Many things can contribute to a drop in Google rankings, including content changes, Google algorithm updates, technical issues, improvements made by competitors, and Google SERP layout changes. If your rankings have dropped or worse plummeted overnight fear not. We have compiled this checklist to help you figure out what’s wrong and improve your rankings fast!
It’s a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon, and you’re getting ready to go hang out with your friends and family for the weekend. Before you go you decide to check in on Google analytics to see how your website’s performing. WTF, you realise that your website’s traffic has fallen off of a cliff, you do a little bit of digging, and you find out that specifically, it’s due to your organic traffic falling down.
We’ve all been there before, I know the exact feeling that you’re feeling right now. It happens to the best of us and I’ve seen it a few times with our clients sites. So in this post, I’m going to cover nine reasons why your organic traffic has dropped off, and also give you solutions to your problem to help you get it back up. Let’s jump right in.
First Things First
So the first thing that we need to do is we need to diagnose the type of traffic loss that it is because depending on what type of traffic loss, what’s happening with that specific fall off, we can probably identify what’s happening right away.
So the first scenario here is did your traffic fall off the cliff suddenly? So you see this little graphic here, you can see the traffic going up, and then it falls off. But there’s still some traffic left. So if this is what you’re seeing in your Analytics account, then it’s likely algorithmic.
Whenever traffic falls off, suddenly, the likely source of that is going to be some sort of algorithm update coming from Google in search engines. Google regular releases algorithm updates, they give you no warning, no announcement for it and it can have a dramatic impact on your traffic, if you’re outside of the guidelines that they release.
The good news is that algorithmic penalties can be removed. Once you dig into the root cause of it, you do a little studying on what that algorithm update is targeting, what it’s all about and then making the necessary adjustments to your website. This is a full picture of what that might look like. You see the traffic going sideways and then falling off very suddenly, but still maintaining some traffic.
The next scenario, which is the most common that we see with clients at our local SEO agency is as long steady shed of traffic just going down over time. While it could be algorithmic, the most likely scenario here is just neglect. your website’s collecting dust, you haven’t been picking up traffic, you haven’t been creating content, you haven’t been picking up links, your websites is just a dated showpiece. The like grass is always greener where you water it.
So if you’re not taking care of your website, why should Google? If you’re not actively marketing it, then you’re going to be losing traffic over time. Just because you achieve a ranking one time you have to work to keep that ranking, you have to work to keep your traffic up. If you don’t, this is likely what’s going to look like.
This long steady shed is very painful and very frustrating too, because at least with an algorithmic penalty, you can identify it and fix it and get your traffic back up. With this, you basically got to start back over, you got to go back to the drawing board, rebuild your SEO strategy and start creating all over again, updating old blog posts and pages, getting new links, and building new content on top of that, as well.
So the final question to ask here is did your traffic fall off of a cliff and go to zero? In the first scenario, there was still some traffic left, this is a traffic going all the way down and going to zero.
So in the previous example, where there was still some traffic, it was likely an algorithm update because you were still tracking and picking up traffic. However it goes to zero, it’s likely going to be an issue with your tracking.
Sometimes if you migrate domains, if you build a new website or if you redesign something, and you don’t take the code, the tracking code, the Google Analytics code or Tag Manager code in place, and on to the new website, and you’re tracking just falls off, and therefore you’re not going to be tracking any traffic.
We see this a good amount of times too, with new client websites who are going through redesign and they forget to migrate those tags over and then the sky falls because they think they lost everything. Fortunately, it’s really just a loss of tracking. You can easily verify this by also going to a tool like SEMRush and checking to see for keyword rankings are still there. Again, this is a larger view of the traffic going all the way down to zero.
Another thing that we can do to check against the loss of organic traffic is to review lost keywords in Google Search Console.
Within Google Search Console, there’s a performance report where we can filter and set up a date comparison, and we can compare one period against the previous period.
What I suggest you do is you look at the period where your traffic started falling off, you take a three month period afterwards, we’ll have longer tracks from falling for, and you compare it to the period against that or the year before that. And what you will see is you’ll be able to see the keyword difference in terms of clicks, and impressions in Google, you can also filter for queries to see the exact keywords that might be falling.
What we want to do here is to understand if this is one page, if this is one keyword, or if this is a steady share of all of our pages going down, because if it’s one page, then we can dig into the keywords, we can fix that one page and try and get those rankings back up.
Again, if the fall is shared across all pages this is going to require us to go back and update that content, get new links, figure out the keyword targeting and shifted. We also have to figure out if the SERPs have shifted a lot of stuff that we’re going to explore further in this post. So we want to make sure to dig into Search Console to find those keyword rankings and find those specific pages that are losing traffic and see if we can diagnose it at the page or the keyword level, and then go in and make those improvements as needed.
The third thing that we want to do is want to check for technical issues in Google Search Console.
Technical SEO Issues
Within Google Search Console, there’s a number of reports that will tell us essentially, if we’re having issues with Google, right in the platform. It could be a matter of checking if it’s simply an issue with their tracking code.
Sometimes Google will send us messages about a manual penalty. And we can also check if there’s technical errors and if there are broken links for pages? For example, maybe you, your developer or someone in your company deleted a bunch of pages on your website by accident and that’s where the traffic loss is coming from.
There’s a coverage report inside of Google Search Console. You can see that these errors are triggering. So if there’s a bunch of four fours, if there’s an incorrect redirect, stuff like that Search Console will actually tell us. And then it’s a very simple fix to go and diagnose and make those improvements to regain that traffic that we might have lost.
The fourth thing that we want to look for is to look for actual penalties in Google Search Console. There is a report in Google Search Console that will tell us if we’ve been hit by some sort of penalty or some sort of correction by Google, it will literally tell us what it is.
This makes it very easy to understand what the issue is, you do a little research online, or you can contact us, and then you can figure out how to go about and fix that error to pick your traffic backed up.
The fifth thing that we want to do if none of those before have worked is to check against algorithm updates. A penalty is Google actually telling you that you’ve been penalised, but sometimes there will be an algorithm update which has impacted our traffic. You don’t really know until you see the traffic actually going down when you compare that against the dates.
Another reason why we love SEMRush is because if there’s an actual report in there. You plug in your website, and all of your keyword rankings are there. Then it will lay that against the algorithm updates, ones that are confirmed by Google ones that are just kind of reported by other professional SEOs in terms of massive changes in rankings across all the SERPs.
We can go in and diagnose to see if it was an algorithm update that hit us and then had an impact on our traffic.
You can see the keyword ranks falling off above, there’s a little algorithm update there, if you just hover over it, it will actually tell you what the update is. You can click on it and you can find out more about exactly what that algorithm update was targeting. You then need to go back in to your website and make those changes and make those corrections and get back in Google’s good graces.
The sixth thing that we want to do is do a deep scrub in Google Analytics.
Google Analytics tells us about traffic, it tells us about all sorts of different things that are coming to our website and anything that’s happening on our website. So we can set our timeframe in Google Analytics to the last three to five years or all the way back historically, (we want to get a really good picture of the data here). Then we want to look at is to see if we can dig into exactly what’s happening in terms of the pages that are coming through.
Is it device specific? Meaning is it only on mobile, or is it only on desktop that we’re losing traffic? It could be that your website is built incorrectly, could be that there’s UX issues. Google’s always got a ton of guidance around how to build and structure websites properly.
If your website triggers one of those things, then you could see a lack of traffic or drop off track. Because of that, it could also be location based. Google has different search engines across the world. So if you had a big fall off in Canada, maybe that traffic’s not overly relevant to you, so you don’t have to sweat it out.
We really want to dig in to figure out what it is and why and where that traffic is coming from. And then dig into the specific parts of our website that might be triggering that to because it may not be algorithmic, it may not be keyword related, it could be the way the websites built or it could be just Google rolling out specific guidance in different places in the world.
It could also be due to seasonality because we have a big spike in traffic in the summertime because we sell lawn mowers and hedge trimmers as an example. And that’s why our traffic has gone down in the wintertime. So understand the product cycles, understand the sales cycles, all those things you can find out within Google Analytics, by doing a really deep dive into the data to understand what might have changed or what might be happening with the website and user behaviour on the website that could be triggering this traffic loss.
The next thing we want to do is check out our competitors to see if the competitors are the ones that are picking up keyword rankings and taking it away from us.
This happens all the time, in very, very competitive spaces. We primarily work with orthodontists. When orthodontists that have a decent budget, they’ll invest in a lot of SEO, and then all of a sudden will just really start to take over the search engine rankings. So if you’re not marketing your website hard in your competitive space and your other competitors are, you’re not actually losing traffic, per se, you’re just losing the competition to your competitors. You’re losing out on those top spot real estate, you’re gradually getting pushed down because they’re getting better.
This is why SEO really is an ongoing investment. It’s not a one time and done type thing, you have to be consistently creating content and generating links in order to keep ahead of the competition. Otherwise, this is what will happen, they will overtake you gradually over time, it’ll drive you crazy, because you’ll be looking at all these other things. And then you just realise that it’s really just other people that are stealing your rankings, not an actual loss of traffic due to something that Google is doing or that you have done.
The next thing that we want to do if none of those above things are happening is review to see if you’re losing real estate to Google, not to competitors.
So this, for example, is a screenshot if you type in ‘coffee shops near me’, what triggers here at the top of the SERPs is the local search ‘snack-pack’. We see this happening all the time, Google’s constantly rolling out different knowledge graphs, or and they’re rolling out Click-List searches where like you literally type something in and you get the answer. They don’t even have to go to your website. Google wants to do this because it provides a faster and better experience for the searchers.
In our example, if you’re looking for a ‘coffee shop near me’, and you get 10 blue links as search results, you have to go to their websites for further information, it’s very slow and cumbersome. It’s not the greatest experience for the user. So Google’s always looking for a way to reduce the amount of clicks and reduce the amount of steps that a searcher needs to take in order to find the information that they’re searching for.
Sometimes your content and business might be getting shown but you’re not going to see that translating into traffic because they’re staying in Google, they’re not actually going to your website to consume that information. This is up for debate whether you think this is good or bad idea but you just need to be aware of it.
If traffic is your main KPI, you’re going to want to start to target keywords. When you’re doing keyword research, you’re going to want to literally type these into Google and see what’s triggering for these things because sometimes, even if you rank first, you’re not going to get any traffic for that keyword.
Maybe it’s not the best fit for what you want to target with your local SEO strategy. So to find out if this is happening all you have to do is take a couple of keywords that you are ranking for and type them into Google and see what comes up. That might explain why you might be ranking first, but you’re not getting any traffic for that specific keyword or that specific query that you were before.
Stale or Evolving Website
So the final thing that we want to understand is, is your website stale? SEO is an ongoing process, an evolution, you have to continuously invest into content and into link building, in order to keep your rankings up. You can’t just put up content expecting to rank for the next five years.
Google are constantly updating their algorithm. They’re constantly cleaning your search results. User behaviour is constantly changing, competitors are snapping at your heels, you need to stay on top of this, which really leads me to the last part…
We Are Here To Help You
If you need help, if your website is losing traffic and rankings, and you want results, this is what we do. You don’t have to waste time doing this yourself. We have an entire team of local SEO consulting experts that have been doing this successfully since 2008. And we’re happy to have a conversation with you… absolutely free.
We’ll take a look at your website and give you some advice about what might be happening with your website and why you’re losing traffic. So if you’re interested, head over to BlendLocalSearchMarketing.com. It’s our agency’s website, click the big blue button that says ‘Contact Us’ and book a call with our growth team. We’ll do a free analysis on your website and give you some advice about how you can improve your search rankings and traffic.
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