If you are an experienced marketer or long standing business owner, you will almost certainly have experienced the gut wrenching pain that is associated with opening up your laptop, and seeing a significant drop in traffic coming onto your site. The pain becomes even worse if this reflects in the online sales, or leads that you have generated overnight.
Why has your traffic dropped? Whilst more often than not, a search algorithm update implemented by Google is the root cause of a significant and sharp drop in traffic coming onto your site, it isn’t always the case. There can be a multitude of reasons behind a drop in traffic, and sometimes it doesn’t just boil down to one thing specifically.
We have pulled together a quick list of five things to look out for.
1. Check your Traffic is Down – Rather than a Tracking Error
Remember when you first created your website, and the web developer or digital partner told you that you needed Google Analytics to see what was happening on your site so that you could track performance. This tracking code can be affected by changes made to your website, updates of plugins among other things. Which can in some cases show a complete wipe-out of traffic, or show a significant decrease in traffic (because the code is deleted, or incorrectly overwritten by an update).
The good news is that if you have suffered at the hands of a tracking code error, then in theory your traffic will be unaffected and this should be backed up by consistency on your leads generated or sales made, regardless of the reported data in Analytics.
The bad news is that you will now have inaccurate data showing in Google Analytics, this loss of data might impact on how you report monthly growth, and it may impact on how you track the performance of your agency partner, or marketing team.
Getting the tracking error rectified as quickly as possible is key. This can be done through Google Analytics;
- Open Admin Toolbar
- Click Tracking Info
- Click Tracking Code
- Check the Status
If the tracking code status is reporting that “Receiving Traffic in Past xx Hours” then you can confirm that the tracking is working correctly, and look at an alternative potential issue. You can also add The Tag Assistant Extension to your Google Chrome browser, which will let you know if the Google Analytics tag is firing correctly.
If there is an evident issue with the tracking, you may wish to get in contact with your agency partner or webmaster, to get the issue addressed.
2. Deleted Pages
If you are content that the issue isn’t a theoretical / tracking issue, and that it is in fact a drop in traffic, and also likely a reduction in sales / leads then you will need to explore the issue further to identify why you are losing traffic.
One of simplest causes of traffic losses that we have seen is when pages that were drawing in traffic get deleted. This is most common where you have a strong blog section on the site, comprising years of accumulated content, and someone within the marketing team deletes a string of blog posts either to enhance the site speed, or because some of the posts are out of date, without considering the consequences.
Aside from asking your agency partners or marketing team if they’ve removed any pages from the site (especially without redirecting them), you can also take a look at your search rankings, and look for any significant ranking movements. If you have had a fast ranking drop across or more keywords, especially if it is within one subject area or product category, where the page that the traffic was landing on no longer exists then you may need to consider resurrecting the deleted pages, creating refreshed content, or re-optimising other content pages and service pages to recover the rankings and traffic.
3. Google Algorithm Updates
Fundamentally, Google’s Algorithm Update is the main root cause of traffic dropping. Whether the algorithm changes reward good work that your competitors have been doing, or whether it is penalising your site for poor domain authority or thin content – it is quite often the key impactor on traffic to your website (whether that traffic growth or lost).
Google doesn’t hide away from its regular algorithm updates and has advised that in some recent years there have been 500+ tweaks and changes to the algorithm. Of course many of these, being tiny ‘tweaks’ go unnoticed by businesses and marketeers; however, often with prior announcement, Google will release a broad update. A broad or major update, can be the cause for either a significant growth in traffic or a significant decline in traffic.
By far the easiest way to get reliable information about a recent Google algorithm change is to either subscribe to ranking tools such as Searchmetrics, or AHRefs; or to subscribe to credible SEO publications such as searchengineland.com.
Once you have an understanding of what the latest Google algorithm update was focused on, you can then set about eradicating issues, and improving how your site performs against the algorithm.
4. Manual Penalties
There are two forms of penalty that Google can dish out. The first is an algorithmic penalty, which is a decrease in rankings off the back of an algorithm change, this is essentially detailed above, in Reason 3. The second form of penalty from Google is a Manual Penalty.
Google hands out over 400,000 Manual Penalties each month to sites that are deemed to be spam or not in the best interests of people who use Google to find things online. That’s a lot of penalties! And according to research, less than 5% of websites hit with penalties appeal to try and recover some/all of their lost rankings.
If you suspect you have been hit with a Manual Penalty, you will be able to confirm this by using Google Search Console (Google Webmaster Tools) and check to see if you have any new notifications, if you have been hit with a manual penalty, you will have an email explaining what element of your site or digital presence has been non-compliant.
Manual Penalties are typically extremely difficult to recover from, so if you have been hit, you should reach out to an SEO specialist, who can evaluate your overall site, and its technical infrastructure among other elements. A strategy for recovery will need to be put in place, and implemented over a period of time.
Another reason why your traffic might have dropped is potentially due to a recent loss of multiple high authority links. Whether these links existed in articles that have since been removed, or previously existed in articles, but are the link is now broken, a loss of links can contribute to the cause of a loss in rankings.
We see this most often if your backlink profile is built around syndicated links with local news publications where multiple news sites have a single/sole owner. An article may have been published by the editorial team at the time, across a handful or more individual websites; and a few weeks or months later may be deleted from not just the one site, but many.
Additionally, if you have a number of affiliates pointing traffic to your website as part of an affiliate scheme, and one or more of the sites is now no longer directing their traffic to you, and perhaps are now directing their traffic to a competitor. You will experience a significant reduction in the traffic coming onto your site.
The best way to monitor your backlink profile is through a digital tool such as AHRefs, Majestic or SEMRush, and regularly check your backlink profile for new referring links as well as the disappearance of any old, established, quality ones.
There is no surefire way to bulletproof your rankings or your traffic, while Google advises when algorithms change, when penalties have been given, and when tracking is not working properly; there is no way of predicting how the future landscape in search engine results will look. The only way to ensure that you have the best rankings and traffic across the most consistent period of time is to continually and deliberately follow best practices. And in time, your site will be rewarded for this.
If you believe you have suffered a manual penalty, or have suffered at the hands of a recent Google Algorithm update, get in contact with us, and we will support you with expert advice and a strong strategy for recovery.