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July 9, 2018   |   8 min read

6 Causes of Drops in Organic Traffic

Heading downhill at warp speed? Don’t panic, be proactive!

Plummeting downhill may be fun when you’re at an amusement park, but not so much when you’re in the website biz. A sharp and sudden decrease in site traffic is likely to make your stomach churn. For SEOs specifically, a downward trend in organic search traffic often leads to a spike in adrenaline and an instant need to fix the issue.

But before any fixing can take place, the issue must first be diagnosed.

If your website is experiencing a sudden downward spiral in sessions, don’t panic but don’t wait to ride it out! Start by making note of the time period the drop occurred, and whether any specific pages contributed to the drop (as opposed to a drop across the board). Next, continue your investigation by checking into six common causes of organic traffic drops.



1. A holiday just occurred.

This may seem incredibly obvious, but sometimes holidays go overlooked. Don’t be embarrassed by the oversight, be grateful it’s not something worse! Still need some reassurance this is normal for your business? Look at your site traffic for the same time period during the previous year and you’re likely to see the same [temporary] downward trend.

Holiday-Drop-in-Traffic

2. Google Analytics code fell off your site.

Sometimes an unexpected drop in organic traffic is caused by a tracking problem rather than poor site performance. Specifically, when GA code mysteriously disappears (or rather, was accidentally removed – yikes). When this happens, it can cause the false (and alarming) impression that visitors are not finding your site, when in reality, they aren’t being tracked.

An extension like Google Tag Assistant can help pinpoint this issue, by showing the Google tags present on each page. If Analytics shows that traffic fell evenly across all pages, consider spot-checking a few pages to see if the code dropped. If it seems like the traffic issue is isolated to a few pages, assess those URLs first.

Did this prove to be the issue? You won’t be able to retroactively fill in the gap, but adding an annotation in GA about the missing code and reinstallation date will explain the drop (and resurgence) in site traffic.



3. Your robots.txt file is disallowing everything.

If a recent update to your robots.txt file coincides with a hefty drop in traffic, check to make sure all is well. A simple, misplaced forward slash (/) can lead to the deindexation of entire site. Is this what you see?

Robots.txt-Deindexation
A single forward slash prompts search engines to ignore all pages across a website.

If so, remove that slash from the disallow line! A simple fix for a relatively large problem.



4. A notable Google algorithm change took place.

While Google is constantly making changes to its algorithm, most of these updates are not significant enough to cause noticeable damage. However, every once in while, a doozy hits and site penalties run rampant (think Penguin and Panda).

Google’s most recent change of note, is its pledge to use page speed as a mobile ranking factor starting in July 2018.

An awareness of this any other major algorithm changes may explain why your site’s organic performance took a nosedive. Industry sites like Moz.com and Search Engine Land are helpful in staying on top of these organic shifts. Staying informed can help you determine how to correct (or ideally, prevent) damage to your site. Slow page speed, spammy backlinks, crummy content– these are all examples of penalty-inducing practices that have tanked sites in the past and may warrant further investigation.



5. A major change was made to your website.

Did your site recently undergo a redesign or battery of changes? If so, temporary dips in organic traffic are likely to occur. This is because even the smoothest website redesigns are invasive in nature and require time for changes to have a positive effect.

Using Google Search Console as well as Google Analytics and any other diagnostic SEO tools you prefer, can help you pinpoint lingering issues. If over time your site continues to show low levels of organic traffic, consider looking into the following questions:

  • Is the site being properly indexed?
  • Are there a lot of page errors that need redirected?
  • Did the changes have a negative effect on page speed?
  • Were a significant number of pages changed or removed from the site?
  • Did these content changes eradicate usage of high-performing keywords?
  • Did the site lose a significant number of high-quality backlinks?

Checking into these issues and making an effort to correct negative effects may help re-coup lost organic traffic.



6. A change took place on Google’s results page.

If you’ve thoroughly checked your site and found no immediate red flags, then it might not be you…it could be, the SERP.Is Analytics showing that a core group of pages are contributing to your organic search downfall? Pull a short list of historically well-performing keywords for each one, do a quick Google search and make note of what you see. Are there:

  • A larger number of paid ads?
  • Competitors that have risen above your listing?
  • A featured snippet or other new rich snippets?

Each of these changes have the power to push down your formerly visible organic listings, the result of which could be a dip in traffic.

Pushing-down-organic-listings
Traditional organic listings for this keyword are being pushed out of immediate visibility by a variety of paid ads and featured snippets.

To help combat this shift, conduct some additional SERP-related research by extracting content elements that are common to the most visible organic listings. Decide if it makes sense to weave these elements into your own metadata and page copy, in an effort to impress Google (and users) and reclaim your territory.

If competition feels a bit too steep to overcome organically, consider a paid search strategy to help support visibility.



Ready for your organic traffic to rise again?

Silly question! Who wouldn’t be? In the meantime, remember not to panic – save the adrenaline for Millennium Force.

The best thing you can do when organic search decreases, is to take a proactive approach to fixing it. Considering these common causes of organic traffic drops is a good starting point.

In the end, the ups and downs you’ll experience are all a part of the roller coaster ride we call SEO.

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