Whether you work in-house or agency side, most of us have come across an organic traffic drop on our website within our career. And the SEO team at Semetrical are no exception! There can be multiple reasons for an organic traffic drop, but before jumping to conclusions and investing hours into finding solutions, it’s important to step back and work through a list of checks to pinpoint the reason for the drop. Once you have established when the traffic drop occurred and have a potential reason, it’s wise to investigate further and come up with solutions to reverse the trend.
I emphasise the need to take a step back from the issue and pinpoint when the drop happened, as there can be logical reasons for a traffic drop that might not be down to technical issues, website changes or algorithm updates. The last thing you want is to spend a day investigating all the technical changes implemented on your website over the past few weeks to see if there is a correlation with the traffic drop, when actually seasonality was the trigger all along. When an organic traffic drop happens you will want to check right from the start if it corresponds with your rankings dropping, or if your rankings are stable or have improved.
The most common causes of traffic drops on a website include:
If search demand suddenly decreases for your products or services, it will cause your traffic to drop. Seasonality will not affect all industries, but if your products or services are not consistently used or bought throughout the year, your website can be affected by seasonality. Seasonality could be the root cause of your traffic drop if you see:
Here are the steps to take when checking if seasonality could be the reason behind the sudden drop in traffic.
At Semetrical, we have come across sites that have had a traffic drop due to seasonality causing a significant drop in demand. The traffic drop came as a surprise to the client as this was a new area of the site, so they had not experienced YOY seasonality before. For this specific website, not all areas of the site were affected and not all markets they operated in saw the seasonality drops.
In the example below, the client’s average rank stayed fairly stable and had actually slightly increased (Purple), but impressions saw a significant drop (Blue) in the US market. For the equivalent terms in the UK market, the client did not experience the same seasonal drops. This is a clear example of when seasonality was the main reason for the drop in traffic.
Google Trends & Google Ads:
Technical issues and changes on your website, whether expected or unexpected, can have an effect on your traffic and rankings. If a change has occurred on your website that prevents Google from crawling and indexing your pages that were ranking previously, it will eventually drop those pages from its index, resulting in ranking and traffic drops. The most common technical issues that would affect your website include no index rules being placed on the incorrect URLs, robots.txt rules blocking whole sections of your website and redirections being implemented on pages that should be active. Technical issues/changes could be the root cause of your traffic drop if you see:
These are the steps you should take when checking if technical issues could be the reason behind a traffic drop:
We have faced the challenge of unexpected noindex rules or robots.txt rules being added to a client’s website, resulting in traffic and ranking drops.
An example of this is where we segmented different paths on a client’s website in Search Console to identify which paths caused the decline. Once the path was identified, we cross-referenced the path to the robots.txt file to see if a rule was blocking all URLs running off that path from ranking. In this scenario, there was an unexpected robots.txt rule added, blocking content from ranking. There are now lots of tools on the market such as ContentKing that can help prevent this from happening with real-time alerts when a robots.txt file has changed, so it can be picked up before Google finds the new rule.
On-page changes on your website can impact traffic and rankings, so it is important to test before rolling them out across your whole website. Unexpected on-page changes such as metadata rollbacks can also contribute to drops, and this is more common than you think! The most common contributors to traffic drops include:
On-page changes could be the root cause of your traffic drop if you see:
Work through these steps when checking if on-page changes could be the reason:
At Semetrical, we have undertaken numerous rank and traffic drop projects where companies have experienced a gradual decline or an unexpected drop.
One client saw a continual traffic drop to their homepage over time due to changes in brand direction and messaging. Historically they optimised their homepage for a group of high traffic keywords and ranked very well for those terms, but over time their brand took a different direction to go after a different customer persona. The shift in brand direction led to the homepage being optimised for a completely different set of keywords that had less search volume and were a lot more competitive to rank for. Ultimately, the website started to bring in a higher quality customer base due to the shift in direction and change in keywords, but it did considerably reduce the amount of monthly traffic to their website.
For another client’s website, changes to their title tags caused a drop in traffic and rankings over time. Historically, their top-level category title tags included different product variations, but after de-optimising the pages and removing variations, it prevented category pages from ranking for that keyword set. We managed to uncover these changes by spot-checking category page title tags in WayBack Machine and getting a snapshot of title tag changes over time per URL. We then cross-referenced the timestamps of the metadata changes in Wayback Machine to traffic and ranking drops in Search Console. This process can be very manual, but in our case, we created a script that automates title tag checks in bulk at a URL level on Wayback Machine. (We will be writing a blog post on how we created and used this script shortly!)
Google updates are occurring more frequently these days. In 2021, Google officially confirmed 11 updates and there were 8 unconfirmed updates according to RankRanger.
Changes happen daily on Google, but when an algorithm update is officially announced, it can have a positive or negative impact on your website.
To identify if an algorithm update is the cause of your drop, establish:
Work through these steps when checking if an algorithm update is the reason behind the drop:
At Semetrical, we have undertaken post algorithm analysis for a number of different websites where their traffic suddenly dropped overnight. There can be lots of reasons why a website will be demoted as part of an algorithm update.
When we investigated an algorithm drop for one of our clients we noticed that they did not drop for all keyword areas being tracked, only for a specific area of the industry. It is crucial to segment your keywords to pinpoint if it is sitewide wide, or if the site has been impacted in a specific area.
Once we identified the keyword areas being affected, we undertook market/competitor research to understand who was rewarded and who got demoted. It is important to review the sites that were rewarded, as this can usually help formulate a recovery strategy. Our findings indicated that the client’s website was hyper-relevant to a specific keyword vertical (the area that did not drop,) but was not seen as relevant enough for another keyword vertical (the area which dropped). This was due to their backlink profile and on-page optimisations across the website. Once we identified the reasons, a roadmap was put in place to re-optimise the website and invest heavily in digital PR and link building efforts to increase the website’s authority in the affected keyword area.
Search engine result pages (SERPS) can change in layout on a regular basis and it can affect your traffic. New features can reduce the CTRs a website may have got when ranking in the same position pre and post SERP change.
Some of the changes that have been made over the past few years that can impact traffic include:
To identify if SERP layout changes are the cause of your drop, check if:
We recommend taking these steps when checking if SERP layout changes are the reason for your drop in traffic.
Over the years, you may have built a large number of high-quality backlinks to your website via different strategies. However, once you gain a backlink from an external website, it doesn’t mean that backlink will exist forever.
Building backlinks to your website helps signal to search engines that your website is authoritative and trustworthy, but when your website loses numerous backlinks from an authoritative website, it can have an impact on both your traffic and rankings.
To identify if a loss in backlinks is the cause of your drop, check:
Take these steps to see if a loss in backlinks is the reason:
This is an interesting one! If you have seen a drop in traffic in Google Analytics but you are not seeing the drop in Search Console, then it could be down to unreliable data and your site’s tracking code not working correctly.
This can occur when technical changes have been made to your website or when a new version of your site has been released. It is always important to have checks in place when technical updates do occur on your website to make sure site tracking stays intact.
To identify if your tracking code setup could be the cause of your drop, check the following:
Steps to take to see if your tracking is the reason for the loss of traffic:
In summary, there can be a number of reasons for a traffic or rank drop on your website, but when this does happen you need to narrow down the potential reasons, otherwise you could go down a rabbit hole and waste hours or days investigating.
It is always best to start with quicker tests, such as reviewing tracking tags and checking if your drops correlate with a Core Update, before spending your time reviewing technical or on-page changes.
If you have experienced a traffic or rank drop and are struggling to identify the root cause or are currently experiencing a sudden drop and need an SEO agency to support the investigation, please reach out to our technical SEO team.
9 Steps to Building an Irresistible Business Case for Content MarketingSophie Mizrachi ● March 10, 2023