Possible Causes and How to Identify Them
You’re looking at your organic search traffic in Google Analytics and you don’t like what you see, there’s probably no need to panic. But you should take action. First, you need to determine what’s behind the website traffic drop.
Website and Analytics Changes
Have you added elements that Google frowns on?
These elements could be inbound links coming from dodgy sources, keyword stuffed copy, sneaky redirects, hidden text or links, duplicate content from other sites or content with little value. If your traffic loss coincides with a drop in your SERP (search engine results page) ranking, check your Manual Actions report to see if Google is penalizing you for violating its webmaster quality guidelines.
There may be an element you don’t even know about, including hacked content, user generated spam or other security problems. Check Google Webmaster Tools for security issues, fix them, and submit your site to Google for reconsideration.
Are new pages cannibalizing the old pages?
You might have added new pages with URLs that are too similar to those you’re already using. For example, you had a page called www.mybusiness.com/products/gizmo-fix, and now you’ve added a page called www.mybusiness.com/news/fix-my-gizmo. Those pages are competing with each other, not supporting each other. Result: they both receive lower SERP placement.
Rather than adding pages on the fly as the need or opportunity arises, you should have a pre-planned content strategy that prevents this confusion from happening.
Have you restructured the site or migrated it to a new domain?
This will cause a temporary decline in traffic as Google has to crawl and index all your pages over again from scratch. You don’t need to do anything to fix this, just wait a couple of weeks and see if traffic returns to normal. However, make sure you have the 301 redirect function in place for all the old URLs.
Is your content being indexed correctly?
There could be any number of reasons why Google isn’t indexing your pages.
- You accidentally added a no-index tag to the wrong page or directory
- You accidentally clicked “Remove URL” in Google Webmaster Tools
- You set an incorrect preference for URLs parameters
To see if indexing is the issue, search Google for your page URLs. If they don’t show up on the SERP, they’re not indexed. You can also check your Google Webmaster Tools index status report for a decrease in the total number of indexed URLs for your site.
Is the loss a mirage caused by changing your website traffic analysis?
Have you recently adjusted your Google Analytics settings to exclude search engine bots and spiders from the traffic count? If so, you may still be getting the same number of human visitors, it just looks like less.
You can tell if visitors are bots, not real people, by their behavior while on site. When the page gets high traffic but very low time on the page and low conversion rate, you’ve probably got a bot.
Did you set it and forget it?
When was the last time you updated your website with new content? Google algorithms give preference to sites that regularly add fresh or updated text, images, videos, links and/or user comments. Stagnant sites are perceived as having less value to users, and ranked accordingly.
All the above factors could affect your website’s SEO (search engine optimization), which would prevent potential visitors from finding you. Once you’ve eliminated those possibilities, it’s time to look beyond your website for causes of the traffic slowdown.
Search Engine Changes
Are paid ads pushing your website further down the SERP?
You may have noticed recently that Google no longer has paid URL placements in a right hand sidebar. That’s because they’ve all been moved to either the top or bottom of the page. There can be as many as four of these paid placements above, and another four below, the organic (unpaid) results, which means that only the very top ranked websites are visible to searchers on page one. Less visibility = less traffic.
Has Google changed its SEO algorithms?
If your organic search traffic drops immediately followed by an update, it’s a good bet this is the problem. Recent updates have focused on two areas of concern: content and incoming links. Google is constantly raising its bar to reward quality and relevance, and push spammers out of the picture.
Although it means more work in the short term to get your website up to the new standards, it will benefit you in the long run by filtering out irrelevant results and allowing the quality traffic to find you more easily.
And finally, you must consider the possibility that your declining numbers are related to market conditions, not any specific actions that can be easily remedied.
Are seasonal or economic conditions affecting traffic?
If your decline in traffic corresponds with a general decline in relevant searches, there may not be much you can do about it, except take comfort in the fact that your competitors are probably suffering as much as you are.
Another possibility is that you’re unfairly comparing current numbers to a previous period when traffic was inflated by a specific promotional campaign, busy season or other market factor such as an unusually hot summer if you sell air conditioners.
Is your target customer affected by your or others’ actions?
If you’ve begun going after a different demographic, chances are you’re alienating your existing pool of potential customers. For example, if you’re IKEA and you introduce high-priced designer furniture, you’ll drive away your budget-conscious customers. Check Google search data for your SERP position since the start of the decline. A stable ranking while traffic falls means you’re not losing visibility, your customers are losing interest.
New competition may be taking some traffic that would have come to you before. This is bad enough, but when your own resellers start outranking you, it’s adding insult to injury. The good news: reseller cannibalization will probably only affect website traffic, not your revenues.