InternationalStudent.com’s traffic is continuing its upward climb (knock on wood). 2015 year-to-date organic traffic is 220% higher than the same period last year. What have we done to earn this sort of tremendous growth? Are we smart or just lucky, or maybe a little of both? In this post, we will take a look at some of the challenges we’ve faced, and the strategies we’ve employed that have brought us to where we are today.
Every website out there has ups and downs in traffic, and InternationalStudent.com is no exception. In 2014, we experienced one of the bigger dips in organic traffic that we’ve seen in the 15+ year history of our site. This led to much soul searching and a deep analysis of our site and our visitors.
Google, being the dominant search engine of the day, sends more traffic to more sites than all other search engines combined. So how do you rank well in Google? That’s the billion dollar question. An entire industry has evolved around this question, and if you asked 10 people, you would probably get 10 different answers.
One place where you can look for answers is Google itself. Google provides a list of webmaster guidelines which give a general overview of what to do and what not to do. This can leave a lot of room for interpretation. Of course Google can’t tell us exactly what to do, as spammers would do just that and the quality of search engine results would suffer. We interpret their guidelines as telling us to create a high quality site with great original content that provides a useful resource to users.
What we looked at
We used Google Webmaster Tools to analyze keywords and SERP (search engine result pages) performance. This gave us a good idea of what sort of queries we were ranking highly for on Google.
Next, we looked at Google Analytics to gauge user behavior on our site. We were able to ask and answer questions such as:
- What are the highest traffic pages on our site?
- Which pages have higher than average bounce rates?
- Which pages result in a user spending more or less time on our site?
- Which pages lead to users viewing additional pages?
- What are the highest converting pages on our site?
Once we gathered all this information, we took a look at what we were doing well and where we could improve. We then set a plan in place that thus far has seemed to be effective. Traffic has recovered and subsequently grown to new highs.
So what did we do?
First, we looked at high volume traffic that was not performing well from a user behavior perspective. These are the pages where the search engines were sending us a lot of traffic but the users were either immediately leaving (high bounce rate) or were not engaging with our site (low time on site, low number of pages per session).
From studying the webmaster guidelines, we had learned that certain sections or pages of a site that perform poorly can drag down the quality score of the whole site. Some of these high traffic poor performing page were on topics that were somewhat outside the core mission of the site. We decided to de-index those sections using Google Webmaster Tools. This removes those pages from Google’s index, thus improving the bounce rates and user behavior metrics for the site as a whole.
We then went about re-writing and re-designing the pages to be more engaging to our users. Once we improved the pages, we added them back to the index. We also took a look at pages which were maybe somewhat dated, perhaps with information or advice from a couple years back. We rewrote and refreshed those pages as well.
We also worked to ensure that our site was fully responsive and optimized for mobile users. The number of mobile users has continued to grow over the last several years, and should surpass 50% of all users sometime in the not too distant future. Going forward, it is critically important that we provide mobile users with a great experience.
Next, we took a look at what were felt we were doing right. In 2014 we started a series of videos and hangouts that answer questions for international students. These videos provide a tremendous value to students looking for information on how to become an international student. The hangouts with our featured school clients also provide a great value to schools looking to recruit international students to attend their schools. We have continued to create videos and hangouts and have integrated them throughout our site. We plan on continuing this trend throughout 2015
What happened next?
Well, our traffic came back fairly quickly to the previous levels and has steadily grown since then. We continue to focus on improving our content and creating a great user experience for all our users. We also try to focus our attention on creating content that is true to our core mission of serving international students.
While we can be sure that our site is greatly improved with the changes we’ve made over the last six months, we can’t conclusively say that these changes have caused our traffic to triple. The search engines are constantly adjusting their ranking algorithms so rankings are changing on a continual basis. The best we can do is follow the guidelines and try to create content that great and engaging. So to answer the question posed at the top of this post. “Are we lucky or smart?” We can’t really know for certain, but we’ll try to be smart enough to continue to build our site following the webmaster guidelines and our own sense of what is useful to our users. If we do that, then hopefully good luck will follow.