There’s nothng more frustrating than seeing the rankings you’ve worked so hard for drop, but with some hard work, luck, and determination, you can bounce back. Yes, really! This post is packed with tips and strategies for identifying potential causes and regaining your traffic.
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Identifying the cause of your Google organic traffic drop
Firstly, if you haven’t already, you’ll want to confirm it’s definitely your Google organic search traffic that’s dropped, and that it’s not your traffic from a different source (e.g. Pinterest), or a problem with your tracking code.
To do this, you’ll want to look at your traffic sources and compare the numbers to past dates in Google Analytics (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels). Ideally you want to compare to the same period last year, or you can use last month if you don’t have that data.
The next thing to consider is how big the drop is, and over what period. For example, a 50% drop in traffic may sound dramatic and look dramatic on a graph, but if you get ten visits a day and it drops to five, it’s not statistically significant compared traffic of 10,000 visitors a day that suddenly drops to 5,000. The first coulld be a random fluke or a bad day, the latter could point to something much more serious, especially over a sustained period of time.
Now let’s look at some of the reasons you could be seeing lower than expected traffic numbers in your analytics.
A tracking error, for example if Google Analytics goes down or you accidentally install the tracking code twice, looks a lot more dramatic than a simple decline in traffic. Your traffic may disappear altogether, or your bounce rate may be extremely low. You can right click and View Source on any of your web pages to see if you have multiple codes or multiple instances of the same code (if you’re a Lyrical Host customer and need help with this, please raise a support ticket).
We recommend using Google Analytics for traffic tracking as it’s a lot more accurate than other options; however, if your GA traffic is displaying as much lower than you’d expect, cross-reference your numbers with that of the stats recorded in your hosting control panel to see if they also show a significant drop. If they don’t, the error is more likely to be with Google Analytics or your code than actual traffic to your site.
If you’ve recently installed or changed an SSL certificate (see How To Set Up A Free SSL Certficate For Your Site), check that it’s set up correctly and the correct version of your site is tracking in Google Analytics.
The good news is that a tracking error means that in reality your visitor numbers likely haven’t fallen off a cliff, it’s just the reporting that’s the issue. This is easy to fix and your traffic should start to look normal again within a few days.
Error messages & penalties
Any problems Googlebot has trying to access your site, or any penalties you may have been issued by Google, can often (but not always!) be found in Google Search Console.
Take a look at the errors and penalties sections to see if there’s anything there you need to resolve. Small issues, for example 404s, are unlikely to be the cause of your problem unless you’ve changed something on your site recently (for example changing your URL structure but not setting up redirects correctly) and it’s affected your high traffic posts.
Penalties can take more time to fix depending on what they are, but you’ll want to fix them and resubmit your site to Google as soon as possible.
If you don’t have a lot of traffic, or the majority of your traffic goes to posts only relevant at a certain time, seasonal fluctuations can hit you hard. For example if you only write about Christmas, you can expect that for a lot of the year, you’re going to see little to no traffic. This is an extreme example, but it also applies to travel destinations that are only booked certain times of the year for example, or back to school topics.
To beat seasonal fluctuations, do some brainstorming and planning to incorporate evergreen topics that work all year round, or introduce enough seasonal topics to fill the gaps year-round. For example, you could have posts to decorate your house for all major holidays around the world, not just Christmas.
Another cause of seasonal drops is timely factors. These are often missed by site owners worrying about why their traffic has dropped, and instead they try to solve the wrong problem because they don’t realize the actual cause. Timely factors relate to things that used to be popular but are no longer being searched. Your rankings may still be great, it’s just that people aren’t interested in the topic any more. This could be as simple as you having the wrong year in a post title, for example “Best Californian water sports 2019” that just needs a quick title change. Or it could be that the moment has passed, for example people aren’t interested in a particular Netflix series or the last Olympics any more.
Make sure you keep old posts updated; keep a spreadsheet to track. You may also want to adjust the expectation of the longevity of your content; what’s popular now can cause big traffic spikes, but make sure you’re keeping ahead of the game to maintain that kind of interest.
Check for lost backlinks (the suite-style SEO tools, such as Ubersuggest or SEMRush, will give you information on that), in case you’ve lost an important link or links to your site from another website.
If you lose a link when don’t have a lot of links, or it’s a super great link, or it was a lot of links (e.g. from every page because it was in their sidebar), your rankings can take a big hit. Depending on the link, you may want to see if you can contact the website owner and get the link restored if possible: some creativity may be required!
If you’ve lost a lot of links recently, you’ll want to increase your link building efforts (a quick way to do this is participate in roundups or offer quotes to people creating collaborative blog posts) and expect your site to take a while to recover.
It’s less likely, but lost internal links (links between your pages) can potentially also have an impact, for example if you deleted links to a page, or you removed a lot of pages from your site very suddenly.
If the majority of your search traffic goes to only one or two of your posts, make sure nothing has happened to them that is mimicking the effect of an algorithm drop, for example broken code or a plugin that is causing technical issues and making it impossible for people to view, or slow page speed (check out The Blogger’s Guide To Speed Optimization for more help on website speed).
Look at your ranking positions in an SEO tool or Google Search Console to check for shifts and trends. If you haven’t really dropped in the positions or you’ve improved, it’s more likely to be a seasonal fluctuation affecting you, or that you have small traffic numbers so changes in graphs look a lot more dramatic than they really are. If your rankings are especially good, it could also be that Google is showing so much text in its preview for your site that people are getting all the information they need without having to click through to your website. Depending on the keywords involved and niche, it may be worth looking at Google Trends, or the monthly estimated search volumes in Google Keyword Planner.
Google algorithm updates
Google makes thousands of tiny updates and dozens of big updates a year to search results. Some of these are temporary and experimentational, some are more long term. As a lot of information is kept under wraps, it’s hard to know exactly what to do to recover if an algorithm change has caused your drop in traffic.
The first thing to try and determine is if an algorithm update may have affected your rankings. You can do this by cross-checking dates of updates with your own traffic and rankings stats in Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
Install this browser plugin for Chrome which overlays Google algorithm updates over your Google Analytics so you can see if there’s any correlation between a big Google update and your traffic drop off. If your traffic is relatively low anyway, it can be hard to spot a big trend, so you’ll need to give yourself more time to assess the situation.
Search Engine Journal also has a great resource with details of all the big Google updates, so you can cross-reference them with your traffic drop to see if the dates overlap: Google Algorithm History.
Other signs that it’s an algorithm drop can include:
- A very sudden and dramatic drop in your organic traffic, especially if you have a high-traffic website.
- Non-seasonal, historically consistent high traffic posts have stopped getting traffic.
- Multiple & significant search ranking position drops recorded in ranking tracker tools, especially from keywords that were in great positions.
- No warnings or penalties in Google Search Console.
What to do to recover from an organic traffic drop
The first thing to remember is: don’t panic. This can cause you to make a lot of dramatic changes in a short amount of time that can do more harm than good.
The second thing to remember is: don’t quit. Especially if it’s an algorithm change that’s affected you, because sometimes they get adjusted or rolled back altogether, or the next one could fall in your favor.
By now you should have a clearer idea of the potential cause of your traffic drop. Your action plan may want to involve some of these things:
Consider reversing big changes – For example if you’ve made dramatic changes to your site structure, menus, URL structure, redirects, .htaccess file, DNS, or plugins that coincide with your traffic drop. Reasonable changes, for example adding more content to a blog post, are unlikely to have caused the issue unless you’ve done something unnatural such as adding a lot of keyword-heavy anchor text links to your homepage from your subpages.
Increasing your work in areas/on tactics that are still good – For example if you have other pages (or even similar websites) that haven’t been affected, take a deep look at what’s working there and identify areas you can build clusters/silos around them to strengthen them further. Never redirect pages that have dropped significantly to good pages, even if they’re on the same topic.
Reverse engineering – Have a look at the websites now ranking in the top three spots for your big keywords, and figure out what they have in common and what you can apply to your own website.
Building more high quality, relevant links – Ideally from sites that you know haven’t been affected by the update. Sometimes checking the websites in the top spots for your keywords/in your niche can throw up direct opportunities, or if not, take a look at their best backlinks to identify potential opportunities. The Reverse Engineering module has ideas around this and lots of other things.
Identifying ways you can do a sidestep – For example, if Google’s decided to devalue a lot of your natural health content, maybe you can identify opportunities for content that’s a bit different/has a different angle, that your visitors will still enjoy and with keywords that still get searched. For example, if you wrote about essential oils for health, maybe you could write about essential oils for the home instead. Or if your content on childbirth was particularly advice-oriented, maybe you could make it more about your personal experiences and what you learned.
Checking keywords on page 2 and 3 – Use your favorite rank tracking tool to identify relevant keywords you’re sitting on page 2 or 3 of Google for, and work on updating those pages and building some links to them to give them the push they need to make it to the first page.
Working through errors flagged by SEO tools – A lot of errors listed by SEO tools are very dramatic, but clearing through some of them (or at least ruling them out) can be very beneficial!
Creating strong, fresh content – If you have pages that have maintained their traffic/rankings, take some inspiration from them to create new content that is more likely to please Google. Be careful not to cannibalize your existing pages by choosing keywords that are too similar.
Updating old content – If you know you have posts and pages that could be improved, go back to them and work on them so they’re better quality and more accurate and up to date.
Make a shortlist of the most reasonable ideas. If you’re stuck, building great backlinks, re-doing or shifting your keyword research focus for new content, and creating great new content are all strong choices. After finalizing your list, sleep on it. The worst thing you can do is make a lot of radical changes in a short space of time in blind panic, not least because you won’t be able to track what specifically helped (or didn’t!).
Once you’ve reviewed your list and you’re happy with it, create a list of tasks and next steps, and go from there. You’ve got this!
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