Many factors can make a website’s visits decrease or lead to the belief that a decrease has occurred. This article covers eight of the most common issues that affect organic search traffic drops.
This is an error in how you collect data. Most commonly, it occurs when the tracking script on the site is changed, duplicated, or removed.
If you have duplicate tracking codes on the same page, you will often have an artificial increase in website visits because each user gets counted multiple times.
If you remove the extra tracking codes, you may discover what appears to be a drop in visits. But this is actually your true visitor count. This causes confusion and a lot of wasted effort trying to “get back” to the old traffic numbers that never existed.
Diagnose this easily using a Chrome extension made by Google called Tag Assistant by Google.
Google algorithm update
Google improves their search algorithms regularly and some of these updates cause a shift in search rankings.
These shifts aren’t penalties, which implies that the affected website has broken a rule. Most people will say they’ve “been penalized” but what they mean is they’re no longer ranking as highly as they were because Google no longer sees their site as a relevant, quality source of information.
These fluctuations are from changes to the search algorithms which are made in an attempt to improve the relevancy of search results which causes a redistribution of rankings and therefore, traffic.
After an algorithm update, Google shows websites higher in search results that should have been ranking but weren’t. Since there are only so many phrases and places to rank, this takes visits from sites that ranked well and gives them to sites that weren’t ranking “properly.”
You can monitor algorithm updates using the following tools:
Google manual action penalties
These are possible but unlikely. This is a true penalty. I mention this because people think Google is waiting to pounce on their website with a penalty. This is rarely the case.
A real human being on Google’s quality team has to look at your website, flag it for violating Google’s guidelines and then penalize it.
When this happens, your site gets dumped from Google’s search results cache when you get flagged. Clean it up and submit the site for manual review to get back on Google.
You can see these warnings and resubmit your site in Google Search Console. Learn more about manual actions on Google’s support site.
This is common with poorly maintained WordPress sites. If you have an outdated WordPress plugin that gets hacked, the hacker may inject a bunch of spammy web pages for drug prescriptions and sex sites. Google will flag your site as “this site may be hacked.” This will kill your click-through-rate, which will decrease your organic search visits.
You can find more information on Google’s support site for diagnosing and cleaning up hacked sites.
We see this all the time during site redesigns. You risk altering your search traffic when you change words, images, URLs and more. See our website redesign SEO troubleshooting guide for a detailed look at this.
Lost links and references
The links that point to your website make a big impact on how and what you rank for. You can see a drop in search ranking that affects your visits if you lose links pointing from well-respected websites.
Here are a few ways you may lose a link:
- A website removed a page they featured you in
- A website changed the link you had from dofollow to nofollow
- You changed your web page’s URL and didn’t put a 301 redirect in
- You removed a page on your site that had a link and not it’s broken
It’s also important to think about the referral traffic from these sources. Though not organic, these were still people who clicked the link and visited your site.
Take a moment to consider the seasonality of your website traffic. Costume store websites see a ramping up of search visits followed by a massive drop in search visits after Halloween. This doesn’t mean something went wrong. It’s just the nature of the site’s content to attract individuals strongly during a certain time of the year.
Change in advertising or marketing
Super Bowl ads get in front of a ton of people. Some will search for brands they see on TV.
Such was the case of the Puppy Monkey Baby by Mountain Dew.
Notice the huge spike for the phrase “puppy monkey baby” during the Super Bowl. There were virtually no searches before the commercial aired, as very few knew of this carbonated beast. There’s a sharp decline afterwards, then a slow ramp down over the rest of the year. After six months it drops to almost no search activity again.
For your situation, you need to understand if there’s been a change in advertising or marketing for the website you’re worried about. If so, do the number crunching to see if this is causing your search visits to decrease.