February 3, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Here’s a hard truth about content marketing and SEO: at some point, you’ll lose traffic online. The probability of that happening increases the longer your company is in business. Traffic loss makes you frustrated and makes you wonder exactly what happened or what you did wrong to lose visitors. The good news is, even when traffic loss affects your SEO, there are ways to spot it and recover before it becomes unmanageable:
Traffic loss happens when your brand channels receive fewer visitors within a specific period than they do on average. You can often spot the loss by looking at the reports from your web analytics programs. Most programs give you the option to track visits across your entire domain or to specific pages and content. There are a few different types of traffic loss you might encounter. They include:
A sudden decrease in website traffic could indicate issues in other areas of your business, outside of SEO. You could see:
These business issues happen because people aren’t spending time on your website, so they’re not browsing or paying attention to the products and services you have to offer. A slight dip in traffic doesn’t have to mean a catastrophic panic for your marketing team, but it’s not something you want to see in your analytics results. The good news is that once you recognize that you’re seeing traffic loss on your site, you can take the right steps to fix it. You can also prevent the issue from getting any worse.
When you’re looking at traffic online, you’re most often monitoring visitors to your website. You get these visits from sources like organic search results, paid advertising, social shares, and other marketing campaigns. You can also track visitors across any of your subdomains and through sessions on your mobile apps. Any of these locations could suffer from traffic loss over time.
If you’re not tracking your online metrics, it’s going to be difficult to tell if you’re losing traffic at all. You need to start with a baseline of your average traffic volume so that you can spot hills and valleys in your analytics data. It’s important to collect information from a variety of sources to understand your average traffic and what data points affect your numbers. It’s good to monitor a lot of these sources versus just one or two to get the most complete picture of your traffic. Some of the sources to check include:
These links, also called inbound links, exist when another source shares a referral link to your website in its content. It’s important to monitor your backlink profile regularly to see if you’re getting more traffic from outside sources this way. Backlink audits also let you see if there are spammy sites linking to yours that could hurt your organic search rankings. You can disavow these types of links with Google so they don’t affect your SEO and traffic.
Branded website traffic comes from any online queries that mention your company directly in the keyword and point to your domain. Searching for these keywords in Google can help determine if your brand is actually appearing in search for the right branded keywords. If you conduct a brand name search and your website and its subdomains don’t show up, that’s a hint that your website may have a penalty or has been the victim of a hack or hijack.
Direct traffic includes website visits that come from a targeted or paid marketing campaign. These campaigns exist to “direct traffic” to your website. A traffic drop could come after the end of a marketing campaign when you’re no longer getting the boost from sponsored ads or content. If you’re still running your direct traffic campaigns and aren’t noticing an increase in traffic, or you’re seeing a decrease, it’s important to check your campaign details and make changes to improve your traffic numbers.
Geographic or local traffic accounts for the website visits you get from certain demographics of your audience. Specifically those in certain geographic areas. You may target specific audience segments with your paid campaigns or organically when you’re introducing a new franchise or office location. Monitoring fluctuations in this traffic can tell you where your most engaged customers or clients come from or which of your storefronts or offices receive the most buzz.
Search console helps you monitor and troubleshoot how your website appears on the service’s search engine results pages (SERPs). One of its primary features allows you to view Google Search traffic data for your site. It tells you how often your site appears in searches, for what queries, and how often people click those results to go to your site. Browsing the data from Google Search Console allows you to estimate how much organic traffic you’re receiving from search and how it’s affecting your on-site visitor numbers.
Related: How To Use Google Search Console
While monitoring your keyword rankings might not be the top way to track your average traffic, where your site sits in SERPs can affect how much traffic you get. More people click results on page one or within the first scroll page than they do content on other pages. They’re also more likely to click content in a featured snippet than with just a text hyperlink. If your content used to appear in these places and doesn’t anymore, that could contribute to traffic loss.
When monitoring your keyword rankings, look at your priority, secondary, and long tail keywords and their positioning to understand where you’re truly getting the majority of your traffic.
Organic traffic is any visits you get from non-branded keyword searches. This is one of the metrics you’re likely already tracking for your website through programs like Google Analytics. Tracking your organic traffic can tell you how many of your visitors come from search and give you insights about when you may have a penalty or there’s been an algorithm change. Aside from Google Analytics, you can also check your organic traffic with paid SEO programs like Ahrefs and SEMRush.
When you find a traffic loss on your website, it’s helpful to learn where exactly you’re losing visitors. While you can look at your traffic on a domain level, that might not be specific enough to pinpoint the problem or cause of the loss. Looking at the traffic data on individual pages, including things like bounce rate and entrance and exit rates can provide more information about the visitor logs on your site. Google Analytics and other SEO programs provide information about traffic for every page on your website.
Ranking sensors help you determine if there was a change in Google’s algorithm that the company didn’t announce. The sensors look at fluctuations across millions of keywords to determine if there was a potential update or shift in the rankings. If you’re not sure if you’ve lost traffic, you could check the ranking sensors to look for a shakeup. If there was one, you can likely predict that you did lose traffic in the aftermath. Programs like MozCast and SEMRush Sensor help you check the ranking sensors for different industries, SERP features, and even by device type.
Referral traffic is any traffic your site gets that comes from outside your primary domain and its subdomains. That means any traffic that comes from your direct marketing campaigns, social media, or other similar sources. It also accounts for those sites that link to yours and appear in your backlink profile. If you notice a dip in your traffic it could come from referral problems like:
Spotting traffic loss in your analytics isn’t enough to fix the problem. Before you can fix traffic loss on your content channels, you first have to figure out why you’re losing visitors. Identifying the problem helps you pick the most effective solution. Here are some of the reasons your content channels might be losing traffic:
Have you made significant changes to your website recently? When you make big changes to your site, you might see a drop in traffic for a few days after the redesign goes live. This happens because Google has to crawl and index any new or updated content. Adding pages, removing outdated content, and changing your navigational hierarchy could all cause your traffic to dip until Google catches up with your improvements.
If you haven’t redesigned your site completely but you have added new pages or features, Google may have an issue finding or crawling them. Using Google Search Console to check your site performance in SERPs may help you find these issues. It can alert you to crawl errors and other similar problems that may prevent you from reaching your traffic potential. Technical SEO errors may include issues with your metadata and internal linking or navigation issues.
Making sure you’ve set your site up for a quality user experience is just as important as optimizing it for search. You may have a lot of people who click your content from a SERP but that doesn’t translate to web visitors. If your organic traffic is good but your site traffic is low, check your bounce rate. A high bounce rate means people aren’t staying on your site when they click a referral link. This could be because it takes too long for your pages to load and the visitor gets impatient and clicks away.
If people visit your site but get an error message, this could be because of a broken cache function or an empty markup coming from your server. Your server could also experience an overload if too much traffic comes in at once. Think Ticketmaster and the Taylor Swift Eras Tour fiasco. Finding and fixing server errors immediately is important. This issue can cause you to lose all your traffic fast because people can’t access your site at all.
Sometimes your traffic doesn’t dip because you’ve done something wrong, but because your competitors got better. It’s important to regularly check and audit your competitors for their search engine rankings and general content performance. That data helps you see how your brand compares and if their behavior could affect your traffic rankings.
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Search engine algorithm updates are one of the most common causes of traffic loss for websites. When most of your traffic comes from organic search results and those results get a big shakeup, your website is going to see the effects. Google and other search engines don’t always announce algorithm updates in advance. They also don’t tell you which practices those changes target. This makes it difficult to prepare for traffic loss before it happens.
Traffic loss happens in any industry, but if yours has cycles or seasons it follows, you may see more traffic loss than other companies. For example, retail stores often see more traffic around holidays or big sale campaigns. Financial companies typically get more traffic around tax season. Health organizations may see more traffic during cold and flu season. Knowing the seasonal nature of your industry can help you predict when you might see traffic loss.
For example, most toy stores see a decline in traffic in January, when the major gift-giving holidays ends. Seasonal traffic loss isn’t something to panic over, but you should use the data you collect comparatively to see just how much traffic you lose from season to season.
Paid marketing campaigns exist to get lots of eyes on your website or content fast. More promotion often means more traffic. These can inflate your traffic numbers and make it look like you have a huge drop-off in visitors when the campaign ends. It’s normal to experience some traffic loss after a targeted paid marketing campaign. If the traffic dips below average levels, that’s the time to consider taking additional action.
If your team had a high marketing budget and it got slashed due to recession or company restructuring, that could contribute to your traffic loss. Fewer paid campaigns, fewer maintenance staff, and fewer strategists could lead to less content or updates to your site. These could all contribute to traffic loss. It’s unrealistic to think you could keep up the same pace with less money and fewer staff.
If you’re seeing a decline in traffic but no changes in your SERP rankings, it’s possible people aren’t looking for the keywords your content or website targets anymore. Names and terms change often for plenty of reasons. The way people talk and refer to things evolves. And if your brand and content aren’t keeping up with the latest vernacular, you get left behind in search results. To combat this kind of traffic loss, adjust how you speak about your products and services to better target the right keywords online.
If your rankings don’t change, your keywords are current, and your traffic still takes a hit, Google may have introduced a new SERP feature for the keywords your pages or content target. Not every search term will trigger featured snippet content, but depending on the popularity of the term and its usefulness to the user, Google could add these features at any time. These new features could steal traffic and clicks from the pages that you used to get before Google introduced the new features.
Links are great for helping people move from one page to another on your site, or between two sites. But when you lose links or they break, your audience can no longer land where you want them to go. This reflects in your traffic and website visits. It’s important to check your backlink profiles to make sure your biggest referral links still work. If you move content on your site or delete it, make sure you’ve instituted a healthy redirect to point people to other relevant content and keep their traffic.
While most times traffic loss isn’t directly your company’s fault, if your team isn’t doing its SEO above board, you are to blame. Engaging in black-hat SEO strategies is a sure way to earn your site a Google penalty. These penalties hurt your organic search rankings, making it harder for your target audience to find you online, leading to a drop in traffic.
Determining how long it takes to climb out of a traffic drop hole varies based on what’s causing the drop and what you’re doing to fix it. Some fixes you can do soon, and traffic could rebound as soon as Google recrawls your site or pages. That could take up to a few weeks. If you’ve received a Google penalty, fixing your site and getting it back in the search engine’s good graces could take longer.
In almost every case, traffic rebound isn’t going to happen overnight. Be patient and trust your SEO plan. It’ll help you get back to where you want to be.
A traffic drop doesn’t always mean there’s something terribly wrong with your site or your business. All sites experience a decline in traffic over their lifetime. It’s important to remain calm and implement changes slowly so you can test their effectiveness. The more strategic you are with addressing traffic loss, the easier it’ll be to fix problems before they cause any real damage to your rankings and your revenue.
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