Most websites lose SEO traffic at some point. This is usually do 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. What you have to understand is that Google is just an algorithm that takes in data and makes changes based on the data – it’s not personal.
Traffic loss occurs due to one (or more) of these reasons
- Shady SEO practices done by your SEO team or SEO firm
- A recent update that either your website was rightfully caught in, or an update that caught your website by mistake – usually it’s the former, although most think it’s the later.
- Your competition just started doing awesome SEO – and now outranks you.
- You redesigned your website and didn’t have a transition plan.
Remember to use all of these data points when diagnosing the problem, don’t just focus on one or two. You’ll need to understand what each means individually towards solving you traffic loss problem, as well as what they mean to each other. – Bill Ross, Linchpin SEO, A Chicago SEO Agency
Checkpoint #1: Ranking Sensors
Ranking sensors have become a great resource for determining fluctuations in rankings across thousands or millions of keywords, that as a business you normally would not have insight into.
These can be used to determine if there was a rankings update or 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 give hints as to why your website may have lost traffic from within their Search Console. If your website was hit with a manual penalty due to shady link building, or was hacked, you will get a message from Google outlining the problem.
Issues that Google has identified with your website will show up in the messages section of Google Search Console.
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 important. No matter what side you come down on, monitoring rankings can be a great directional indicator of a problem.
When monitoring keywords we recommend monitoring the following 3 types:
- Priority Keywords – those that 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 for.
- Longer Tail Key Phrases – these are key phrases that you may be targeting within blog posts.
There are many tools that can be used to monitor rankings of priority and secondary keywords, and long tail key phrases – we prefer SEMrush.
Checkpoint #5: Inbound Links
Inbound link audits should be done monthly, to not only identify new links that help your rankings, but to also identify any links that may hurt your website and which you will want to create a disavow file.
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 a few keywords losing rankings, or a loss in total (or 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 then dig deeper into the keyword set for your website and determine what keywords you once ranked, but recently lost rankings for.
Checkpoint #7: Organic Traffic
This traffic type is defined as traffic that comes from the organic search results and is driven by keyword rankings and search trends.
If there was a decrease in organic traffic you will 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 there was a loss of organic traffic to your website.
Checkpoint #8: Referral Sources
Referral traffic represents traffic that comes from other websites outside of your primary domain, or sub domains of the primary domain.
When analyzing this traffic type you’ll want to check websites that sent a large number of referrals in the past, and compare it to what they are sending now.
A loss in referral traffic could be due to:
- 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 themselves, and thus is sending less traffic to your website.
This data can be found in Google Analytics by going to 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. If your total traffic dropped and you also see a drop in Direct Traffic, 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 loss of direct traffic to your website.
Checkpoint #10: Landing Page
Understanding what pages lost traffic is key 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 targeting a city or region you may want to check and make sure 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, leads, or in the worst case cause your company to go out of business.
Depending on the issue and reason for a loss in traffic you should reach out to a trusted SEO to help you confirm the data and build a plan.