engines.
I decided to question my assumption that the number of people looking for school sites was steady or growing and turned to Google Trends to see if, in fact, these declines were due to contraction in the pool of potential visitors. To act as canaries in our coal mine, I chose some phrases that are representative of this population of searchers. Behold!
If you look closely, you’ll see that the phrases “private schools” and “independent schools” have seen lower search volume for the period October-May in 2011-2012 than they did in 2010-2011. The difference is especially noticeable in the January-May period.
According to Google, fewer people are doing these searches. Why?