Friday, August 30, 2013

Keyword loading URLs and search ranking - an SEO case study

In the last couple of months we have rolled out some SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) changes across key sub-sites. Our goal being improving the ranking of these sites in Google search results based on keyword searches. Below is the benchmark and current search ranking performance on Google for the School of Environment, Science and Engineering site at Southern Cross University for comparison before and after URL change results.


Back in June 2013 I did some benchmark testing on Google by searching with the following keyword term "environmental science engineering" which served up the following top 3 results:
  1. Griffith University http://www.griffith.edu.au/science-environment-engineering-technology
  2. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_engineering
  3. SCU http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/esm/.
So in this case our SCU website was coming up in 3rd place in the search results. In my analysis, I noticed that Griffith aren't utilising the Description or Keywords metadata fields which we are. All other SEO aspects are reasonably even. This lead me to assume that their advantage is the use keywords in the URL and probably more overall visitor traffic. I concluded that making a similar change to our URL should make us more competitive and improve our ranking. 

In July 2013 we proceeded to make the following changes to our site loading keywords in the the URL.


Of course this transition had to be carefully managed to make sure that all current shortlinks and redirects we diverted to the new URL, that all pages had new redirects placed to catch traffic and send it to the new page locations and that sitemap.xml files were updated and re submitted. We also carried this same process out with our other School sites.

Fast forward to the end of August 2013. Now when searching on Google for the terms "environmental science engineering" we get the following top three results:
  1. Griffith University http://www.griffith.edu.au/science-environment-engineering-technology
  2. SCU http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/esm/.
  3. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_engineering
So climbing one position in one month is encouraging and demonstrating that the experiment was successful. Of course it will be interesting to compare other likely keyword combinations that prospective students are likely to use and measure their success.

Looking at visits to this School home page in Google Analytics we can see that for June the site was received 222 visits, fairly typical in the months leading up to the changes, while in August it has already received 380 visits, an increase of 158 visits or 67%.

Other before and after data:

June
Pages/Visit 5.63
Average Visit Duration 13:38
% New Visits 33%
Bounce Rate 27.48%

August
Pages/Visit 5.74
Average Visit Duration 10:26
% New Visits 32.37%
Bounce Rate 22.63%

At this point our strategy has helped the site climb one place in the ranking to second for that particular site and increase overall visits by 67%. Other improvements are a reduced bounce rate meaning that visitors are of a higher quality.

In comparing our page to Griffith Uni's there are some more SEO improvements we can make Eg. making in content keywords links to course or discipline pages, though I believe our main obstacle in gaining number 1 ranking is going to be traffic. Traffic is a very powerful metric in SEO ranking and I have the feeling that Griffith Uni is probably getting a lot more traffic to their page at this point. However, the increase that we are already seeing could build up over time and, with a few additional SEO tweaks, eventually give us the edge. 

Other factors that my benefit our site could include targeted digital campaigns to drive more traffic from other website sources that Google.

Conclusion, while not gaining that coveted number 1 ranking at this stage, this exercise resulted in significant improvements.