Imagine you’ve opened your web analytics tool and noticed a considerable decrease in traffic. Don’t panic!
There are many reasons why your organic website traffic may have decreased. Factors such as changes to the search results (SERPs), tech issues, Google updates, seasonality and more.
Read on for info on:
The usual suspect for a sudden, unexpected decrease in website traffic is tracking errors. For Google Analytics and other tools to track website traffic, you need to install a tracking code in the HTML of your website.
If this code is installed incorrectly or removed, it leads to traffic data not being recorded, hence a drop in traffic.
The good news in this situation is that your traffic hasn’t actually dropped - only your ability to monitor it. You may come out of the situation with a short blind spot, but no material loss in site traffic.
If you notice no new data or a huge drop in traffic, your first port of call should be to check that the tracking code is in the right place on your website and hasn’t been removed.
Tracking issues are not always as simple as a missing tracking code. Configuration issues can cause odd or misleading data. Some common examples are:
If in doubt, Google’s Tag Assistant is a useful tool, particularly the session recording function. If you use Tag Manager, you might also find it useful to use the built-in debugging options. If you’re still in the dark, give us a call.
One of the first things to check when you notice a decrease in organic traffic is whether there have been any changes to the SERP.
Google frequently makes changes to how search engine results are displayed. This includes showing featured snippets, knowledge panels and more obvious ads.
Most of us have to remember changes, but if you’re subscribed to the top tier of SEMRush they have a tool for this.
The changes can mean organic results are pushed further down the page,
and as a result, you may get less traffic from a search term you rank for. In some cases, you might not have actually even lost any ranking, you’re just competing with new SERP features such as map packs, knowledge panels, Ads, image strips, Google Shopping feeds or Featured Snippet answers.
There’s no direct fix for this, but the best course of action is to roll with the punches. If it’s possible to get a presence on these new SERP features then explore the option. For example, in the event that a Featured Snippet answer box has appeared on the SERP for your pet search query, it's worth updating your content to reflect those changes. Hubspot has a comprehensive article on optimising your content for featured snippets and so do we.
Google often changes the type of search results based on user behaviour. The search intent behind a keyword can change. Search intent is the implicit, unspoken motivation for a user typing in a search query.
For example, searches for “Health Supplements” used to be transactional and the results would display links to buy supplements; now the search results have changed to display informational content that tells searchers about the best supplements.
If Google detects that the results for a particular query no longer satisfy visitors, it will pivot to display results that people actually want.
If your website doesn’t match the intent of users or provide the information they want to see,
Google will likely rank other websites ahead of yours because they have more up-to-date and useful information.
This has implications for topics other than news and current affairs. For example, some industries have seen SERPs for queries related to their services change from favouring general service pages to prioritising geographically local results. In other circumstances, you might find that a search for consultancy shifts from favouring consultant services to consultant jobs if the search appetite has shifted from potential customers to job seekers.
It is a good idea to review and update your content to ensure that it remains relevant in changing times, and reflects the way that users are searching for information.
Are there any tech issues with your website?
Tech issues can prevent Google from correctly crawling your website.
Slow page load speed, not being mobile friendly, old technology, security vulnerabilities, unreliable hosting, broken links and many more factors.
To identify tech issues use a tool such as Lighthouse. Lighthouse is made by Google and is less likely to send you in the wrong direction, but it is an automated tool and as such needs some interpretation. Lighthouse tends to focus on speed and performance issues, though it touches upon accessibility and SEO. Other platforms such as SEMRush or ahrefs offer their own site auditing tools.
You can get a second opinion speed using a service like WebPageTest or ByteCheck. You can monitor your server uptime and response using a service like Pingdom. You can monitor your site’s security using a service like Sucuri.
Google is constantly releasing updates to its algorithms, which can have a knock-on effect on your organic website traffic and search rankings.
Google doesn’t always announce an update so it can be hard to get information about updates.
Some useful tools for tracking updates include Moz update tracker, MozCast, like a weather report predicting algorithm updates, and SEMrush Sensor, a tool designed to track daily changes in the rankings in selected categories.
And finally, try Was there a google update, a website that lets you enter a date and will tell you if there was a Google update on that day?
The crucial thing to do is check many data sources to see if your website has been affected by a google update.
Google updates can cause upheaval, but it’s generally advisable to rule out other possibilities before accepting this as the culprit.
If your site has been affected by a Google update, the course of action is very much dependent on the nature of the update. Google updates in the past have been concerned with factors such as mobile usability (in which case you would need to address mobile usability issues), local signals (in which case you would need to assess and understand the impact of local signals on your business and visibility), accuracy and reliability (in which case you would need to examine how well the information on your website has been fact-checked, referenced and cited). You will need to adapt your approach depending on the nature of the update.
Inbound links from other websites are one of the signals that Google uses to calculate your authority and trust in the real world. When you lose links your website can be perceived as less authoritative. This can cause a decrease in search rankings and traffic to your website as a result.
You can track backlinks to your site using a tool like Moz Link Explorer, Majestic or SEMRush. If you lose links to your website, you may want to consider a digital PR campaign to obtain high-quality backlinks.
Different times of the year can be busier and have higher search traffic. In retail businesses, the run-up to Christmas would see an increase in demand. In B2B in the U.K. July & August are typically quiet months.
A change in organic website traffic can sometimes be attributed to simple seasonality.
To spot seasonality on your site, you should familiarise yourself with a few years of analytics data and identify the common annual patterns. This can be difficult if very disruptive events have radically affected your business during those years, such as pandemics, wars, legislative changes, and so on.
It may also be difficult to make a fair comparison if you have rebuilt, relaunched, or remodelled your website during a period you are using as a point of comparison. Try to build the fairest picture possible of your typical seasonal traffic trends.
Sometimes you haven't done anything wrong. The competition has upped their game and improved.
They've hired an agency to help them improve their SEO, hired some new content writers and produced higher-quality content than before.
For this reason, it is a good idea to watch your competitors and take note of what is working for them. Can you replicate the tactic, but improve upon it?
Google Analytics 3 or Universal Analytics will be retiring next year & GA4 is replacing it.
With GA4, there have been changes to how sessions are recorded. Some people have noticed a decrease in traffic after making the switch.
You must always be conscious when comparing tracking data across different analytics platforms. Different platforms gather their data in different ways, and the specifics and technicalities of this mean that while two systems may broadly agree, the specific numbers will almost never match 1:1.
Google has stated in regards to UA vs GA4 that previously traffic has been overestimated and now it is calculated more fairly.
Ideally, this means that you are now getting a more accurate idea of how much traffic your site is receiving.
You can read more about the changes here or watch this video for a more practical view.
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of why your organic website traffic has decreased and what to do about it.
If you would like further help with your SEO check out our FREE SEO checklists.
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