Diagnosing Organic Traffic Drops: An Interview With Helen Pollitt
Published onSep 27, 2021byClaire Dibben
This month, Helen Pollitt (SEO Team Manager at iTech Media) will be teaching audiences at Digital Gaggle how to diagnose - and fix - drops in their organic traffic. She shares a few tips ahead of her talk...
Hi Helen! Let's get straight to it... Your talk at Digital Gaggle will teach attendees how to diagnose organic traffic drops with their website. What are some common causes of traffic drops to look out for?
There are many reasons why you might see a drop in your organic traffic, most of which I’ll be going through during my talk. If I had to pick the top three that I’ve seen as a culprit I’d probably say these:
Some drops in organic traffic can be predicted. Seasonal declines are an example of this. It may be that for your business or industry you have obvious peaks and troughs. A UK ecommerce site specialising in gardening products may notice a very stark drop in traffic to their lawnmower product pages every winter. This could simply be because fewer people in the UK feel the need to mow their lawns during the winter months when they aren’t growing much. This sort of traffic drop is often easily identified by looking back over several years of data and combining it with your knowledge of your industry.
2. Technical issues
Technical issues with your website can lead to a dramatic drop across many or just a few pages. For instance, if a development change is rolled out that happens to add a “noindex” tag to your home page, you are going to see a nose-dive in organic traffic to your home-page and likely knock-on effect to other pages on your site that are linked to from the home page.
Something more subtle, like a page loading much slower than previously, or changes to the internal linking structure of your site may also result in drops in rankings and organic traffic.
3. Tracking issue
Whenever I see a sudden decline in organic traffic overnight my first thought is to check the tracking. This might be that a recent development change has caused your site’s Google Analytics code to be removed, or the tracking has been blocked in other ways. I tend to check if it is just organic traffic that has been affected or other channels too. If all channels are showing the same sudden drop, it’s more than likely something to do with the tracking has gone awry.
What resources or websites would you recommend to marketing managers trying to get to grips with SEO?
There is a lot of great information on the internet about SEO. There is also a lot of terrible information available. That’s probably the number one issue with learning SEO yourself, knowing where to look for reputable insight. That’s why I will recommend Aleyda Solis’ learningseo.io to anyone who wants to learn the basics, right through to more advanced SEO.
Aleyda is a very well-respected SEO with many years’ experience. The roadmap to learning SEO that she has put together is incredibly comprehensive and includes guides and resources she has hand-picked. Not only does it contain a wealth of information, Aleyda frequently updates it so you can be assured that the information she links to is current.
Once you feel like you have a good grip of the fundamentals of SEO it can be helpful to keep abreast of any updates or trends in the industry. For this you might like to read some of the more reputable journals and blogs. Some that I recommend include Search Engine Journal for general SEO and marketing tips and news, OnCrawl’s blog for technical SEO advice and Search Engine Roundtable for Google news and industry developments.
Finally, what are your top low-cost SEO tools that most marketing managers might not have heard of?
There are a lot of very comprehensive, but fairly expensive, tools out there. Some of them claim to do it all, others focus on a specific task. Unfortunately, it can be hard to justify the budget if you haven’t used the tools before, or you perhaps don’t know the extent to which they would help you with your SEO.
I always recommend starting with some free, or cost-effective tools that perhaps do some or all of the jobs the more expensive tools do. You can then see if there is a gap in your tool-kit that only a paid tool can plug.
There are some brilliant free and low-cost tools available. Much of the time it just comes down to personal preference as to which you choose. I’ve selected five that I think will get you most of the way “there” if you are looking to up your SEO-game without committing to those expensive tools just yet.
1. Screaming Frog SEO Spider
Screaming Frog has to be first on the list. Although this list is in no particular order, this one is my favourite. The team at Screaming Frog have created a website crawler that extracts data from any website you run it on. There is a whole wealth of work that can be made simpler by using Screaming Frog’s crawler, including identifying HTML tags, creating robots.txt files and visualising site architecture. If you want to get an idea of how Googlebot might be understanding your site, this is a great addition to your toolkit. You can crawl 500 URLs for free each time you use the tool, or you can buy an annual license for £149.
2. Screaming Frog Log File Analyser
Not content with just creating one of the best known crawlers in the industry, Screaming Frog has also developed a log file analyser. This tool allows you to upload your log files, the data that is collected by your server about human and bot visits to your website, and present them in a way that you can easily spot patterns and problems. For instance, you can see which pages Googlebot is visiting on your site, or perhaps ones it never visits. Again, Screaming Frog have a free version of this tool that will allow you to parse 1,000 log events without buying the license. If you do want to analyse more than that, you can pay £99 per year.
3. Google Search Console
You may already be aware of Google Search Console, but unless you’ve spent a fair amount of time in it you may not realise quite how powerful a tool it is. Google Search Console allows you to both inform Google of changes to your site and receive key information from the search engine about your presence in Google Search. You can use Search Console to confirm that Google is crawling your site, identify indexation issues, receive alerts about hacking and spam as well as see what sites are linking to yours. Perhaps some of the most valuable data it provides is the Performance report. This allows you to see what keywords visitors are using in Search to find and visit your website. This can be enormously helpful in finding opportunities to improve your visibility in the search results. Google Search Console is entirely free, which is my favourite phrase when it comes to SEO tools.
Not always one you will see on a list of free or cheap tools, Ahrefs does deserve to be here, purely for its free backlink checker. Ahrefs lets you find the links pointing to your own, or another, website without committing to the full product. You can get information about the follow status of those links, how many referring domains a site has and even a list of the individual links. If you find that you want to use more of the Ahrefs features, but don’t have the budget for the tool, you can always take advantage of their 7-day trial for $7. Just remember to cancel your subscription after the 7 days are up!
5. Schema.org Validator
One of my favourite ways to check if my structured data implementation is working is through Schema.org’s Validator. You can either paste your code snippet into the tool, or simply input the URL the code is on and it will bring back a report of the Schema mark-up it detects. From there you can see if it flags any errors or warnings. You can tweak the code in the tool to see if those errors disappear. It is entirely free and created by the site that details all of the valid schema available, so you know that it should be accurate.
You can witness all the knowledge Helen has to share at Digital Gaggle, Noisy Little Monkey's marketing conference, on Thursday 28th October. Join the event either in-person at Bristol's Watershed Cinema or online. Tickets available via the button below - see you there!