common traffic drops and fixes

“Why Has My Traffic Dropped?” Common Causes and How to Fix Them

Ben Adams 1 week ago

One thing we all want to see is website traffic increasing. There’s no better feeling, whether it’s your own site or a client’s, than seeing your improvements return results. However, what goes up could come down.

Fluctuations in traffic are natural and expected, especially as more and more websites are being created every single day. It can be tough to consistently get eyes on your pages.

But what happens when your traffic drops?

We’re talking about drops like this… Panic induced drops. Everyone ‘stop what you’re doing and fix this now’ kind of drops.

Sadly, there isn’t always a straightforward answer as to why your traffic may end up looking like this. This article is going to give you plenty of insight into why this may have happened, and what you can do to fix it!

Before getting into what has caused your traffic to tank, let's clarify the different forms of traffic.

Different forms of traffic

  • Direct Traffic - This kind of traffic comes from users directly entering your domain name into the address bar.
  • Organic Search Traffic - This is the traffic which you attain from search engines. When a user clicks a site returned in the results of a search engine.
  • Paid Search Traffic - When you set up paid adverts (PPC) and drive people into your site.
  • Social Traffic - This is the traffic which comes from social channels such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Email Traffic - Traffic which has been obtained from email links and from email subscriptions.
  • Referral Traffic - This is the traffic which comes from other website links back to you. When a user follows a link from an external site to yours.
  • Affiliates Traffic - Traffic which comes to your website through affiliate links. Usually tracked through UTM parameters in URLs which refer back to Google Analytics for easy campaign tracking.
  • Display Traffic - This is traffic which has found its way to your site through an advert on another website. Usually found in the forms of banner ads, within the content itself or at the side of the page.
  • Other Traffic - Traffic which comes from a source which isn’t any of the above. Usually traffic which hasn’t been segmented correctly in GA, or possibly bot traffic, or incorrectly set up UTM parameter traffic.

How can I view the different traffic channels in Google Analytics?

On the main left-hand reports menu in GA, go to the ‘Acquisition’ tab and click ‘Channels’. Select your date range and you can see where all your traffic has been coming from.

traffic channels in GA

Knowing where your traffic has come from is a good place to start when investigating why it’s seen significant drops.

For example, if your organic search traffic has dropped dramatically you can gauge that it’s probably due to a drop in your ranking positions, or maybe an issue with indexation. If your social traffic has dropped maybe your recent social campaigns didn’t work as expected? This is the very first step in the investigation. From doing this you can narrow down the following list of potential reasons.

Google Penalties

So you’ve had a look at GA and you’ve seen that your organic traffic is the culprit for your traffic’s descent. The first thing you need to do is to check you haven’t been hit by a Google Penalty. There are two main types of Google penalty.

Manual Penalty

These are allocated to a website from a Google employee. These will be issued if a website has directly gone against Google’s quality guidelines. View Google’s full quality guide here.

Algorithmic Penalty

These penalties are automatic once Google updates the algorithm. An example of this is the well known ‘Panda’ update, which was rolled out to identify low-quality websites. If your website was found to copy lots of content you may have been hit automatically from the update.

What’s the major difference between manual penalties and algorithmic?

Simple answer, a manual penalty means you cannot be seen in the SERPs (search engine results page), whereas an algorithmic penalty probably knocked you off your top-ranking positions, but users can still find your site from organic results.

So how do you know if you’ve been penalised by Google?

For manual penalties, go to Google Search Console (GSC), once you’re at the dashboard scroll down the main left-hand menu and click on the tab ‘Security & Manual Actions’ this should drop down, and finally click on ‘Manual actions’ (we’ll go into algorithmic penalties later).

manual penalty section on GA

If you’ve been hit with a manual penalty then a message like this will appear.

manual penalty message

First things first… I’m sorry if this has happened to you. There is a long road to recovery ahead of you, but it can be fixed. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

This is definitely the reason why your traffic has taken a dive if you’ve got one of these messages in GSC. Before we tell you how to fix this, it's important to understand why Google may have allocated a penalty on your website.

As previously stated it’s usually because you’ve gone against their quality guidelines. This can be grouped into the following main list of actions which may have shown them the red flags.

  • Keyword stuffing - where you have unnaturally placed keywords all over the site both on-page and in the meta titles and descriptions.
  • Cloaking content - hiding content from the search engine.
  • Duplicated content - content which has been duplicated across many pages on the site, or simply taken from another website.
  • Thin content - low-quality meaningless pages on the site.
  • Deceptive redirects - sending users to completely irrelevant or harmful content through the use of redirects.
  • Spam - either user-generated spam, spamming links to another website, housing malicious content on your pages, or auto-generated content. Refer to this SEO Profiler article on what Google considers to be ‘spam’.
  • Unnatural links to and from the website.

Basically, anything which tries to fool the search engine or harm the user can result in a manual penalty. Hopefully, something on the list above is glaring at you like a beacon. Either way, Google will tell you why you’ve been penalised in GSC.

So when it comes to fixing penalties, it really does depend on which penalty/penalties have been dished out. The only way is to fix what they’re flagging, and click ‘Request Review’ in GSC.

request review of manual penalty

Wait for them to accept your review, and enjoy watching your organic traffic climb back up as you get re-indexed back into the SERPs.

In a recent algorithm update Medic, Google started to de-rank sites based on their expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Essentially if a site is deemed to lack authority or expertise for a particular topic/industry, Google simply won’t rank these sites. Financial, and pharmaceutical brands as an example took a huge hit as these topics rely on trustworthy content as they can have a huge impact on users' lives.

Refer to SEMRush blog about E-A-T ranking here for more information.

Check out this Search Engine Journal article on how to recover from any Google penalty to find out more info on how to fix your specific penalty.

Good luck!

Algorithm updates

This can get a little complicated because not all algorithm updates result in a penalty, but they can certainly assist in reducing organic search traffic to your website.  We've recently discussed the BERT update on another blog, which you can find here. But in general, Google on average will release a core update to the algorithm two or three times a year.

These are the ones you need to keep an eye on.

Essentially this is when the guys at Google change something in the system which derives results for users searches. This can range from anything like on-page content relevancy to the quality of your backlinks. Your site will be crawled and if a certain aspect such as your backlink profile gets flagged, you’ll be hit by the algorithm. This normally affects your ranking positions, this can range from anything like a drop from position one to position four in the SERPs, to gigantic descents down Google’s results.

A recent example of an algorithm hit is the Daily Mail.

daily mail visibility drop

As you can see its organic search visibility has fallen by more than 60% because of the recent algo update. This algorithm update was in place to identify ad heavy websites, and every single Daily Mail page is filled with adverts, resulting in a significant drop in its search visibility.

Search visibility can correlate to a drop in ranking positions, however Sistrix will associate non-relevant keywords to your domain, so don’t take the fluctuation at face value. Always dig deeper.

How to check if you’ve been hit by algorithm updates

The first thing you should do is look at your ranking positions. Guaranteed 100%, if you’ve been hit by an update, your rankings will take a hit. Ta da, that’s where all your traffic has gone. Investigate your high ranking positions which have fallen from page 1 into page 2, 3 or maybe even lower. This is what has resulted in your traffic loss usually off the back of an algorithm update. We’d suggest regularly tracking your keyword set, if you don’t currently, so that this can be a simple check in the reports rather than having to sift through the SERPs.

You can also check in Sistrix. Simply type your domain name into the top right search bar, and Sistrix will gather all your visibility data. If you’ve been hit by the algorithm, a little notification will appear on the visibility index graph, just like the Daily Mail above.

Saying that, base it on your ranking positions, because Sistrix will base any major fluctuations around the date of an algorithm as a hit, but sometimes this isn’t always true. This is because Sistrix tracks search visibility not traffic. Google has released algorithms before which stop websites from ranking for irrelevant search terms. This would negatively affect search vis, as you’re not ranking for as many terms, but it’s not really affecting the traffic because the site is still ranking well for the relevant terms which drive traffic to the website.

Sistrix should only ever be used as a guide, to investigate true traffic drops refer to your GA and GSC profiles, as this data is accurate.

How do you fix being hit by the algorithm update?

Similarly to manual penalties, it really does depend on the update, and what it’s targeting. However, once the problem has been identified, repair the issues, and your rankings should start recovering to their former positions (once your site has been crawled).

To find your exact hit, refer to Sistrix major Google update timeline, here. Identify when your rankings took the hit, and match it to an update around that time to understand what aspect of your site may have got affected.

Remember to keep an eye on what Google is doing to the algorithm, so you can make the necessary changes before getting hit.

Algorithm best practices list

As previously stated, it depends on what algorithm you’ve been hit by, however, here is a brief best practice list on how to avoid being hit by algorithm updates. Ensure you’re in the know on the next update so you can implement the necessary site changes before Google rolls it out.

  • Remove duplicate content / pages on your website
  • Disavow spam / low quality links from your backlink profile
  • Reduce ads on the site
  • Remove keyword stuffing
  • Improve low quality / thin pages
  • Don’t cloak content, ever
  • Ensure the site loads quickly
  • Ensure that the intent of your landing page(s) is relevant to the search query which users are searching for
  • Focus on UX (user experience) make sure that the site is focused on providing the user the most efficient and effective experience possible.

Check out my colleague Ryan’s video, What to do When an Algorithm Hits, for more information.

Seasonal Traffic

Seasonal traffic is traffic which comes in full force, but only for a brief amount of time. This can be anything such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, festival season, Easter etc… This can sometimes be deceiving as suddenly the traffic flies through the roof. Then when it comes down, it can leave you confused as to where that traffic has gone? Unfortunately, that traffic isn’t coming back. It won’t come back until the same time next year.

In terms of fixing this, you can’t sadly. But what you could do is create opportunities for other seasonal trends to try to capture consistent surges of traffic throughout the year.

Market trends

A market trend can result in sudden floods of traffic, just like seasonal opportunities. However, these are only for a limited time, and there is absolutely no guarantee that this trend will come around again next year, or ever again.

A prime example of this is Pokemon Go. That game which seemed to be the only thing everyone spoke about for six weeks in 2016. Those six weeks could have resulted in huge gains in traffic. Below is a screenshot from Google trends, showing how the term ‘pokemon go’ peaked in popularity in July 2016, in comparison to now. As you can see, this is where the major opportunity was.

pokemon go spike in vis

Sadly, there is no way to fix these sorts of traffic drops, trends only have a limited life span. Although they may come back into fashion. However, these kinds of drops are not related to the technical health of your website or your content or your link profile, it’s just the trend dying out as they all do. Consider trying to jump on new trends and make the most of those opportunities. Gotta try to catch em’ all right?

Ideally, your site shouldn’t rely on seasonal trends for traffic, they should always be seen as a temporary boost. Your site should have enough longevity in the SERPs to avoid massive drops after post-seasonal trend activity.

Competitors

So you haven’t been penalised, it doesn’t seem like you’ve been hit by an algorithm update, and you’re not focused on seasonal or market trends. But you’re still losing traffic?

This could be the time to start investigating your competition. How are they performing for your keywords? Have they recently migrated sites? Have they optimised their content to target more search terms? Have they built high quality links? Have they recently jumped on the Zazzle Media train? Sometimes it just isn’t your fault, or Google’s. Sometimes it’s theirs, they’ve realised the power of SEO and made it crucial in their strategy, and it’s working. You’re not getting worse, they’re getting better.

It’s a competitive world, and the SERPs are no different But here are some tips on how to capture traffic from your competitors:

  • Analyse their content, and make yours better. All the content, blog content, category page content, product page content, FAQs, ALL OF IT.
  • Conduct some more keyword research to identify further opportunities. Check out our very own keyword research guide here.
  • Monitor your competitors’ keyword set. Are they targeting certain terms which you’ve never even seen? Refer to our keyword gap analysis blog for more information.
  • Build QUALITY and topical relevant links to improve your domain authority.
  • Regularly create fresh and engaging content. Check out the Zazzle Media guide on blogging for your brand, written by our brilliant content team.
  • Monitor your competitors’ on-page and off-page SEO efforts. Are they changing title tags, meta descriptions? Do they know something you don’t? Don’t leave it to chance, track them. All the time.

Zero-click searches

Zero-click searches is a phenomenon which is absolutely resulting in traffic drops. Essentially a zero-click search is when a user types their term into the search engine and it results with a featured snippet, a knowledge card, people also ask or FAQ Schema. The user has attained the answer they desire, without having to click through to a website, resulting in huge traffic drops.

snippet and zero click search

Above is an example of a zero-click search. Because Google has resulted with a featured snippet answering my question, I don’t have to click through. That now means that The Search Engine Journal are not receiving any traffic from me today.

According to Rand Fishkin at SparkToro, Quarter 1 2019 Google searches, 48.96% of all searches result in a zero-click. Nearly half of all search results are now not requiring users to click through to a website. Truly staggering numbers, and this is a trend which has been growing since 2017. This is largely impacted by the increase of voice search in recent years thanks to devices such as Google Home, and Alexa which obtain their answer for searches from things such as: featured snippets.

This could be one of the reasons why you’re noticing drops in traffic. This is a tough one because there isn’t a guarantee that you can get this traffic back, ever. However, what you could try to do is optimise your site to rank for featured snippets. By ranking for featured snippets you put yourself in a position where users can see your site in the SERPs. Through using things such as sitelinks, this could result in some traffic coming to the site.

Zero-click searches are a difficult one to solve as the whole point from Google’s perspective is to give the user an answer as quickly and efficiently as possible, and if resisting clicks is a way for them to do it, they will, and they have.

Conclusion

So hopefully the points we've covered have given some insight into why your traffic may be dropping. If after working through this advice, there still seems to be an anomaly in your traffic stats, then please get in touch - we'd be happy to take a look. Best of luck in building your strategy, to re-gain your lost traffic, we'd love to hear about what strategies and methods have worked for you in the comments below!

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