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. And most of those reasons are usually very much within your control.
Website Traffic Decline 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 they are not working properly. For example, 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 has been deactivated or needs to be updated, etc.
Google analytics is the golden standard to monitor website traffic and together with Google search console should be checked if they are set up correctly and delivering data, and if they hold any notifications or alerts. With all equipment in check, you may proceed to the real problem’s diagnostics.
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 the decline slight and 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 it been a consistent tendency for over a month?
The steady continuous decline usually represents a chronic issue that is not likely to disappear by itself. The reasons for such a tendency should be taken seriously and you need to build a strategy to deal with it.
To be able to see the tendency more clearly, set the graphic to monthly numbers like this:
- Was it a temporary drop or a seasonal decline?
It is a good practice to compare time periods using the compare tool in the Google Analytics calendar. It allows you 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 and adapt.
- Does it seem that 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 really complete traffic analysis looks at every factor on 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 out why 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 into 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 as well be a part of the problem and it is important to identify the reasons behind it.
14 Possible Reasons and Where to Look for Them
Google Analytics shows a lot of data. Any traffic decline that happens for a reason and when you identify it, you may be able to stop it or reverse its effects. But there are a lot of issues that influence traffic and even if they are seen in your analytics account, you should think outside of the box.
Start with Yourself and Your Team
Make a checklist to examine what you have changed in the past 6 months or during the problematic period. For example:
1. PPC campaigns you have run and then stopped. They have increased paid traffic and organic ones along the way, however, a certain decline is normal after they have been stopped.
2. Backlinks that you’ve lost – especially those which used to bring a lot of visitors.
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, plugins or third-party tools changes or updates on your WordPress website that may have caused disruptions. Double check what parts of the site were affected and if they function well.
5. No more content promotion (for example, you stopped sharing on social media). It will be seen as a drop in the traffic coming from those sources. You have to resume the promotion after targeting carefully with the right types of content to get your audience warmed up and engaging 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.
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 users. 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 website’s code. It could be changed in the content structure like new categories, tags, etc. It could be new page templates that are not properly built or are not being indexed. If you identify where the traffic metrics have dropped – in terms of landing pages – you have solved half of the equation.
But 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 pretty much be outside of 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 affect directly 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.
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, the organic traffic drops after losing Google ranks and 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 website traffic drop 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: website traffic drops are lessons and learning to deal with them 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.