Why is My Traffic Going Down? – 18 Ways to Diagnose a Decrease in Traffic

9 min read
Whether you are a business owner, a digital marketer, an in-house, or outsourced SEO, you probably know that sinking feeling when your sky-blue graph in Analytics looks like it is ready to dive into the abyss of online emptiness… Ok, maybe, that it is a little bit too dramatic (although it can happen too), but any unexpected and unwanted decrease in web-traffic is always an unpleasant event. However, before you start panicking and attempting any “urgent” actions, it is critical to diagnose your traffic decrease (or a drop) correctly. Only when you have the full picture and discovered the cause of the drop, you can come up with a full-scale strategy and calculated actions on how to resolve it. In this article, we will aim to help you diagnose and analyse a decrease in website traffic so that you can plan your next steps more strategically.

Table of Contents

Where is the traffic decrease coming from?

First and foremost you will need to deep-dive into your analytics and identify the source of the decrease and that the decrease is indeed what it seems. Whether you have just noticed a sudden drop or are seeing a steady slow downward trend, you should make sure that you know exactly where it is coming from. Additionally, there are many cases when a decrease will be a normal and natural consequence of some other actions or changes that took place in a “neighboring” marketing area you didn’t put into the equation.

Is it a Sudden or Expected Drop?

This might be obvious, but quite often webmasters and business owners don’t pay the needed attention to the channels that can be accountable for the traffic decrease and their interconnection.

For instance, if you stopped running PR, offline advertising, or even reduced PPC budget, it can affect your organic traffic, especially users coming to the home page. A significant decrease in one channel, can naturally lead to a more moderate decrease in others. Therefore, if you stopped, let’s say TV ads, or ran out of printed brochures to give out on the streets, you can expect a certain decrease in direct and organic traffic as well. This is the main reason why as an SEO service provider, our team always aims to be fully integrated with our clients’ internal marketing initiatives.

How dramatic is your traffic decrease?

A sudden traffic decrease, that is proportional across all channels and happened at the same time, can simply point to issues with Google Analytics. Updated settings, problems with Google Tag Manager, or development changes, can all affect the ability of Google Analytics to track website visitors. Therefore, if you see a sudden drop across all channels, check your Analytics first.

Sudden Website Traffic Drop

Identify the Source of the Traffic Drop

Generally, a decrease in traffic within the majority of channels is triggered by very straightforward reasons. Almost the only exception is the Organic channel. Organic is the only traffic channel that you hardly have any control of. By control, I mean more or less “direct” control like you have with PPC budget, or scheduling your newsletters. Organic traffic has its own habitat where it exists along billions of other constantly changing websites, algorithm updates, new features, etc.

Your first step to solve Organic traffic decreases is to establish if it is coming from a single URL, a small group of pages, or across the whole website. This will help you build a plan of action to resolve it.

Site-Wide Traffic Decrease

This is probably the most concerning type of decrease, yet, in many cases, the easiest to uncover and build a strategy to improve it.

In order to better understand the reason behind the decrease, you would need to look into specific elements that make up your organic traffic. Some of these checks might not help you find issues straight away, but by eliminating them one by one, you will ensure not to miss anything.

Countries and Geographical Locations

Whether you are a global or a local business, you certainly have some target areas and those that you might not necessarily want to attract. Before becoming overly worried about your performance, make sure you actually have something to worry about.

Oftentimes websites can have a significant amount of traffic from undesired locations, even if they don’t do anything to target them specifically. For example, you might have a UK-based e-commerce store that operates across the EU as well as the UK, and, let’s say Australia. An English website can still have a significant potential to rank in the US and bring traffic. Some differences in spelling and language can cause your US positions to fluctuate, bringing different amounts of traffic. But, if you don’t ship there anyway, there might be no need to be concerned at all. The side bonus of this check is that maybe you will find a new business arena, why not?

Website Traffic Geographic Locations

Review Your Devices

This is especially important since Google announced their Mobile First indexing which they have been rolling out throughout 2018. Mobile vs Desktop SEO performance can be a key indicator of a number of technical issues you can come across, from overall site speed to rendering and mobile friendliness problems, to low user experience or problematic tactics (such as instant full screen banners on mobile). Either way, if your performance across devices decreases unevenly, you will be able to isolate the weaker area and improve it faster.

Run Technical SEO Checks

Regular technical SEO assessments should be a MUST for everyone who cares about their digital performance, and yet it is often overlooked. The same as many of us take our car for a check-up only in case something is broken or going wrong, too many webmasters and marketers work on technical improvements sporadically, only when it drops below the point of being “bearable”.

So if you see your traffic decrease across all channels, most locations, most devices, and pages, to start with, make sure to run a Speed Test and have a better look at your Search Console errors.

Review Your Backlink Profile

Although modern SEO pays more emphasis on content quality and technical performance, links are still an important ranking factor, and there is no signs that it will change any time soon.

If you have checked everything above and still haven’t found the answer (assuming there was no recent Google update, which we will cover it later), it is time to look into your backlink profile. Decreases connected to the quality or quantity of backlinks will most likely look like a steady slow decrease over time, or a sudden significant drop in traffic (across the site, or to a specific page that used to get a lot of links). So what could have happened?

  • You’ve been penalized. Although Google says that they now simply devalue any link they don’t like, there have been claims that you can still get link penalties for manipulating search results in case your tactics are shady.
  • Many links were devalued. Have you ever performed cheap link building, got carried away with directory submissions, spammed in comments? These and many other tactics are not considered “white hat SEO” and are not as useful as they were many years ago. This will not affect your site permanently, however, it can push you a few steps back.
  • You have lost a significant amount of links. Links don’t live forever, websites can change, migrate, remove content, change their content, have technical issues, and so on. If you lose links faster then you get them, your website will start falling behind the competition, resulting in a decrease in traffic and rankings.
  • There is a new villain in town, or someone is getting their hands dirty with negative SEO to hurt your performance. These days this happens very rarely, but it can happen. Negative SEO in this case would be building spammy, low quality links to your website that will affect your SEO performance in a similar manner as in the first two points. Even if it wasn’t you, the best you can do is “disavow” all those links, and watch out.
Toxic Link Profile

Specific Page Traffic Decrease

When having issues with a specific URL all the points above are still relevant, however, there are also some page specific issues you could have encountered.

Duplicate content issues

This can be relevant for a website’s traffic decrease as well, however, usually, it prevents a site from growing rather than affecting it post factum. On a page level though, there are more chances that this issue occurred recently.

The first check you can do would be simple, just take an abstract of text from your underperforming page and paste it into Google with quotation marks for an exact match search. If you see many other websites using the same content (or other pages on your site) it might be a signal to improve the page and make it unique, especially if the duplication is recent.

Content Cannibalisation

Cannibalisation can have a similar effect, but the cause is slightly different. SEO cannibalisation means that you have 2 or more pages optimised and competing for the same terms. I’m sure you heard about running after two hares, same applies here. Optimising multiple pages for the same terms can confuse the algorithm so that it will be unclear which pages to rank, as the result, both pages might be ranked lower than either of them could have on their own. Have you recently created a very similar page, perhaps a guide, or an article? Or maybe created a new page without redirecting from its older version?

Loss of Featured Snippet

Unfortunately, featured snippets are not always easy to track since their placement and content is fully up to Google. However, if your performance remained the same, your Organic positions haven’t changed, and there is no indication that you have any issues, it is possible that you simply lost a featured snippet and your CTR decreased. Of course, this cannot be the reason for a complete drop, but it can significantly decrease the amount of traffic you get. For this reason, make sure to always investigate not only sudden decreases, but also sudden spikes.

Loss of Irrelevant Keywords

Google is getting better and better when it comes to context and synonyms. However, sometimes, it can be tricky for your traffic. When it comes to traffic issues on a URL level, make sure to fully review all additional metrics apart from the number of sessions. Did your bounce rate decrease? Conversion rate improved? Time on page increased? It is possible that Google reevaluated your website relevancy and removed you from irrelevant search results. The outcome – lower but better traffic.

Changes in the Landscape

Unfortunately (or not) many decreases happen due to the nature of constantly evolving and changing digital environments. There are plenty of cases when a decrease is not connected to any specific issues you have or a particular mistake you have made.

Is it Your Traffic that Decreases?

This is more relevant for SEO performance, although it can be applicable to PPC as well. You have to remember that your website and digital marketing efforts are alive and coexist with your competitors. This is a never ending marathon where different participants can take over at different times and distances. Therefore, like in any competition you might have underdogs and various strategic players that will up their pace when it is least expected.

Your website traffic decrease

Oftentimes, rankings and traffic loss happens due to the fact that someone else is firing, and not you going down. I mean, obviously you are going down, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article, but some decreases are consequences of your competitors growing their traffic, doing a better job, raising additional funds, or pleasing Google more.

In this case, you should thoroughly analyse competitors above you and figure out what has changed within the landscape, what have they done differently, or which of their metrics have increased. If you clearly see that a particular website(s) is beating you out of the blue, then instead of a never-ending search for a specific “SEO mistake” on your part that caused it, it’s time to up your game and be simply better than them.

Pay Attention to the Time

First and foremost, always keep in mind seasonality that is specific to your website. Different topics, products, and services usually spike and decrease at different times. E-commerce peaks around Black Friday and drops after Christmas. Business service providers generally see significant traffic increases around January and February as their target audience sets their yearly budgets, but will experience a decrease over the summer period and during holidays throughout the year. In order to better understand your decrease, always compare your traffic (and it’s pattern) to the same period last year, and not just the previous month.

Keep Up With Trends

This might not be your go to tool, and it doesn’t have to be, but sometimes it might be worth looking at Google Trends as well. It can not only help you better understand the seasonality, but can also show the general direction of where your niche is heading. Google trends allows you to check search trends for keywords, topics, or brands. So, if you are experiencing a slow steady decrease in traffic over a long period of time, and nothing indicates any issues, this is the place to go.

Google Algorithm Updates

If you are not a seasoned SEO professional, it is possible that you haven’t heard about Google’s latest updates. They even used to have names, but it seems Google ran out of imagination and now calls them by the date they were released. According to Google, if you were “hit” by an update, then these days there is nothing you can do to recover, because recent updates are not targeting anything in particular but aim to assess the website quality and relevancy as a whole.

Sometimes there are some steps you take to get your traffic back that would be specific to each update, but most of the time the recommendation (from Google) would be to follow (and keep following) their general quality guidelines and make sure you don’t have any issues we’ve mentioned throughout the article. If you have concerns and are suspecting that your traffic decrease might be connected to a Google update, it would be advisable to consult with professional SEOs, so that they can help you build a strategy specifically tailored to your needs and niche.

Never Start Reacting Before Analysing

If there is one universal tip that will be relevant in any situation, it will be not to act before you truly understand why your traffic is going down. Unless you have uncovered some clear technical issues, overreaction can easily go against you and damage all hard work you put in up until now.

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