Most websites lose SEO traffic at some point. This is usually due to a poorly executed transition plan or website redesign, hiring the wrong SEO agency, or even the website being hacked.
When traffic loss happens, it can feel like a personal attack on your website from Google and other search engines. You must understand that Google is just an algorithm that takes in data and makes changes based on it – it’s not personal.
Traffic loss occurs due to one (or more) of these reasons.
- Your SEO team or SEO firm does shady SEO practices.
- A recent update that either your website was rightfully caught in or an update that saw your website by mistake – usually it’s the former, although most think it’s the latter.
- Your competition just started doing excellent SEO – and now outranks you.
- You redesigned your website and didn’t have a transition plan.
Remember to use all these data points when diagnosing the problem, don’t just focus on one or two. You’ll need to understand what each means to solve your traffic loss problem and what they mean to each other.
Checkpoint #1: Ranking Sensors
Ranking sensors have become an excellent resource for determining fluctuations in rankings across thousands or millions of keywords that you usually would not have insight into as a business.
These can be used to determine if there was a rankings update or a massive shift in rankings that could indicate a Google update.
There are a couple that we recommend keeping an eye on. These include:
- Mozcast – from moz.com, that is a basic weather report for the search results.
- SemRush Sensor – from SEMrush.com, that is a sensor across their dataset of keywords and is segmented by industry type.
Checkpoint #2: Google Search Console
Google will explain why your website may have lost Traffic from within its Search Console. For example, if your website were hit with a manual penalty due to shady link building or were hacked, you would get a message from Google outlining the problem.
Issues that Google has identified with your website will appear in the Google Search Console messages section.
Checkpoint #3: Brand Name Search
If you search for your brand name in Google and find that your home page is not anywhere on the first page of Google, you may have been penalized.
This is usually a strong indicator that your website may have been hacked or manually penalized due to spammy link-building tactics by your SEO team or SEO firm.
Checkpoint #4: Keyword Rankings
There are many debates as to whether monitoring SEO search rankings is essential. However, no matter what side you come down on, monitoring rankings can be a tremendous directional indicator of a problem.
When monitoring keywords, we recommend watching the following three types:
- Priority Keywords – those you’ve identified as driving conversions, leads, or sales.
- Secondary Keywords are the keywords you’re trying to rank for but might be on the 2nd or 3rd page.
- Longer Tail Key Phrases – these are key phrases you may target within blog posts.
Many tools can be used to monitor rankings of priority and secondary keywords and long-tail vital phrases – we prefer SEMrush.
Inbound link audits should be done monthly to identify new links that help your rankings and any links that may hurt your website and which you will want to create a disavow file.
Inbound link audits can be done with tools like Google Search Console, SEMrush, or Moz.
You’ll want to export your links and analyze them for value. Look for links that have been created from any of the following low-value websites, and create a disavow file for them:
- Low-value generic directories
- Links added to blogrolls.
- Links from overseas websites
- Scraped content
- WordPress.com or Blogger.com websites
Checkpoint #6: Total Keywords Sending Traffic
This data can be pulled from SEMrush and is a great way to determine if the traffic loss was due to a few keywords losing rankings or a failure in total (or a large number of) keywords sending Traffic (organic reach).
This data can be found in SEMrush by going to Domain Analytics > Organic Reach > Keywords. Once this is determined, you can dig deeper into your website’s keyword set and choose what keywords you once ranked but recently lost rankings for.
Checkpoint #7: Organic Traffic
This traffic type is defined as Traffic that comes from organic search results and is driven by keyword rankings and search trends.
If there were a decrease in organic Traffic, you would want to check your rankings and keywords sending Traffic and also dive into Google Trends to determine if there was a decrease in search trends for the topics you are targeting.
This data can be found in Google Analytics by going to Acquisition > Overview > Organic. You can then compare Traffic by date to determine if organic traffic was lost to your website.
Checkpoint #8: Referral Sources
Referral traffic represents traffic from other websites outside your primary domain or subdomains of the primary domain.
When analyzing this traffic type, you’ll want to check websites that sent many referrals in the past and compare it to what they are sending now.
A loss in referral traffic could be due to the following:
- Link being removed from an external website
- The page being linked to now is a 404 page.
- The website that the link was on may have lost Traffic and thus sent less Traffic to your website.
This data can be found in Google Analytics through Acquisition > Overview > Referral. You can then compare Traffic by date to determine if there was a loss of referral traffic to your website.
Checkpoint #9: Direct Traffic
Direct traffic is usually a result of a marketing campaign or brand awareness and value. Suppose your total Traffic dropped, and you also see a drop in Direct Traffic. In that case, you may want to talk with your marketing team or executives to see if they were at a conference or trade show the last time your checked traffic numbers – as their involvement most likely spiked Direct traffic numbers.
This data can be found in Google Analytics by going to Acquisition > Overview > Direct. You can then compare Traffic by date to determine if there was a direct traffic loss to your website.
Checkpoint #10: Landing Page
Understanding what pages lost Traffic is critical to understanding where value may have been lost on your website.
This data can be pulled from Google analytics and found by going to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You can then compare Traffic by date to determine which pages lost Traffic and which source they lost Traffic from.
Checkpoint #11: Geographic Traffic
If you’re a small business running a marketing campaign to target a city or region, you may want to check and ensure you have not lost Traffic from that local geographic region.
This data can be pulled from Google analytics and found by going to Audience > Geo > Location. You can then compare Traffic by date to determine if you lost Traffic from a specific State or City.
Traffic loss is a frustrating, stressful, and challenging thing to diagnose and can cause a loss in sales and leads or, in the worst case, cause your company to go out of business.
Depending on the issue and reason for a traffic loss, you should contact a trusted SEO to help you confirm the data and build a plan.