Search Engine Watch Redesign Breaks Records

Exactly 6 months ago, we re-designed and re-branded Search Engine Watch to the site you see today. The ultimate aim of the project was to create a more attractive and engaging website that showed off all the great content we have and make it easier to find. However, to measure the success of a fluffy objective such as “create a more attractive and engaging website” we had to split the project into sets of editorial and business goals, shown below:

Editorial Goals

  • Successfully migrate the entire content archive to a new content management system.
  • Increase direct traffic to the website.
  • Increase traffic from Google News.
  • Implement an SEO strategy to increase traffic from search engines.
  • Increase engagement with our brand via website and social media referrals.
  • Improve website usability.

Business Goals

  • Improve clickthru rate on our newsletters.
  • Increase signups to our newsletters.
  • Better integrate off page opportunities such as events, jobs, whitepapers and e-learning.
  • Create a better advertising experience for our site sponsors.

Innovative Approach

The core theme to the new Search Engine Watch brand is ‘connected marketing’.

Search marketing is not simply about search anymore – it’s about social, local, mobile and video too. Analytics has become a multi-channel discipline and is now driving user-centric design across a variety of platforms. Paid search on mobile is growing at a tremendous rate and this is changing the way campaigns are delivered and how sites are built. Due to the fact that customers learn about your product via so many different touchpoints before they convert, businesses have to take a holistic approach to their entire online presence. Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth.

The transit system metaphor and the colored ‘spectrum device’ that we use in our branding is an attempt to visually express the concept of connected marketing and also how we currently visualize how users find stuff on the web.

But it is also a metaphor for our choice of technology platform. As written at launch, “the new Search Engine Watch is fundamentally a ‘mashup’ of a content management system (CMS) and a search engine.”

The guiding principles behind our choice of technology stack are ‘searchability’,’findability’ and a little bit of ‘serendipity’. Our aim was to make content on Search Engine Watch:

  • Easier to find via search engines.
  • Easier to search for within the site.
  • Easier to encounter on social networks.

Furthermore, we wanted to future proof our infrastructure in anticipation of new opportunities on mobile devices. With that in mind we were confident that UK based application developers, Ultra Knowledge, could deliver on our business objectives.

Originally we looked to search platform providers, Ultra Knowledge, solely to handle our internal search engine and automate our topic/tag management. Their tag management engine was central to our SEO strategy to leverage the long tail of 14 years of content and they had already solved our problem of trying to editorially categorize over twenty thousand articles in our archive. However, when we started to discuss all the different ways we could visualize our content repository with Ultra Knowledge, we began to explore whether we could not use algorithms as a means of curating the editorial content too (a bit like Blekko).

With that in mind we set out to think of the site architecture in terms of structured data feeds that could be woven together in an infinite number of combinations. If we could do that, then the front end could be a data driven experience, visualized, rather than simply an editorial one.

This strategy especially made sense as SEW editorial is not a single voice but collates a multiplicity of perspectives from expert contributors. So, we moved away from the old column format (remember that? named columns such as ‘link love’) to an aggregation format with a massively simplified category structure. Rather than following columns, the first step was to make it easier to follow an author or a topic via RSS feeds.

We also introduced the Trending module which ranks content according to views, likes and tweets to illustrate different views of the content repository.

The latent ability for the Ultra Knowledge platform to trend all the content in our archive can be seen in the Newswall and Topics A-Z, and also in the way that the home page is essentially visualized data, with content category color codes on every article. Many Twitter users commented on these features at launch. However, our ultimate intention is that users start to think about our platform as a means to build your own niche news feeds and alerts – to streamline the sharing of need to know information among teams.

What you see today just scratches the surface of what we have planned in our “skunk works”. Yet as content migration and redesign was the first major leap into our brand new identity, it was the most critical piece of the puzzle. Now, I am pleased to share all the results with you over a series of articles.

Using Specific Measurable Results to Define Success

The overall strongest year for Search Engine Watch on our old publishing plaform was 2008. For this reason we have also benchmarked site improvements against that year to check in order to show that moving to our new Ultra Knowledge platform has delivered a consistent improvement in performance of the site, regardless of traffic fluctuations that may occur due to popular stories and changes in the industry landscape.

Key Reach metrics at an all time high:

  • Average monthly Visits up 73% on last year (2010) and 32% on 2008.
  • Average monthly Pageviews up 81% on last year (2010) and 24% on 2008.

Key Loyalty metrics at an all time high:

  • Average monthly Direct Visits up 56% on last year (2010) and 61% on 2008.
  • Average monthly Returning Visits up 138% on last year (2010) and 101% on 2008.

Key SEO metrics at an all time high:

  • Average monthly Visits from Search Engines up 76% on last year (2010) and 11% on 2008.
  • Average monthly Referred Visits up 90% on last year (2010) and 24% on 2008.

Social metrics at an all time high:

  • Average monthly Visits from Social Networks up 247% on last year (2010) and 922% on 2008. Clearly this number also reflects a general increase in social networking and content sharing across the web and mobile devices, but a more active brand engagement should take some credit for the average YoY growth of 70% traffic from social media.

Mobile metrics at an all time high:

  • Average monthly Mobile Device Visits from up 433% on last year (2010). Clearly this number is more of a reflection of a massive increase in mobile browsing in general, but some of the growth can be attributed to making a site that simply works better on most mobile devices.

Email newsletter performance metrics at an all time high:

  • Rolling 6 month average on SEW Daily open rates are 3% higher since newsletter redesign.
  • Rolling 6 month average on SEW Daily clickthrough rate are 1% higher since newsletter redesign.

Top Line Results Smash All Records

SEW Redesign Visit Stats

SEW Redesign Page View Stats

I’m delighted to say that the Incisive Media web team did successfully migrate the entire content archive to a new content management system, from which our publishing platform partners, Ultra Knowledge, successfully built the site you see today.

“We are immensely proud at Ultra Knowledge to have Search Engine Watch (SEW) on our platform. SEW saw real potential in how our platform could be used and pushed it’s use case to the limits, not just for search, but for social and editorial initiatives too. This proved a great cultural fit as both teams were laser focussed on innovation. We are looking forward to helping them smash even more records in 2012 as we unlock more features on their site for the community to use.” Olav Hjertaker, Lead Architect at Ultra Knowledge

Suffice to say, migrating any website to a new content management system is still one of the hardest online projects to undertake. There is so much that can go wrong, even when it looks like everything is going right. Not wanting to belabor the point, this short executive summary does not do justice to the incredible anxiety that the entire SEW editorial team, Incisive Media and Ultra Knowledge developers felt at the moment of pushing the new site live!

You have to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and be prepared for a significant loss of traffic. The worst-case scenario of a content migration project for any SEO is losing all your website traffic and rankings which have taken years to achieve. From past experience, I have seen a site redesign wipe off one million pageviews a month, even after we were convinced we had got everything right.

Thanks to our great set of teams the SEW redesign and launch went astonishingly smoothly.

Certainly it was not without it’s glitches. We had an errant meta-refresh tag on the site that accidentally doubled our stats for a few days and also we forgot to add conversion tracking to one of our key business goals.

However, overall, there was not a single negative impact on traffic numbers and as you can see below, the charts tell a fantastic story of growth. It’s a genuinely rare thing to not lose traffic in a redesign.

SEW Key Metrics 2011 Vs 2010

SEW Key Metrics 2011 Vs 2008

In fact, the overall results of the redesign have broken all previous records.

This is the first in a series of articles about the SEW Redesign in which we will discuss:

  • What our SEO strategy was, why we needed it, and whether it had an impact.
  • How we drove more traffic from Google News.
  • The thinking behind the new site design brand and how it is enabling us to better understand different types of visitors.
  • How the new design visually compares to the old design and what we learned from our eyetracking study.

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