Any SEO practitioners will sooner or later experience an organic traffic drop, and finding the issue will be extremely important. If you don’t tackle this issue quickly, you can experience a prolonged and even permanent traffic loss.
However, with so many factors involved, finding the cause of the traffic drop can be quite difficult. That’s why in this guide,we will discuss 8 ways to diagnose the cause of SEO traffic drop, and how to quickly fix them.
Let us begin with the first one.
Checking The Data Validity
Before anything else, it’s important to check whether you are seeing a false alarm or the real deal. An error in data is quite common, affecting roughly 20% of all traffic drop situations. Also, we should consider the possibility of normal deviation or variance.
Checking for data error
First, you might want to check the same data using a different analytic tool when it’s possible. If you are using Google Analytics, for example, you can try using KISSMetrics or other similar tools.If the same situation still persists, check whether other metrics are affected. Data issues are usually fairly obvious, like a missing data for a day or several hours.
Checking for normal deviation
It is fairly common for all metrics to go up and down, sometimes without any visible reason. If you have a significant amount of past SEO traffic data (6 to 12 months), you can use this data to calculate standard deviation using Excel or Google Sheet. For example, if you found out your standard deviation is 10%, you should only investigate traffic drops of 11% and above. The more data you have, the more accurate this will be.
Now, let’s assume your data is valid, and there is indeed a real traffic drop, we can begin to figure out the cause. For the rest of this guide, we will discuss how to diagnose the cause of the traffic drop, and how to fix it.
Let us begin with the first one.
1. Google Penalty and Algorithm Update
If you are seeing a sharp decline in traffic, most likely you are either affected by a Google algorithm update and/or currently penalized.
There are several reliable resources to check for Google’s algorithm updates, like this one from Moz. If the update is significant and recent, most likely a quick Google search will be enough in finding out the culprit.
For Google penalty, there can be many different reasons. You can first and foremost check your Google Search Console, and check the manual actions section under search traffic. If your site has been penalized, there will be a notification including the reason of the penalty. You might want to check out our previous guide on Google Penalty here, (link) but here are some of the common causes of Google penalty and what can you do about them:
If your site is hacked, you can get penalized by Google. While this might seems too harsh, this is actually one of the penalties that is relatively fixable. If this happens to you, you might want to check these guidelines by Google on how to recover a hacked site.
- Non-Unique content
Having content pieces copy-pasted from other sites can be detected and penalized relatively quickly. Remove all duplicate contents and thin, low-quality contents from your site. Use duplicate-checker tools like Copyscape to help prevent this issue.
- User Spam
Quite similar to the hacked site issue above: user-generated spam is something you can’t totally control, and yet you can get penalized because of it. Check all pages on your sites offering spaces for user-generated content (i.e. comment section) regularly, and remove spammy contents including irrelevant and suspicious links.
- Broken Redirects
You can use various redirect checker tools that are widely available to check for non-functional redirect links. Remove unnecessary and non-functional 301 and 302 redirects.
2. Check Whether The Drop Happens in Specific Areas
It can be difficult to find the real cause of the traffic drop if we are only looking at the overall, aggregated data of the whole site traffic. So, try to find a segment where the traffic dropped much more than any other areas.
This can vary depending on your business model and the type of your site. For example, if you are an ecommerce site, probably you will see significant drop on one product listing over the others.
Generally, however, you should at least check the different page type segmentations (blog posts, homepage, product pages, etc.) and device type (mobile, desktop, tablet).
If, for example, you see a massive drop from mobile traffic, it is quite possible that your website design is not yet mobile-responsive and/or it has a slow loading speed on mobile devices, among other issues.
By checking smaller segments, you can have an easier time in figuring out the main issue.
3. Site Changes
If the traffic coincides with recent site changes, you can almost be sure the change(s) is the culprit.
Commonly, however, the main cause of traffic drop during site changes are broken URLs. You can check and fix for crawl errors using Google Search Console.
4. You’re Losing Traffic Due To Competitors
In a competitive business ecosystem, obviously you can lose traffic and revenue because of your competitors’ activities. In this specific case, you might have lost your site ranking to a competitor.
If you do lose your ranking to a competitor, you might want to analyze the situation further for a specific cause. Your competitor might have just launched a new page, published a new, excellent content, or are simply better with their link building.
Obviously, there’s no quick fix around this issue. You will need to create a better content than your competitors and optimize your site better. You might want to check our SEO services if you need a long term inbound marketing strategy.
5. Changes in SERP
Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) is constantly changing overtime. It may be updated with new Featured Snippet result, Rich Snippet, Knowledge Graph, Carousel, and more.
To check for these changes, you do a manual Google search for the related keyword, or you can use tools like Moz Pro’s SERP features.
If you are competing with rich snippet results, you might want to consider optimizing your site with schema markup, as well as optimizing your content to be ranked as rich or even featured snippet.
6. SEM Eating Your Traffic
It is fairly a common occurrence when SEM (or PPC ads) traffic devours your organic traffic from SEO. Let’s be fair here: your competitors spent money (which can be very significant amount) to place an advertising which is positioned above the top ranking SEO result. So, it’s no surprise that SEM ads generally get more traffic.
There is also the possibility where you are the one eating your own traffic by placing a PPC for the same keyword you are already ranking for. When you are optimizing for a lot of keywords, spotting these duplicates can be quite difficult.
You will need to manually compare the list of your PPC keywords with the keywords you are currently ranking for. When you find this duplicate keywords, pause the PPC campaign and see whether your organic traffic improves.
Now, what should you do when your competitor is the one placing the PPC ad? If this particular keyword is very valuable for your business, you might want to outbid your competitor. Else, you can try to find opportunities in different keywords.
7. Mobile-First Design
In the past few years, not only more and more people are using mobile devices as their primary way of surfing the internet, Google themselves are now putting a lot of focus on mobile-responsiveness as a major ranking signal.
So, when your site is not optimized for mobile devices, you will face two major problems: you will lose a huge chunk of visitors that browse and search from their mobile devices, and second, you simply won’t get ranked. Both will translate to a traffic loss.
If you suspect this is the cause of the traffic drop, use Google Analytics and filter your traffic by device. If you see a significant drop or even non-existent mobile traffic, then voila!
Even when your site already has a mobile-first version, check for the possibility where the mobile version is not working properly. Use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to whether your site is optimized for mobile.
8. Broken/Missing Links
We all know how inbound links (backlinks) can be a significant source of traffic besides being a major ranking signal for SEO.
However, when you have so many inbound links, there’s always the possibility of missing or broken links. When, for example, the inbound links linking your high-quality content with a lot of traffic is broken, you can lose a significant amount of traffic tied to the content.
To prevent this from happening, it is always wise to check the state of your inbound links regularly, or even all the links on your site. There’s a lot of available tools to help you with this, a lot of them are free.
If you found any missing or broken links, simply fix them and see if your traffic is bouncing back.
While certainly there can be other factors causing your SEO traffic drop, the 8 we have discussed above are some of the most common. Also, the principles in diagnosing other problems remain more or less the same.
As you can see, a lot of these problems can be prevented by monitoring your site regularly. Do a monthly site audit to monitor various aspects of your site as discussed above, and fix any visible issues quickly.