What I learned from improving a website’s header navigation: the road to page 1

This post is a short case study on an in-house initiative I began with my new team in January implementing recommendations from our agency to increase the number of URLs in our header navigation. I’m fortunate, as the acting SEO Manager, to benefit from the previous SEOs who have overseen the site and laid the foundation for growth.

For additional context, below are a few business stats:

  • The business does about $1M in revenue and there are roughly 2 million product SKUs (and growing) in the appliance parts vertical.
  • The Clicks & Impressions trend (over 6 months between Oct-March) is approximately 9M Clicks and 140M Impressions.
  • Even though it’s an e-commerce site, peak seasonality is more closely aligned to the spring and summer months as opposed to the typical Q4 retail holiday season. In any case, I’ll keep this one short because it’s more about sharing the findings and observations in the 3 months since implementation.

I can’t take full credit for this; in my current in-house role I’m working with a very strong technical SEO agency, Merkle, and this project had been part of their recommendations for our site. I will, however, take credit for shepherding the initiative and driving the implementation and launch with our cross functional teams. This project was one of the early stage technical initiatives on our SEO Roadmap because it’s the kind of SEO investment that has early stage results and pays off in the long run.

It’s the best of both worlds and I’m excited to be able to share the early results.

SEO product feature statement:

The issue was there were no links in the header for Googlebot and users to easily discover our best pages.
If we increase the number of links from 32 to 140,
then, we will increase the number of unique target links to pages with a high Search Volume making them more visibly accessible to our users and discoverable for Googlebot.

Implementation timeline

Sorry to disappoint, but I’m going to skip over how many sprints it took to implement the updated header nav across devices because, in reality, each team and its respective resources is different. Suffice it to say things always tend to take a bit longer than you’d like, so plan accordingly and communicate often to leadership as well. Pro tip, try not to release any big feature going into the weekend (especially a long holiday weekend); release it on your typical cadence (ideally mid-week) because that allows you to have the core team available during the work week to revert any changes or fixes that were missed and slipped through the QA cracks.

Ok, let’s FF (fast forward) to the results.

Early Results & KPIs


We did it! Now what?

This is what I like to call the “the hurry up and wait” part of SEO. In this scenario, we launched the feature in late January. Our SEO project KPIs were to…

  1. Increase the URL Rankings of these pages.
  2. Increase Traffic (Visits) to the site.
  3. And yes, as an e-com business, also impact Conversions (Sales).

SEO Rankings

As a best practice, the industry standard is to allow at least 90 days before seeing SEO results because you need to allow for Googlebot to come back to your site to crawl and index your site to discover (and subsequently begin to rank your pages) after the changes. As of April, we’re about 70 days in and here’s what we’re seeing:

You’ll notice in the charts below it was pretty exciting to see within the first few weeks the anchor text keywords and associated URLs began gaining rankings on page 1 of the Google SERP.

I’m most excited about this chart since it tracks the progress of our top selling products:

Check out the fluctuation the week of March 1st! Phantom gains?!

This chart highlights the top brand names we carry (based on demand AKA Search Volume):

This section fluctuated the most: the pages themselves resemble a collection of products for a category like “cookware.” In this group there were roughly 9 URLs that just never gained traction.

SEO Traffic

In terms of traffic (Visits) to the site, typically I like to should show a pre/post level of Traffic on each URL so that we can compare apples to apples. But in this scenario, I can share the Traffic results as such:

Post launch, roughly 70 days until now (the early part of April), the new URLs in the header nav are contributing 35% of site Visits. This excludes items that existed in our header nav that we intend to maintain (staple links like “Your Account” and “Orders”). None of the new URLs were previously in the header nav so that’s an additional 35% of traffic on top of the URLs that were contributing, on their own, roughly 56% of Visits. Not a bad return.

What didn’t work

As mentioned earlier there were 9 URLS within a general accessories type of category that seemingly never picked up any traction in terms of rankings. Internally, we drew up a few ideas and hypotheses about what might be occurring but in the end it came down to a business decision to remove the links due to the upcoming seasonality.

In any other scenario where those pages were valuable to the business but were underperforming, I’d recommend a test and learn approach. Especially if those pages drive some amount of business revenue. In our case, the business cycles in and out of its seasonally relevant products.

Conclusion

Because it takes time to realize and see SEO results, it’s important to prioritize the foundational improvements that can have the biggest impact (improving things like site architecture, internal linking etc). You’ll need those early wins to build credibility with internal teams and within the organization to demonstrate that Natural Search traffic, among the other marketing channels, is a viable contributor to the business bottom line.

It reminds me of a line from the movie Moneyball between characters played by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. In one scene, Hill says, “your goal should be to buy wins.” Well, fellow digital marketers, we cannot buy the SEO equivalent of wins which one could argue are page 1 rankings, but we can invest in doing the right things, consistently. In the movie, the duo hedge their bets on building a team of players that “get[s] on base.”

That, my dear marketer, is why I wrote this small snapshot of our project as an SEO case study. To show you that you can “get on base.”

A small professional confession

I had some pretty bad imposter syndrome writing this and deciding whether or not to publish it because there are some very smart and talented SEOs that could probably get a better or faster outcome than I did. But here’s the thing, (“you know nothing, John Snow.”) every team and company or client has its own dependencies from internal resources, tech stack, legacy site issues, internal process & communication, to technical implementation etc.

Under my watch, I’m proud to say we launched it and we’re seeing early positive results that will inform future iterations of this project.

Now over to you: What are your thoughts or what have you done differently that produced different results? Tweet me or leave a comment below.

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

Author: Holly Miller Anderson

Holly is passionate about helping brands become better digital storytellers. She educates marketers, guides junior SEO's, and advises businesses on how to be successful online in the face of a changing digital landscape with practical SEO and marketing advice. Holly also documents her lifestyle from travel adventures, fitness, to every-day fashion inspiration. She has dedicated herself to a few key sports over the years that have shaped her agility and performance capabilities. From her early start as a martial artist (8 years) in the style of Kenpo to her hobby of 10+ years as a competitive ballroom dancer in the American Standard style 5-dance category dancing the Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep. Holly has and continues to lead an active lifestyle. Currently, she enjoys training in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and being an avid CrossFit'er and enjoys getting her hands dirty at the occasional Spartan Race.

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