Background

One of the UK’s most trusted news publications informed us they were concerned with a recent drop-off in traffic which began during July 2019 and didn’t know what was causing it.

Their publishing team informed us that a majority of their organic traffic was derived through set-piece articles that that would be pre-planned based on upcoming events in politics, sport, TV and more.

However, this strategy had recently become undone, as posts they’d previously expect to perform well, which for July 2019 included: the Pride festival, Moon landing anniversary, Tory leadership election anniversary and the series release of Poldark, ‘very few…made much of a dent at all’.

To provide further context, there’d been a lot of volatility in the SERPs for the news industry throughout the previous weeks and many big names, most notably The Daily Mail, had seen organic performance takes a turn for the worst.

Much of this was down to the June 2019 Core Algorithm Update (also known as the “Domain Diversity Update”) which meant Google would attempt to include a more diversified set of domains on the first page of SERPs. This would most impact news publishers that were used to having multiple articles ranking on page one for a particular search query as it would consequently dilute their CTRs.

Were the set-piece events for July 2019 just not comparatively as popular with users as previous months? Or was the underlying issue with traffic related to the Core Update restraining this publishers source of organic traffic?

One thing we were sure of is for a publication that received over 45% percent of its overall online traffic through organic search, we were against the clock to find a solution before our client felt the implications ripple throughout the organisation.

Diagnosis

Our investigation began in Google Search Console. We filtered through numerous views and were able to investigate and rule out potential causes for the July 2019 traffic drop.

When analysing the scope of interest of the July’s news events (via Google Trends), data did suggest July 2019 was just not blessed with as many of these headline events in comparison with previous months, but that didn’t explain why the events that were covered did not perform well.

We also took a look into a 16 month overview of search data for the publication we discovered, as we initially suspected, there may have been an element of seasonality behind the fall in traffic (as data below shows a similar drop-off trend occurs during July 2018 where, from the 12.07.18 to 08.08.18, we find clicks are at the lowest they’ve been since July 2018 to present).

 

However, this drop was still altogether too sudden to be explained by seasonality alone, so it must have been the algorithm, right? Wrong.

Further industry research also ruled out the possibility of the traffic drop being down to algorithm updates as research (from Sistrix) following the impact of June’s Core update revealed our news publisher client was on the list of domains that had benefited from the changes.

So we dug a little further. Reviewing ‘Search Appearances’ on Search Console’s dashboard unveiled clicks from both Rich Results and AMP Articles were down by a significant 1.2 – 1.4 million clicks, respectively, during July 2018 compared to June 2019.

 

This significant decline was intriguing to say the least and upon further investigation we discovered another view showing us that three months of Rich Results clicks and impressions had plummeted.

 

It was clear by now that Google was having some kind of an indexing issue which was hindering the news publishers ability to form AMP articles that would appear within Google News carousels or even as rich ‘featured’ snippets.  Further investigation helped highlight an inconsistency in the name specified within the News XML-Sitemap and the publication name setup on Google News.

Solution/Achievement

Although the drop in traffic had been vast and identifying the issue had been long-tailed, the solution was simple. Google News was having an issue with properly matching the articles indexed via the sitemap into its own platform to form AMP articles that appear in the Google News carousels, which massively contribute to the publisher’s organic search traffic.

To solve this inconsistency, the website’s publication name had to be changed on WordPress, as well as in the XML News-Sitemap to match the publication name given to Google News. The settings on the XML Sitemap and the WordPress were referring to the publication name as ‘domainname.co.uk’, whereas the setting on Google News did not include ‘co.uk’.

News XML-Sitemap

 

WordPress Backoffice

 

Once this change to remove the ‘co.uk’ was implemented, traffic figures were not only restored but sky-rocketed on beyond their previous averages. The news publication has since gone on to have record traffic figures during August 2019.

Below is an Organic Visibility view covering dates from before, during and after the indexing issue.