When a website’s traffic is down, a lot of questions arise. A consistent decline or a sudden drop in a website’s traffic happens to every site and often gives its owners sleepless nights. The reasons for those fluctuations may be literally hundreds.
The decline could be a clear signal on how to act in a timely fashion and with appropriate measures. Or it could be something organic that will right itself eventually. Either way, you should know what is going on and take precautions.
The good news is there is a lot of data to help you sort out the reasons for the dropp. And most of those reasons are usually very much within your control.
Website Traffic Drop Diagnostics
Are You Measuring Right?
Before investigating, you have to make sure that your measuring tools are properly working – there is a very slight possibility that the website is fine but you are simply missing some data.
Depending on what tools you use, it is possible that something might be causing them to not work properly. For example, it can happen that after some website changes, your Google Analytics code may have stopped delivering the numbers to your account. Or the statistics plugin on the site admin might have been deactivated or may need to be updated, etc.
Google analytics is the golden standard to monitor website traffic. Together with Google search console you should check that everything is set up correctly and that the right data is being delivered Also, make sure that there aren’t any neglected notifications and alerts. Once all of this is in check, you may proceed with diagnosing the real problem.
How Does the Traffic Drop Look in Time?
The next task is to observe what the problem looks like. When examining the site’s traffic statistics, you need to go back at least one full month – even better would be 3-6 months – where it would be easier to notice the changes in the curve.
Here are some questions to answer so that you better understand what is going on:
- Is it a slight drop in website traffic over time or is it a sudden and sharp drop? – The difference in both cases is related to the severity of the problem – the steeper the curve, the more dramatic the situation and the faster you have to act. The reasons for a steep curve may vary significantly – from a new competitor stealing traffic to a hacker attack or a penalty.
- Has the website drop been a consistent tendency for over a month? – A steady and continuous decline usually represents a chronic issue that is not likely to disappear by itself. You should take this problem seriously and develop a strategy to deal with it.
- To see the tendency more clearly, set the graphic to monthly numbers like this:
- Was it a temporary drop or a seasonal decline? – You can compare time periods using the compare tool in the Google Analytics calendar. With it you will be able to compare previous periods, or similar points of time in the past to discover trends or seasonal differences in user behavior or traffic sources. Once you´ve discovered the pattern, it will be easier to recognize the reasons behind it and adapt.
- Does it seem that the drop in website traffic is recovering on its own?
When the website traffic has gone down for some time and starts recovering back to normal, the problem is obviously less severe. In this case, the possible reasons could be attributed to temporary outside factors like seasonal fluctuations or some traffic source has stopped working. Yet it is still highly recommended to identify these factors so that preventive measures can be taken.
A thoroughly complete traffic analysis looks at every factor of the site statistics at the present moment together with historical changes, including backlinks and competition.
Which Traffic Metrics Are Down?
You need all the details available or it won’t be possible to find the website’s traffic is down. Overall organic traffic is usually the most obvious metrics that attracts attention when declining. But it is never the only one and definitely does not give enough clues. So look at:
- Traffic from Certain Sources – You need to check where you are losing traffic. For example, a link from social media could be broken and users from those sites might not be coming to the site anymore.
- New vs Returning Visitors – This is again related to sources but in a different way. Returning visitors are your sales leads and come from your regular follow-up activities such as email marketing, push notifications and remarketing on social media. New visitors may come from increasing your SERP results, scaling your audience or publishing on a new channel. Be sure to check the activity on all traffic sources.
- Desktop or Mobile – The use of different devices is primarily related to people’s habits and behavior. But it also depends on the services, provided in both cases and the way they are presented. If you stopped offering a service or content that used to be popular with mobile users or the UX broke after changes on the website, it is only natural that you lose part of your returning website visitors.
These are just a few examples. Remember – each metric has its own purpose and speaks for itself. In case it is down, it may be part of a bigger problem,so it is important to identify the reasons behind it.
14 Possible Reasons for a Drop in Website Traffic and Where to Look for Them
Google Analytics and Google Search Console are powerful sources of valuable website performance data. Any traffic decline happens for a reason and when you identify the reason, you may be able to stop it and reverse its effects.
Start with Yourself and Your Team
Make a checklist to examine what has changed in the past 6 months or during the problematic period. Identify and then analyze the source of traffic for that time period – direct, organic, paid, referral, social. For example:
1. PPC campaigns you have run and then stopped. When rolled, these campaigns drive paid traffic and increase your organic traffic, so a certain decline is normal after they have been stopped.
2. Backlinks that you’ve lost. Check whether popular sites have removed your link. Pay extra attention to high authority domains that link back to your page, because these can devalue your backlink profile causing your SERP ranking to decrease.
3. Good site content that has been removed. As a rule of thumb, before deleting content you should check how it is performing and never delete your best pages or posts.
4. Any theme, plugin or third-party tool changes or updates. These can cause some disruptions on your WordPress website, so make sure to double check which parts of your site were affected and how. In particular, look for changes in your heading tags, and as well as in your custom and SEO settings.
5. No more content promotion. If, for example, you have stopped sharing links to your site on social media you might see a drop in the traffic coming from those sources. To avoid this in the future, make it a habit of conducting an SEO site audit regularly. Then, resume the social media promotion using the right keywords and type of content to engage your audience again.
6. Lack of content updates. Search engines (Google) typically index updated pages more often and if no content is updated on your site after a while, this could be one of the main reasons for a consistent decline in traffic. When it comes to content freshness, it’s important to differentiate between indexing and ranking. If your content is indexed by Google it means that it has the potential to be ranked. To get it ranked as high as possible, however, your content has to contain pieces and keywords which can provide the best answer to a particular query and subject known as QDF (Query that Deserves Freshness). Such queries can include hot topics or recent events, regularly recurring events, and frequent updates.
7. Not producing new content on a regular basis. It is recommended to write new content at least once a month, but if competition is strong, you may have to switch to a few articles per week. This way you create more value for your customers and more pages that Google can crawl and show in SERP.
8. Design / UX issues. Yes, the traffic drop may be due to a change in the design and the overall user experience. As a rule of thumb, when you change the way users interact, there is always a risk of losing part of them – that will be seen in the number of returning visitors. User pathways are very important, so test well before changing them and introduce changes in small, measurable steps to give users time to adapt and yourself the chance to measure each change’s impact.
9. High bounce rate and low conversion rates. This is also in your control: if visitors leave the website very quickly, it’s a bad sign for Google that the UX is not good for them or you are not providing what they were looking for. As a result, your rankings could continuously drop and affect the website’s traffic.
Check the activity of everyone who has worked on the site
Make a similar checklist for your team and your development agency with the main purpose of finding out what has been changed on the website. Review the history of edits to the site’s code. Check for changes in the content structure like new categories, tags, etc. Keep an eye on your top-performing keywords. Look out for new page templates that are not properly built or are not being indexed.
If you identify where the web traffic metrics have dropped you have solved half of the equation. However, if it turns out that you have been consistent in your strategies and nothing was done differently, you should search for outside factors.
Reasons Outside of Your System
In case the traffic decline could not be associated with any particular activities on your behalf, then the reasons could be outside your control. The number of possible outside reasons could also be quite a lot but there are a few that are worth examining: Google updates or penalties, changes in the hosting services, competitors and toxic backlinks.
10. Google updates
Google updates are the most quoted reason for drops in organic traffic. And that is only natural – updates are related to the way Google ranks content and how a site is indexed to bring organic traffic. After an update, a lot of sites report that their SERP position in Google has been changed.
Although a website’s traffic drop is not the same issue as a decline in Google SERP ranking, they are closely related. When your site’s positions are “dancing” and you start losing traffic, it is very likely the reason is a Google core algorithm update. What you have to do is find out how the update changed the ranking principles and devise a strategy to deal with that.
A more severe case is if your site has fallen victim of a Google penalty. In this case, the traffic curve would go steeply downwards. To check for that, log into your Google Search Console account, find the affected property (that is your website) and read the alerts Google gave you. Also, check for messages on your Google Webmaster Tools tab that alert you to harmful activity or errors on your site like Crawl Errors and HTML errors.
With penalties, you have to keep in mind that If there is no sign of a manual penalty, it still can be an automatic one – for which Google could not inform you. Utilizing one or more SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic or Sistrix to analyze in depth what has happened to your Google rankings is a nice start if you are not using them on a constant basis already.
12. Hosting changes or limitations
A hosting change does not really have an effect on site traffic by itself. But it is possible that the new hosting package might have more limitations than the old one and directly affect site speed, the capacity of visits, caching, some core logic on your website, and other back end issues like database queries, etc. Eventually, all that affects the traffic volume your website can withstand.
You need to examine your access and error logs and check how the hosting change date is related to the traffic curve. A technical problem like that would show a drop immediately.
Read also: The Dos and Don’ts of WordPress Hosting
13. Competition rise and/ or content hijack
In highly competitive markets where content and SEO strategies are used a lot, it is very likely that a competitor hijacks your SEO program – discovering your most precious keywords and backlinks – and redirecting traffic to their website. In this case, after losing Google ranks your organic traffic will drop, in which case you should find an SEO marketer to help you out with a new content strategy and optimization.
14. Toxic Backlinks
Outside threats such as toxic backlinks to your site seem easy to spot but they may take quite different forms. Check the site’s health and strength in Google webmaster. Then do a backlinks analysis. Remove the spammy (or “toxic”) backlinks if there are any and decide how to deal with the low-authority ones. Then submit the website for fresh indexing by the webmaster search engine tool.
How to Boost Website Traffic Again
Remember that Google’s algorithm is also quite complex and if you are meticulously and patiently doing things right, the website traffic drop will be overcome. Search engines continue to reward websites that provide valuable content and excellent user experience so with good and consistent efforts your site can soon be back on track with a full recovery in traffic volume.
Help is available
The purpose of this article is to assist you in dealing with the drop in website traffic by yourself. But you do not have to stop there – help is always available. Find an expert or hire an agency to deal with it.
At DevriX, we start with a complete site audit. Then – depending on the issues found – we propose a maintenance plan for routine technical work and/ or a retainer plan for both marketing and/or technical partnership.
Last but not least, do not forget: a website traffic drop teaches a lesson and learning to deal with it will only improve your website’s performance. As the saying goes, what does not kill you, will make you stronger. So use traffic declines as learning opportunities that will eventually make your site grow healthier.