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Questions to ask yourself when your SEO traffic drops

At some point in their career, a search engine optimiser will be asked to look into a website’s traffic decline. To solve the problem, they need to ask a series of questions that should guide them down the right track and find the solution.

Every website’s traffic ebbs and flows over time – some months are more popular than others for various reasons. You need to make sure that this traffic drop is actually a serious decline or just part of the ups and downs of the normal views. You can look at your historical timeline of traffic to see if the drop is just part of the natural flow.

Sometimes apparent traffic drops are the result of data tracking errors. Tracking software can sometimes duplicate results, leading to incorrect figures and graphs. A drop in traffic could just be the result of the tracking software working properly again, showing the real figures instead of inflated ones.

If the decline is different from the normal variance, and if your tracking metrics add up, then you can assume that something is wrong with your website or SEO strategy. Here are some questions to ask yourself when your website traffic drops:

Has Google recently changed its algorithms?

Google updates its algorithms often, sometimes on a daily basis. Not all of these updates will affect traffic and website rankings, but sometimes the major changes do.

Do a quick search to find out if Google has made changes to their algorithms and whether these correlate to your traffic drop. Gather all the information so that you can to see what the nature of these changes was, and how you can make alterations to your content and SEO to match the changes.

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Is the traffic drop site-wide or specific to some pages?

When looking at the data, try to see if the drop is consistent across all pages of your site. You can also segment the data to see more clearly whether the drop is only specific to certain areas of your site.

Two of the most useful segments to look at are device type and page type. Device type outlines the types of devices that people are using when looking at your site Some users may have stopped looking at your site on their phones, but computer user traffic is still the same, which means that your website isn’t mobile-friendly.

Page type outlines the different pages of your site (i.e. homepage, blog, shop etc.). Sometimes only one of your pages suffers a loss in traffic but this affects the site’s overall data. You can then make the necessary changes to the problem page if this is the case.

Is Google penalising you?

If Google finds out that you are using bad SEO practices, such as packing your articles with links and using far too many keywords, they will penalise your website. This will either bump it down the ranks or hide the search result completely.

Unless you are using dodgy SEO tactics, it’s unlikely that Google will penalise you. Luckily it’s easy to figure out, however. Search for your brand name and see whether it has been shifted to later pages or hidden altogether. If you’re still unsure, look at Google Search Console for any messages about penalties handed down to your website.

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Did you recently make changes to your website?

Making changes to your website can be a tricky process with many unintended consequences. Changing URLs, using a different JavaScript framework, altering title tags, getting rid of menu items – all of these changes can affect your SEO rankings and traffic.

If you made any changes to your website, see if they correlate to your traffic drop. If this is true, you can then make the necessary changes or even revert back to the old site. Make sure you know exactly what you are doing before making any changes to your site, even renaming URLs will affect your Google rankings.

Has a competitor launched a website?

Sometimes a drop in traffic is the result of a competitor launching a website. Some of your usual viewers are now going to the rival site instead, looking for alternative options. There’s not much you can do about this besides offer better content, easier navigation and a simpler buying process.

If a competitor launches a website with better SEO, content and offerings, your website will be bumped down Google’s rankings. This means you need to up your SEO game by doing some keyword research. See if your competitors are paying Google for your keywords. Try to add more internal links to your articles. Do everything you can to improve your own SEO.

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Have the SERPs changed?

Take a look at the search engine results pages (SERPs) where your website normally featured. Has the design or layout changed at all? Google sometimes experiments with image carousels and maps to see what works the best for the user.

Sometimes these changes to the results pages can decrease your organic traffic slightly. Once again, there’s not a lot you can do to change it besides trying to get a higher ranking which is more likely to be seen by users.

Is the traffic drop specific to branded traffic?

Paying Google to advertise your website at the top of the results page is what brings in branded traffic. You are able to see the number of branded clicks and unbranded clicks via Search Console.

AdWords will also give you this data if you are paying for search keywords. If your traffic drop is specific to branded traffic, then you can assume that there’s a problem with the AdWords campaign, not your SEO.

Have some URLs dropped out of the index?

Google will index all the pages of your site when crawling through, looking for new content. You can see which of your URLs are currently indexed by looking at the Search Console Index Status Report.

If you can see that some of your pages are missing from this index, then you may have accidentally disallowed the indexing of URLs through some of your meta tags or HTTP headers. You can double check your coding and meta tags to make sure they are not hindering your URLs from being indexed.

Google Analytics on a laptop screen

Has your number of inbound links or referrals dropped?

It’s quite possible that some of your backlinks have been removed from other sites. Sometimes websites delete pages, articles and links. You have no control over this but it does affect your ranking, unfortunately.

You can see if you’ve lost backlinks and referrals by checking Ahrefs.com – a website that gives your reports for your backlinks and referring domains. You’ll be able to see how many links you have lost and if they are responsible for the traffic drop.

Is SEM eating your SEO traffic?

Your search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns, such as paid search terms, may be eating into your organic SEO traffic. A quick way of investigating this is to look at your SEM vs. SEO traffic graph.

If the graph is inconclusive, you may want to try to hold your SEM campaign for a month to see if organic traffic returns to your website. Once you know what influence your SEM campaigns are having, you can adjust them accordingly.

These ten questions will hopefully allow you to determine the cause of organic SEO traffic drops. There are many factors that affect traffic to websites, some of which you may not even think about. Perform all the checks and analyse the details, and hopefully, you can get the traffic back your website.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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