When doing an e-commerce SEO audit for sites that have lost organic traffic, forensic SEO becomes a key component. Determinations need to be made as to what happened and when. Only then can a solution be put in place.

Like detective work, forensic SEO is time consuming, and requires an in-depth knowledge of algorithmic ranking factors. The analyst also needs a complete history of changes made to the website, such as:

  • E-commerce platform migrations
  • Site redesigns or restructures
  • SEO and link building campaigns
  • Changes in website leadership
  • Organic traffic history

E-commerce Platform Migrations

If you’ve moved from BigCommerce to Shopify, or even Shopify to Shopify Plus, certain events can lead to negative SEO impact. Often, if a dedicated SEO resource wasn’t involved in the site move from beginning to end, something will get overlooked. Here are some things we often see:

  • URL structure change without a proper 301 redirect strategy
  • Noindexing certain pages (or all pages) when pushing the new site live
  • Technical changes that prevent search engines from properly crawling the site
  • Large increases or decreases in content that “startle” the search engines
  • Allowing Google to index the Dev or Staging versions of the site

At least with a platform migration, we know a date to start with. If we see dramatic drops in organic traffic shortly after the change, it’s a big red flag that something went wrong when you flipped the switch.

Forensic SEO Investigation

Site Redesigns or Restructures

Even if you aren’t changing platforms, significant changes made to an e-commerce website can very quickly decimate organic traffic. This is another business practice that SHOULD have had a dedicated SEO resource involved from the inception.

While large-scale changes may become necessary for a business requirement, a careful, pragmatic approach needs to be taken to prevent negative side effects. Some of these may include:

  • Deletion of a key product categories from the site
  • Large numbers of products going out of stock simultaneously
  • Removal of outdated content from the blog or How-to section of the site
  • General rebranding of products
  • Anything that changes your URL structure or site hierarchy

Hopefully, you’ll know when any of these things have occurred, and at that point a forensic audit can be done. Experienced auditors have the tools to look at that kind of history, and do a forensic SEO analysis that way.

SEO & Link Building Campaigns 

Now we’re getting into projects that don’t really have a switch that turns them on. Building links, or engaging in a long term pillar/cluster content creation process tends to occur slowly over time.

In this case, there may not be a specific date when traffic started to falter- it can be very gradual.

The forensics here are a bit more complex, and we’ll have to dig into what pages or groups of pages started losing traffic when. We can then develop a strategy to deal with it.

If we find that the issue is related to bad backlinks, we’ll let you know how to get those removed. We’ve seen many times where links that were acquired a long time ago have suddenly become a problem, either due to a Google policy change, or they were simply just discovered recently.

Changes in Website Leadership

While on the surface having a new set of eyes on a website can be a good thing, we often find that new leadership wants to make their mark quickly. Sometimes that means that subtle changes are made to the site content.

There might be a particular phrase that is driving you traffic that isn’t in favor with leadership, so it’s removed. One example can be the use of the term “cheap” vs “discount”. That switch can have a huge impact on your organic traffic if you were ranking highly for the previous keyword and now made the switch.

Even something as simple as changing a headline or a call to action can potentially cause a shift in your search traffic.

We’ll endeavor to find these changes for you, and make recommendations as to how to fix them. 

Organic Traffic History

You might think that looking at a lifetime of traffic patterns is the place to start for a forensic SEO investigation. That’s not always the case though.

Seeing where the drops (or gains!) occur can be a red herring. Not every action you take has an immediate reaction. Sometimes a change to the website might not move rankings until the next core Google algorithm update.

So then there’s two dates we need to be cognizant of: the timing of the changes, and the next core update that occurred.

When we’re really digging in to find the root of a traffic loss, it’s often better to look at the changes first, instead of relying on the traffic graph to coach us into potentially bad science.

Starting the SEO Investigation

Puzzled by a big traffic loss recently? Or perhaps years ago that you’ve never recovered from? We’re here to help.

The first step in good forensic SEO is a comprehensive website audit. See what else we include in our SEO audits.

Ready to get ranked? We’re ready to help.

Read More about our Enterprise SEO Audits

Kevin Webster

I've been doing digital marketing since 2003. I've worked with clients across dozens of verticals, helping them achieve results in SEO, Paid Search, and analytics.

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