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How to Diagnose Drops in Organic Traffic

Aug 21, 2022
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If you're working on SEO and you have a website, there's probably been more than one time where you've experienced a drop in your organic traffic. Understanding possibly why you've dropped is important in how you can plan to recover from that existing drop.

So we're going to talk a little bit about some things that can impact your website and cause it to drop or lose organic traffic and what you can do about it to try to diagnose what's going on with your specific website. 

 

Video Transcription: 

Why Sites Lose Traffic

First, we need to look at why sites lose traffic. There are a number of things that can impact your site and cause it to lose traffic. The four that we will talk about are areas that we see that have the biggest impact or usually happen the most frequent.

  • Algorithmic changes
  • Make changes yourself to either your website and the code there, or maybe the content
  • Competitors, and what they're doing
  • Keyword volume fluctuation.

As I said, this is not an exhaustive list. There can be a number of other things that could be going on, but these are some of the big ones that we can look at and start to diagnose possibly why we're losing site traffic.

Algorithmic Updates

The first thing we're going to look at is algorithmic updates.  Google is constantly making changes to its algorithms, trying to improve its search algorithm, to deliver better results in the fewest amount of clicks. These changes can have major impacts on your website, and there are all different kinds of changes going on at all times. There are small tweaks to the algorithm that are happening constantly. There are regular updates. Sometimes Google lets us know, and sometimes they don't. And then we have broad updates, or what we call core updates, which are major changes to the algorithm, which can have a major impact on your website traffic.

One of the easiest ways to see if your site is being impacted algorithmically is using what's called the Panguin tool from Barracuda Digital. Let's go look at what the Panguin tool does and how we can use this tool.

Panguin Tool Walkthrough

This is the Panguin tool from Barracuda Digital. It's a free tool and one of my favorite tools to look at algorithmic impacts on your website. You go ahead and say, "Get started for free." It will connect with your Google account. It will be looking at Google analytics. You're going to allow them to do this, and allow them to see your Google Analytics data. And then you can select the site that you're working on or the sites that you want to check out the drop in.

Let's say I'm working here on my simplified search site. What it's going to do is it's going to overlay algorithmic updates, which right here, as we see this bar right here. This is the May 2022 core update. And it's going to lay it over our search traffic data.

If we're looking at this, we can see new organic users and then organic users. And we can see our traffic here a little bit up, and then we see the May update a little down, but we also see up here, and then it looks like maybe some time in the 8th of June that we saw a drop in organic traffic.

I can't say for sure that it was algorithmic that caused this to be the issue. The cool part is with this I can put all types of updates here. The new structure, feature, named updates, and unnamed updates. And you can get more if you pay for the tool, but if we are only going to use the tool right here, we can see very broadly we had the May core update, and then we can see did it impact our website.

You can go back here and select a little bit longer time. Let's say I want to do January into today, and then I'll hit go. As we can see here, there are some other updates. In February, we had the page experience update for desktop, and then in March we had a product review update, and then we had the core update.

This site might have had some impact from the core update. It's a smaller site. It's not a site where we put new content all the time. It could have been impacted by this update. The thing is once you get hit by a core update, you usually aren't going to be able to recover that traffic very quickly. That's something you're going to have to grind to get some of that back, and most likely you're going to have to wait for another core update before you're going to see a major recovery.

So if your site is hit by something like a core update, you're not going to be in a good position for a little bit. I have seen sites rebound faster, but the reality is core updates can be a bit of a pain to recover from. Some of these other updates that we see, sometimes you can see a refresh happen quicker, or maybe Google does a reverse of something they've done so it doesn't hit you as bad. But the Panguin tool is a great tool to use if you're looking at algorithmic impacts on your organic traffic.

Website or Content Change

The next thing that can have a major impact on how your site is generating new users via the search engines are the changes that you make. This could be changing title tags or meta information. This could be adding new content or taking content away, adding structured data, or removing structured data.

The things you have to do in this situation is to understand what changes were made and then when those changes were made. You need to have a list of actions that you're taking on your website. Right now, Google Analytics has something called annotations, which you can add in, but that is not part of Google Analytics 4, which is going to be the standard starting at the end of next year. Honestly, something you should be shifting to now.

So tracking it with Google Analytics is probably not a best practice right now because you're not going to be able to have those annotations moving forward.

So you need to use your project management tool to check when these changes were made, and then you need to look at has that change been indexed, and has Google visited that page and indexed it since we made the changes.

In order to see if that page has been re-crawled or indexed, you want to use the search console. Let me show you quickly how you can see when a page was last indexed within the search console.

Google Search Console Walkthrough

Here we are inside of search console, and you can see your basic performance, things like that. In order to see when a page was last indexed, you can inspect a URL.

Let's say I made a change on our structured data page here. I could go ahead copy this URL and paste it right here within the search bar. This is going to retrieve the data from the Google index, and it's going to say, "Yes, this page is crawled." It's submitted in its index, but it doesn't tell me a whole lot of information about when it was, unless I click this drop-down bar.

Tis page was last crawled yesterday at 11:20 PM, and it was successful. And there we go. Let's say I made the changes on the 1st of August. I would know that Google has re-crawled this page as of yesterday. So that's an important thing to look at to know when this page was changed. If you are making changes and let's say maybe you reverted something back, you're like, "Wow, that change really screwed me up." You can make those changes and then you could even request Google to index that page again, saying, "Hey, will you please go back and look at this page again?"

This is an important thing to do after you've made changes to know whether or not Google has seen those yet, and then also if you want to make a change and tell them quicker, you can do that here with the request indexing. You're only requesting. Doesn't mean they're going to do it, but it is a good practice.

Competitor Changes

You're not the only one trying to rank for certain keywords, your competitors are as well. They can make changes, which means that they could earn a higher rank, which could possibly impact your traffic. So some of the things you want to do here are very similar to your website. What changes did your competitors make, and when did they make them? And in order to see this, it's a little bit harder because you don't have access to their site. You don't have access to their analytics. You don't have access to their search console. But you can use something like the Wayback Machine in order to see possibly when these updates and changes were made. You can also use more advanced analysis and look at natural language processing and all of that.

We do have some videos on how to do NLP SERP analysis that might be helpful in this situation. But more importantly, you want to see if they've made some major structural changes or content changes. You can use the Wayback Machine, which is a lot easier than running some Python code.

Wayback Machine Walkthrough

Let's take a look at how we would do that using the Wayback Machine. We're here at the Internet Archive, and this is the Wayback Machine. So let's say I wanted to see why maybe our structured data generator has fallen back. And I could go ahead and take this other website that also has a structured data generator and see if maybe they've made changes recently.

What the Wayback Machine will do is it'll look and say, "Okay, this is when we have snapshots of these websites over these periods of time." And you can go through and scroll through all these that might take you some time, but they also have this button here that says, "changes", and it'll show us the number of changes that were made within these different years and timeframes.

So if let's say, I lost a lot of traffic at a certain timeframe, so it looks like May 29th, there were slight changes made to it, but let's say May 29th, there were some changes that they made. I could compare those changes, see what those changes were, and see if I needed to make some changes or some updates to my content as well.

This is a very low-tech way of doing this. This is a free tool to use, but it can help you keep a little bit more tabs on your competitors to see what are the major changes that they've made.

So I did notice, remember, in the Barracuda Digital, and we were looking at the algorithm changes there weren't major traffic drops in May for my site, but there were some in June, so maybe this is something to explore, to look at my competitors here, see what they added or took away, and see if I need to make additional changes to my page in order to help improve our visibility. This is a great way to spy on your competitors without having access to their data.

Keyword Fluctuation

The last you're going to look at is keyword fluctuation. Understanding how much traffic a keyword could possibly bring to your website is very important. There are a lot of things that can impact the amount of traffic as well, things as trends, user behavior, and seasonality. Let's take a little bit of a journey with keywords and a little bit of a better understanding of how keywords could possibly impact the traffic of our website.

So staying with our theme of the simplified search site, we're going to look at the term "structured data generator". A lot of times we do keyword research, and we do this exact thing where we go to our keyword tool, in this case, we're using Semrush, we put it in there and we go, "Okay, this one has 210 monthly search volume in the United States. Globally it has 1,300 estimated."

A lot of us will take that and we'll go, "Great. That's a potential of 210 visits," which is not realistic because even if you're in position one, you're only going to get maybe 27 to 30% of the clicks. But that's what we do in our head, right? And we say, "Okay, that should be consistent over 12 months." The reality is these are averages. They're saying on average, we'd see something around 210 potential queries of this term per month. So that doesn't always mean that this query is going to deliver that.

Semrush also gives us something here called trends. We can go over here and look at the trend data and we can see, okay, well it looks like this is trending downward. Google has another tool that I think often gets left behind when it comes to looking at traffic trends, and that's trends.google.

What you can do with this tool is see how people around the world, how they are looking for content and where their interests are because it's not traffic, it's more about interest around a specific topic or a term. We can put "structured data generator" here, and we can look right here at the past 12 months and see some of the fluctuations.

If we notice here, there's a high, high amount of searches within like March, which makes sense, because we look back, there was a product markup update in March, so people were probably going to look at "product review markup" here in March.

And then we saw a little dip, a little bit of a spiked in through May, and then a drop through June, July, and then up again. But if we want to look at this from even a higher mark, like this is in the US, right? We can go worldwide. Where are the trends worldwide? The past 12 months from the end of March until now, we've seen an up trend. If we continue to rank well for this term, theoretically, we'd probably also see an increasing amount of search volume.

So that 210 is going to average throughout the year, but it could be much higher in these months because it's increasing in interest, which means more and more people are being interested in this term, which more people might be searching for this term. Now, again, all of this and what we're doing in SEO, are all guesstimations, we're using data to make educated guesses about the estimates that are possible here.

When I'm diagnosing a traffic drum, I want to look at these terms and see how are they trending. If the trend of the term is similar to the trend of my traffic, that could be an indicator that there's some fluctuation within the keyword itself. So that's an important thing to note, leveraging this tool and looking at how it's responding to the different areas and the different people we serve. So we can also go down here and say, okay, "schema generator", that's another related query. I can see is this something that's happening across queries in our industry. So we can see here, that "schema generator" is also on the rise. I wonder what they're doing with Schema Markup Validator. It's still on a trend up, but not as much as the other two terms that we looked at. So if our traffic's going down, we can't say right here, "Well it's because the behavior has changed," right? We're looking at user behavior here too, as well. People aren't searching for it as much.

Let's say you're in the retail industry, and you do a lot of sales on Black Friday, right? So one of your terms might be "Black Friday". Let's look at this term right here. "Black Friday" has an estimated average of 250,000 monthly searches. Do you think that's how many searches this term is having every single month, or could behavior have something more to do with this term?

And this term probably has around 4 million search volume, but it's only within one area so we spread it out. It looks like a quarter of a million monthly. So if we go take this same term and look at how popular this term is, almost all of the interest in this query is between November 1st and December 1st. You have basically one month to generate all of that traffic.

It does start trailing up a little bit here, but if you're a website that targets Black Friday, you shouldn't expect to get very many queries from the beginning of December all the way through the next year. A bulk of your website traffic is going to be here. So this is where keyword fluctuation and keyword trends can have a major impact on your traffic and could be the reason you have massive traffic loss.

If you have trends or keywords that are going up and down, and things are happening maybe seasonality, this would be an example of seasonality, and user behavior is going to be dictated by seasons. So there are a lot of things that you can look at here with trends that will help you better understand this search volume. The search volume is important, but we have to know when it's important and when are people looking for these different queries.

As you can see even here in the trend line, it would be nice if they put in some dates here, but this spikes once a year, and that's pretty much it. But a term like "structured data generator", while they're showing a decrease in trend here, Google is actually saying, "All right. Overall though, this topic is headed in an upward direction." So if my traffic's going down, I need to look at my pages. I need to look at my competitors. I need to look at the algorithm and see what changes I need to make in order to improve my results.

So the biggest thing to remember is to focus on the things you have control over. You can't control your competitors. You can't control the algorithms, but you can respond to them after you've made some educated discovery. So what you can do is look at all the areas we discussed and make notes of maybe what's changed and how that's impact your website. Then you need to make a list of all those changes you want to make, then go back and start making the changes and track the impact. Make the adjustments and see if that reverse the trends or not.

There are a lot of things that can impact our websites. There's a lot of things that can impact the amount of traffic we get to our website. The best thing we can do is look at what we can control, make the adjustments, track the results and make sure that we get back on track and are headed in the right direction.

how to set up and use Google Search Console

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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