Last Updated on March 5, 2023

Traditional progress in SEO is measured by organic traffic and keyword ranking positions.

That being said, there are several nuances you will want to be aware of that can create volatility that isn’t always due to specific SEO issues, which I will discuss below:

1. Seasonal Search Demand

Most SEO retainers will provide month-to-month reporting, and this means in industries that are seasonal, you will often find a large reduction in traffic despite having the same or improved ranking positions.

Good examples of seasonal/time-based changes that impact SEO traffic are:

  1. Black Friday/Cyber Monday
  2. Pre-Christmas (increase) and during/post-Christmas (decline)
  3. Seasonal industries like gardening (spring/summer months), Christmas products (November/December), or Stationery (August/September – back to school).

A great way to test if your industry is seasonal is to check for consistent time-based spikes in Google Trends:

The best way for SEOs to report this accurately, is to look at impressions data for keywords that remain on page 1.

Usually, these keywords will have a large drop in impressions as well as clicks, despite the same average position, which indicates the drop is related to search demand as opposed to a drop in SEO performance.

2. Drops In Inventory

For an ecommerce website, a drop in available product inventory can lead to an increased bounce rate (people returning to search), which will harm your traffic and rankings, despite no fault of the SEO in charge.

An out of stock product that was ranked on page 1, will naturally drop to page 2 after Google realises it no longer fulfills users’ interests.

You may be able to monitor and report on this for a small number of keywords, but for a larger number, you may wish to crawl for out of stock code, then map it against rankings to help give you peace of mind for rankings drops.

For a category page, this may also be a problem, as a reduction in available inventory will inevitably reduce the number of products a user can find, and so incrementally reduce the number of engaged users – which may also lead to a drop in rankings.

Plotting average in-stock products against rankings on a category level will provide you with data for this, although it will be difficult to discern causation against all the other SEO signals which contribute to rankings.

3. Drops in Conversions

Similar to point 2, if a website is converting worse this month than last month, then it will likely have worse engagement signals, and as these impact SEO, a drop in conversions can lead to a drop in rankings.

For example, if a site has a large sale for a month, its conversions will improve and in turn, its rankings may also improve. After they stop the sale, the engagement goes down, which may remove the “boost” they were receiving the previous month.

You can mitigate this by keeping a timeline of all conversion-impacting signals, as well as plotting conversion rates for the site, to understand whether or not a drop is related to SEO or conversion factors.

4. Offline Marketing/Brand Search Spikes

When companies conduct large offline marketing campaigns, or other activities that lead to a big increase in branded search, which usually correlates to an overall sitewide improvement in organic rankings – I’ve seen this across multiple campaigns.

Therefore, if a site was receiving a lot of branded searches which has since dropped away, it’s highly likely that the resulting boost will drop back down too.

Mitigate this by monitoring big deviations in branded search, to compare them against average ranking positions.

5. Algorithm Updates

During an algorithm update, it’s quite common for rankings to fluctuate.

Particularly more recently, these updates tend to roll out over a number of weeks, meaning it’s not clear whether drops or improvements are permanent or temporary.

It’s important to wait a while before making changes based on algorithm update ranking movements.

When reporting, simply identify that an update is going on, and advise to wait until the update has finished before making decisions.

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E-commerce SEO expert, with over 10 years of full-time experience analyzing and fixing online shopping websites. Hands-on experience with Shopify, WordPress, Opencart, Magento, and other CMS.
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