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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
If you’ve been hit with a manual penalty then a message like this will appear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out my colleague Ryan’s video, What to do When an Algorithm Hits, for more information.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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