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.

Women In Product 2019 – Conference Recap

This is the second product conference I’ve been able to attend this year. In particular, the Women In Product conference (WIP) is unique because it brings together women in leadership positions across many different verticals who are doing or leading product initiatives and provides a relatable perspective to other females navigating their career as product leaders.

I feel it’s important to have a conference that’s focused on females in product management because not many young girls think about becoming a leader when they’re young. They’re much more prone to thinking about how to fit in.

Women In Product conference sponsored by Intuit and Macy's

Snapshot of Women In Product 2019 

This one-day conference was primarily for females whose jobs title is product manager. Though there were a few male attendees as well. What follows are insights, tips and inspiration that will help any individual in a product manager role.

Who: Women In Product (Twitter: @womenpm)
What: More than 2,000 product leaders gathered to celebrate the role and contributions of women product managers in the field.
Where: Hilton Union Square
When: Tuesday November 12, 2019

Why: it was an opportunity to connect with other female product leaders, learn from and inspire each other.
How: the day was structured around morning keynote speakers, afternoon breakout sessions and concluded with an evening mixer. Food and beverages were provided throughout the day.

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Product Manager Skills – Top 10 Tactics & Wisdom

  1. Speak up for yourself & ask for what you need for your You may not always get what you want but you will start an important conversation.
  2. Think about the customer journey. Always keep in mind the end-to-end journey you’re solving for. It will help you solve for the right things. Ask yourself: Is there a simpler way?
  3. We’re builders who can change the world; use what “sucks” about a situation you personally have experienced once to inform how to make things better.
  4. Have empathy for the non-normal user; in their world, the small things that drive you crazy can really add up.
  5. Diversity in teams & companies is essential because there is value in having different perspectives that reflect the unique makeup of markets and cultures across the globe.
  6. The concept of giving people honest feedback (straight talk) should come from a place of good intention and caring about their professional development.
    1. Even if it’s a difficult conversation, we owe it to those we lead to give context and feedback that can help make someone better.
  7. Everyone has a super power. Step 1: find yours. Step 2: Tap into it.
    1. “Often, the thing that’s yours is what’s easiest for you.” Lucinda Newcomb Walmart VP of Discovery.
    2. She suggested you can find out what it is by asking other people.
  8. “You can adapt your roadmap to reality. You cannot adapt reality to your roadmap.” Lucinda Newcomb, Walmart VP of Discovery.
  9. A good PM knows the market, the goal of your users, defines target user, defines what needs to be built to achieve company goals (Amanda Richardson, EIR at Goodwater Capital).
  10. Career advancement: leading product like a GM is great experience for becoming a CEO (Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty).
    1. Think on behalf of the company. Get in front of what customers need from your product; think about where their world is going?

Becoming a Product Manager – These were some of the best stories

Theme #1: Let’s own our power & use it well

The fireside chat was with fashion designer and creator of the wrap dress, Dianne Von Furstenberg.

What I found interesting about her success was that it was accidental, but all the right ingredients came together. “When I created the wrap dress, all I wanted was to be a woman in charge” she said. “It’s almost always about function: ‘what if I had that? Or that?’” Essentially, her product was very practical and easy.

In spite of success, she remained humble. “Every successful person should feel like a loser at least twice a week. Only losers don’t feel like losers.” But this is a careful tightrope to walk. She also advised against berating yourself too much, “If I doubt my power, I give power to my doubts.”

When asked “who do you design for?” DVF said, “I design for the woman in charge.” She went on to elaborate on her manifesto of being #InCharge.

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She also generously offered attendees an EMAIL to send her ideas and feedback inCharge@dvf.com.

By sharing her own insecurities and challenges with things like imposter syndrome, DVF motivated us with her commitment to the 4 pillars of her manifesto: Connect, Expand, Inspire and Advocate.

“The only thing you have 100% control of is your character. You can lose your health, family, money, freedom, but you can always own your character. That is the core of your strength.” DVF

In “Advocate” she tapped into the essence of the super power within us all saying, “We all have a magic wand. The more you use your wand the more magical it becomes.” For Dianne, it means using her connections. She makes the first two emails of her morning about connecting two people.

Theme #2: Let’s turn our super power (of launching products) on ourselves

My second favorite story was from Jimena Almendares, VP Global Expansion at Intuit. She combined her insights from conversations with various mentees into a practical application of running our own lives as product roadmaps.

She published her talk “Run Your Live Like A Product Roadmap” on LinkedIn Pulse

While the titles of PM’s vary from company to company, what is consistent is the skill of planning and getting things done. Her basic premise, “if it works for the products you launch, it will work for you”.

Her three takeaways:

  1. Life roadmaps don’t follow linear development.
  2. Just like in business, your True North is what matters.
  3. It’s ok to launch, fail, learn and pivot.

 

Psychology of Product

Kristen Berman, co-founder of Irrational Labs, spoke on the concept of behavioral design. She laid out a simple illustration of what customers say one thing and do another. Some companies have over 90% of employees saving for retirement. How did they achieve this? The secret is the form employees fill out when they first get hired; they’re enrolled by default.

There are three types of questions org’s ask: The past, future and why.

  • People tend to underreport things done in the past. Why? We want to give socially acceptable answers. And, we just forget.
  • The future (what will you do): they’re imagining they’re ideal self.
  • Why: tend to be the most misleading questions (why do you save for retirement? b/c I want to save for my future. Reality: auto enroll)

If you can’t trust what people say, trust their actions.

Top Tactics for Product Managers

As a product manager, the role often sits at the intersection of business, technology and design and involves coordinating the efforts of teams across the organization in order to bring a product into the marketplace.

For most product managers, their background is varied. The path to becoming a product manager is developed and attained over time based on other skill sets acquired.

The most difficult part of the job can be deciding which idea to pursue out of a sea of great ideas. What’s needed is the skill of creating business cases and rigorous product review cycles to surface financially viable opportunities.

What follows is the tactical and practical applications to try. Requires understanding the exact environment and how a person could react. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

5 Areas to address in a product review

Anytime you get to talk about your product: do it. It’s good for your product & for your professional advancement. Below are the top 5 areas any product review should cover:

  1. Vision – describe the vision & the features
  2. Problem – address the problem we’re solving (use real customer examples that demonstrate the problem)
  3. Goals – what does winning mean or look like? What are the KPIs?
  4. Roadmap – identify what’s critical to execute first (list the MVP features delivered). Roadmaps need to be in partnership with tech delivery teams. Do not develop them in isolation.
  5. Input – be direct & clear with your manager about where you want feedback.

Lastly, here’s a practical exercise for getting perspective and seeing what you might be missing in the product you’re trying to bring to market: grab a trusted partner and actively try to disprove that we’re right. Often we’re so close to something that we don’t see the “gotchas” so actively taking time to figure out what you could be missing is a helpful exercise.

Working the booth

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I spent the first part of the day (ahem 7:30AM-9AM) on the exhibit hall floor at the Macy’s booth.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to represent the Product team and educate attendees about what “Macy’s tech” (the digital arm of macys.com) does operating out of the corporate digital offices in San Francisco.

 

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.