Help! My website traffic dropped.

Posted January 5, 2015 in by

website traffic dropped graphicIf you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you understand how important optimizing your website is to your bottom line. It allows you to establish credibility, communicate with your customers and even sell your products. But one of the most important benefits of a fully optimized website, is that it allows you to organically attract new customers.

So what do you do if one day, those visitors stop coming? What if your website traffic dropped off the face of the earth? You’ll first probably have a slight panic attack. But after recovering from that, the best place to start is with the data. You need to do a little analytic forensics to identify the source of the dip. There are a plethora of analytics tools out there, but I’ll be talking about Google Analytics today.

Where is the dip in traffic coming from?

In Google Analytics, navigate to the “Channels” report to analyze all sources of traffic. Traffic can take a dip for a number of reasons, including: technical issues, loss of a big referring site, end of a marketing campaign, etc. That’s why it’s important to identify which channel is seeing the hit. Let’s assume for the sake of this post that your organic traffic is the culprit.

channel traffic

When did the drop occur?

Now we want to take a look at when traffic started to drop. Was it overnight? Was it gradual? If traffic dropped overnight, there’s a good chance that you either have a manual Google penalty or there was an algorithm update.

organic traffic dropped

If the traffic decline can be seen over a period of time, you most likely lost keywords due to your competitors improving SEO. Or your traffic may be seasonal. Look back at the same time period last year to see if you had a similar dip in traffic.

So what is it?

  1. The first thing you want to do is check if you have a manual penalty by logging in to your Google Webmaster Tools account. Click on “Search Traffic” and “Manual Actions.”
    manual penalty check

If your site has been manually penalized by Google, you’ll see a message similar to the one below.

unnatural links penalty

  1. If you don’t see a warning message in your Webaster Tools account, the next thing you’ll want to do is check for an algorithm update. Moz has a robust change history of Google’s algorithm that you can use as a resource.

Penguin and Panda are the two big updates that have affected most websites in recent years. Chances are, your site was collateral damage for one of these.

Recovering from Panda

Fortunately, Panda is the easier of the two to fix. Panda requires websites to improve the quality of their site in order to improve the user experience. There are a two things you can do to fix this: get rid of duplicate and “thin” content and start creating more quality content. Google is looking for websites that have strong authority and give their visitors useful information. Fix these problems and your rankings will start to rise again.

Recovering from Penguin

First introduced in 2012, Penguin has gone through several iterations as Google continues to crack down on unnatural, spammy link-building tactics. The old way to build links was all about quantity and not quality. That led SEOs to buy links, over-optimize anchor text and basically try to cheat the system by building up unnatural backlinks. To recover from this sort of penalty, you’ll need to evaluate your link profile for spammy sites and unnatural anchor text. Using Google’s guidelines for disavowing links, you’ll want to start pruning those sites that are bringing you down. But wait … there’s more. Even if you follow all of Google’s recommendations, you’ll still have to sit and wait for Google to take action. In some cases, it can take up to a year before Google refreshes the update and you see any changes.

It’s a long road …

Navigating the world of Google algorithms and updates can be challenging. They’re not the most transparent when it comes to ranking factors and penalties. That makes it even more important to educate yourself abot what’s going on in the world of search or find a qualified SEO partner that can help you. It only takes a few small mistakes to damage your site, but it’s a long road to recovery. Bring your patience!

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