A steep and sudden drop in traffic can be a serious event, which must be handled swiftly and efficiently. Panicking can lead to bad business decisions, which is why you should have a standard procedure in place when your traffic drops significantly.
Refer to this 9-point checklist to perform a traffic drop analysis. A contingency plan such as this one will ultimately isolate the main source of the problem so you can apply the correct solution.
- Confirm your tracking data
- Verify your data with search console
- Identify the pages & keywords that lost traffic
- Match your content with user intent
- Evaluate dropped backlinks
- Perform a competitive analysis
- Explore the possibility of new SERP features
- Search for damaging news and reviews
- Eliminate the possibility of a Google update
Confirm your tracking data
Let’s assume you’ve opened your analytics account and you see a massive drop in the traffic. Assuming you’re not doing black hat SEO, a steep and sudden drop in traffic is a sporadic event. Your first task is to confirm you’re working with the correct data.
Check the status of your tracking codes in the admin section of your analytics account.
Under “tracking info,” open the “tracking code” tab at the top-right section of your admin page. There is a message under “Status” to indicate whether your code has been reporting data for the last 48 hours or not.
Verify your data with search console
The search console is your go-to source of information to find out exactly what is happening with your site. A significant drop in traffic could mean you’ve lost visibility and coverage, which ultimately leads to a loss in revenue.
Search console will:
- Analyze your site’s impressions, clicks, and position on Google
- Review your index coverage
- Provide alerts to issues Google finds on your site
- Help you understand how Google sees your site
- Eliminate the possibility of de-indexed pages and penalties.
To check if you’ve been slapped with a manual penalty, click on “manual actions” under “security and manual actions” to see messages from Google. Manual actions are fairly severe so you will hopefully see a message like this:
In the event of a manual action, you will receive details on how to resolve the issue and resubmit your site for review in order to restore your pages.
Under the coverage tab, check to see whether there is a decline in the number of pages that are indexed on your site. The image below shows that there haven’t been any pages lost and shows zero errors for the site’s URLs.
If there were a decline in the number of indexed pages, it’s possible someone mistakenly activated a noindex command or wrote a disallow rule in the robots.txt file.
Although this problem has a simple solution, this situation is very serious, as you will lose complete visibility in the search results. Re-indexing your pages can take anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks depending on the size of your site and how many pages were de-indexed.
If your pages are indexed, and you’ve confirmed your data collection in analytics, move on to the next step.
Identify the pages & keywords that lost traffic
This will display the clicks and impressions of the current week compared to the previous week so you can see what pages and what keywords resulted in the most significant decline.
Analyze traffic in Analytics
In analytics, you can use the acquisition tab to see an overview of the traffic being driven to your site. Click on “channels” to view the changes in volume to the different channels of traffic your website receives.
Confirm data in your keyword tracking software
Falling ranks lead to a drop in traffic. Generate a Rankwatch keyword tracking report to monitor your SERP rankings. The keywords that dropped considerably will confirm the data in analytics and search console.
There are many reasons a keyword can lose ranking. If the problem isn’t obvious, eliminate the possibilities systematically. List the potential issues that could have caused the drop in rankings to prioritize a plan of action. The following are the most probable causes of changes to search visibility.
Match your content to user intent
The number one ranking factor is whether your content satisfies the search’s intent. Your content should provide value for users that are searching with your target keywords by directly satisfying their intent behind the search.
Now that BERT is in full swing, there is a higher level of understanding of what a user is looking for in a search query. Although the BERT update was reported to only have affected 10% of search queries, its effect will continue to make its presence felt as it continues to learn more about how users search.
If your page is missing details, adding focused content in response to user intent will improve the performance of the page by adequately satisfying search intent. Recover lost traffic by improving your keyword rankings through better content.
Evaluate dropped backlinks
Run a backlink report to find what crucial links may have been lost within the time frame of the drop in traffic.
The main reasons for link removal typically fall under three categories:
- The links now point to better content.
- The page has moved, merged or was deleted.
- The page was updated and they forgot to add your link back into the content.
Get in touch with the site owners who removed the links to see whether you can have them replaced. If you can figure out why they were removed ahead of time, you can make a stronger case for link replacement by addressing any issues that led to their removal in the first place.
Losing a few low-quality links won’t make a difference to your ranking or account for a steep drop in traffic. If you haven’t lost any major links to your site, move on to the next step and perform a competitive analysis.
Perform a competitive analysis
Google is the arena in which businesses compete with each other. Your business may not be the only one that’s engaged in SEO to gain a competitive advantage. The possibility exists that another website has simply outranked you with better content marketing strategies and/or better links.
The solution to this is a competitive analysis on the site that has bumped you down the SERP and stolen your traffic. You can start with the most important aspect of ranking and see how your competition has answered search intent.
Find the keywords for which their page is ranking to identify any gaps in content. There may be aspects of your page that have become out-dated or lack information that users are now looking to find. Update your page to reflect any gaps in content and make your page more comprehensive in covering your keyword topic.
Assess the backlink profile of your competition to see if you can pick up any links that would help you level the playing field and overtake them in authority. If the content is similar to your own then a few good links could put you back in the lead.
Check for new SERP features
A trend that we have been facing for quite some time now is the emergence of Google SERP features. This is an issue that has led to more than 50% of the total volume of Google searches ending in a zero-click result.
Search Google for your keyword and confirm whether a new SERP feature has appeared. The emergence of a featured snippet, PAA box, local pack or an increase in the number of ads could be absorbing a portion of available clicks in a query.
Search for damaging news and reviews
The phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” isn’t always true; especially, in a business environment. A public mishap or a series of negative reviews can quickly kill your traffic when the content is severe enough to damage your reputation.
Social listening tools have become a vital part of reputation management in order to monitor any relevant mentions of your brand and competitors. Your side of a story in light of a bad PR situation may sway public sentiment and protect your reputation. An early response to damaging news or reviews can help protect the loss of traffic and reduce the loss of future clients.
Eliminate the possibility of a Google update
There is always the possibility that Google has released an update that has shaken up the rankings. The history of Google updates will show that it isn’t uncommon to have huge shifts in rankings due to major changes in how Google evaluates content and backlinks.
There are a few websites that stay on top of the latest Google updates that you can reference for the latest news such as seroundtable.com and searchengineland.com.
Follow reliable sources in the SEO industry on Twitter. Danny Sullivan and Barry Schwartz are two prime examples of people who have the latest and most accurate details about any changes in Google’s algorithm.
Analyze and execute logical and systematic problem solving
Traffic fluctuates, sentiment changes, search engines evolve and software can often misrepresent all of it. If you’re lucky, it will never be necessary for you to analyze a serious drop in the traffic driven to your site.
For those of you who are not so lucky, approach the problem like a Toronto SEO consultant by logically and systematically coming to an optimal resolution.
No matter how steep the drop in traffic may be, take solace in the fact that you now have the tools and knowledge to analyze the problem and execute the solution.
Feel free to share any stories about your experiences or to simply leave a comment in the section below.