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Search Engine Traffic Drops: How to Diagnose and Fix the Problem

August 18th, 2010 | Link-Assistant.Com | Posted in category Search Engine Optimization

search engine traffic drops

There are few websites today that don't depend on search engines for traffic. Google alone is a top source of visitors for the majority of online businesses. No wonder, when your organic traffic goes down, it really sets off your alarm bells.

The following checklist will help you quickly identify and fix the problem, restore your organic traffic and save a bunch of nerve cells on the way.

So let's get started. Here's what you need to do whenever you see a sudden drop in your organic search traffic.

Step 1: Identify the keywords

Your first step is to identify the keywords that are bringing less traffic than they used to. To do this you need to go to your Google Analytics account (or whatever tracking software you use) and check your traffic logs.

Here's how you can spot what keywords are sending you less traffic in Google Analytics:

  1. Log into your account and head over to 'Traffic Sources' -> 'Search Engines'.
  2. Select a date range that includes the traffic drop and choose to compare it to an equal period in the past.

    click to see larger image

  3. Choose to show non-paid keywords only and add another dimension to your report called 'Keyword'
  4. click to see larger image

  5. You get the list of keywords that have sent you organic traffic. In the '% Change' row you can see whether the traffic went up or down and by how many percent.
  6. analytics-report

    click to see larger image

    Spotting all the down keywords manually may take too much time, so we need to automate this. Unfortunately, Google Analytics doesn't offer a way to filter the data by the '% Change' dimension (at least none that I know of, if you know how to do it, please share in the comments).

    We've put together an Excel macros that will help you quickly sort the data to see which keywords are down on traffic. To make use of the macros you need to export the data to Excel.

  7. Click Export and choose CSV or CSV for Excel

  8. Note: Google Analytics only exports the data from your current view, which is limited to 500 entries. If you have more than 500 keywords here's a workaround to export them all.

    Add &limit=20000 (depending on how many keywords you have and up to 50k) at the end of the URL and hit enter. Analytics will still display only 500 entries in the report tab, but you’ll be able to export all your keywords.

    click to see larger image

  9. Open the .csv file you've downloaded in Excel, then go to the View tab and click the 'Macros' button

    click to see larger image

  10. Type in the macros name (e.g. sort), and click 'create'
  11. In the macros module window copy and paste the following piece of code, then hit run (or press F5)
    Sub sort()maxRecords = 65536 ' Change this in case you've got more records in your Excel worksheet
    j1 = 1

    Set oldSheet = Sheets(1)
    ' Creating a new worksheet
    Set NewSheet = Sheets.Add(After:=Worksheets(Worksheets.Count))

    ' Setting the worksheet's header
    NewSheet.Cells(1, 1).Value = "Source"
    NewSheet.Cells(1, 2).Value = "Keyword"
    NewSheet.Cells(1, 3).Value = "% Change"
    NewSheet.Cells(1, 4).Value = "Visits Before"
    NewSheet.Cells(1, 5).Value = "Visits After"
    NewSheet.Cells(1, 6).Value = "Difference"

    For i1 = 1 To maxRecords
    If oldSheet.Cells(i1, 1) = "% Change" Then
    ' Filling in the newly created sheet
    NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 1).Value = oldSheet.Cells(i1 - 3, 1)
    NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 2).Value = oldSheet.Cells(i1 - 3, 2)
    NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 3).Value = oldSheet.Cells(i1, 3)
    NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 4).Value = oldSheet.Cells(i1 - 1, 3)
    NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 5).Value = oldSheet.Cells(i1 - 2, 3)
    NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 6).Value = NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 5).Value - NewSheet.Cells(j1 + 1, 4).Value

    j1 = j1 + 1
    End If
    Next i1

    click to see larger image

  12. Excell will sort the keywords by the change in the traffic they generated (this may take a while depending on how many keywords you have). Eventually you'll have a neat table like this one:

    Here you have the following columns:

    • Source - the search engine
    • Keyword - the search term
    • % change - the difference in traffic the keyword has generated (negative value indicates less traffic)
    • Visits Before - how many people came via the keyword in the prior time period (the one you chose to compare against in your Analytics report)
    • Visits After - the number of visits generated by the keyword in the period that includes the traffic drop
    • Difference = Visist After - Visits Before
  13. The keywords are sorted by the difference column (from smallest to largest) so you can quickly spot which keywords were hit the most.

    In the table above you can see that the traffic generated by the first keyword is down by 401 vistis.

    It may be a good idea to run this kind of report every once in a while to keep better control of your organic traffic.

Step 2: Check your rankings

The most common and obvious reason to cause a decline in organic traffic is a drop in rankings. Now that you know what keywords are sending you less traffic you need to check where you rank for them. Import your keyword list into Rank Tracker or any other rank checker you prefer and run a check.

If you have not been monitoring your positions for these keywords it will be hard to tell whether you're up or down. Still if you used to get thousands of hits for a keyword that you now rank on the 3d page for, chances are your rankings have slipped.

Are your rankings down?

Yes:

  • Don't panic.
  • Do a research and find out if other people are experiencing the same thing, maybe it's another Google algo update.
  • Look back at your recent SEO activities and analyze them: what did you change on the site, what links have you recently attained, etc?
  • Run an SEO site audit and see if there are any problems that might be holding your site back.

No: Read on…

We live in a personalized world with personalized search so you may want to check if your site's positions are affected by personalization. It's unlikely to cause a big traffic drop, but it's still a valid suspect. The only way to check it appears to be Google Webmaster Tools (GWT).

Log in to your GWT account and go to 'Your site on the web' -> 'Search queries' in the dashboard navigation. Click on any keyword and you'll see how many times your site appeared in different positions. If there's a large discrepancy between your rank checker results and GWT you may want to investigate it further.

Also you might want to check how the results differ across various countries to see if the problem is regional.

Step 3: Check your clickthrough rates

Now that we're still at Google Webmaster Tools it may be a good idea to check your organic clickthrough rates. Maybe you're still ranking high but people just don't click on your site as much as they used to. Check your overall CTR first and if there are significant changes check the CTRs for individual keywords.

Is your CTR down?

Yes: Move on to step 4

No: Jump over to step 5

Step 4: Analyze your organic listing

Run a manual search for your most heavy hit keywords and look how your website appears in the search results.

Are you missing a Meta description? Is your title compelling enough? Try to find ways to improve your listing that will help you increase your CTR.

Analyze the other sites and AdWords ads that compete for the click against you. See if there are any universal search results blended in like pictures, videos, local results, news, etc. that might be stealing clicks from you. If it looks feasible try to get your site listed in universal search as well.

Step 5: Check your site for malware

It's not unlikely that your site has been hacked and infected with malware. In that case Google and other search engines may put a warning next to your site's organic listing saying 'This site may harm your computer'.

Obviously this will keep most folks from clicking through to your site.

Today most Internet browsers also have inbuilt malware and phishing protection, so even if the search engine doesn't warn the searchers, their browser will.

You can quickly check if your site's been infected with the help of Google Safe Browsing Diagnostics page. To do this simply visit this page http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=your-site.com (replace your-site.com with your site's URL).

You can also check your site for possible malware issues in GWT under Dashboard -> Diagnostics -> Malware.

Is your site infected?

Yes: Fix it

No: Read on…

Step 6: Check the search trends

Whenever our traffic drops we tend to blame it on our site, but that's not always the case. It's pretty likely that the search volume for your keywords is down. This is especially true for seasonal keywords that are in high demand only at a certain time of the year.

To see if your traffic drop was caused by a decline in search volume go to Google trends and run a check for your keywords.

Of course the keyword 'Christmas presents' is an obvious example, you don’t need any tools to figure when people search for this term, but you get the idea.

Is the search volume down?

Yes: do some keyword research to find new search terms you can target.

No: Read on…

Step 7: Check the industry

If you still haven't spotted the problem you may want to check how your competitors are doing. Maybe you're not alone and the whole industry is affected. Use the SEO software tools like Google Analytics Benchmarking and Compete to see whether your competition faces same problems as you.

Is it an industry-wide problem?

Yes: Diversify your traffic sources to make your business less dependent on search engine traffic.

No: Get armed with competitive intelligence tools and thoroughly analyze your competition to see what they did to get ahead of you. Here are some tools to help you with the job.

Check their backlinks:

SEO SpyGlass

Majestic SEO

Linkscape

Study their onpage tactics:

WebSite Auditor

Take a peek into their keywords chest:

SEMRush

Compete

In conclusion:

These are the most common reasons to cause a drop in organic search engine traffic. This list is not exhaustive, so if you have anything to add, feel free to share your ideas in the comments.



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  • http://www.seobro.com seobro

    Thanks for telling us about using XL in GA. This is a proven winner. Problem is that often there is a steady erosion. Not just in traffic, but in the LTK or long tail keywords that Google will rank because they are cutting back now.

  • http://www.seobro.com seobro

    Thanks for telling us about using XL in GA. This is a proven winner. Problem is that often there is a steady erosion. Not just in traffic, but in the LTK or long tail keywords that Google will rank because they are cutting back now.

  • http://dineshthakursem.blogspot.com Dinesh Thakur

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful information. I think before changing the keywords, you have to check the ranking of your keywords in search engines. If you are in 2nd or 3rd page for your keywords. It will be better to increase the SEO efforts for better SERP.

    It cab be one of the biggest reason for decrease in traffic for your keywords.

  • http://dineshthakursem.blogspot.com Dinesh Thakur

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful information. I think before changing the keywords, you have to check the ranking of your keywords in search engines. If you are in 2nd or 3rd page for your keywords. It will be better to increase the SEO efforts for better SERP.

    It cab be one of the biggest reason for decrease in traffic for your keywords.

  • http://www.blast4trafficnow.net/2/ Michael – Web Traffic Today

    Wow, this sound awesome. I'm reminded again about XL and GA. I think I will put to work your tips for one of my gardening site that just got dropped. Keep them coming...

  • http://www.blast4trafficnow.net/2/ Michael – Web Traffic Today

    Wow, this sound awesome. I'm reminded again about XL and GA. I think I will put to work your tips for one of my gardening site that just got dropped. Keep them coming...

  • http://www.firstfound-blog.co.uk/ Andy @ FirstFound

    Excellent checklist, and you've mentioned the most important thing to do - stay calm.

    Too many people panic and make ridiculous errors.

  • http://www.firstfound-blog.co.uk/ Andy @ FirstFound

    Excellent checklist, and you've mentioned the most important thing to do - stay calm.

    Too many people panic and make ridiculous errors.

  • http://www.accesomayores25.com acceso universidad mayores 25

    Very complete and very useful article. Will be nice to add a script for Google Docs and forget about Office ;-)

    Link-Assistant.Com Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    Hey, thanks for the idea. We'll think about it.

  • http://www.accesomayores25.com acceso universidad mayores 25 años

    Very complete and very useful article. Will be nice to add a script for Google Docs and forget about Office ;-)

    Link-Assistant.Com Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    Hey, thanks for the idea. We'll think about it.

  • http://www.howtorentinnyc.com rent nyc

    google has wonderful FREE tools only thing we are not aware of it..thanks for sharing this..

  • http://www.howtorentinnyc.com rent nyc

    google has wonderful FREE tools only thing we are not aware of it..thanks for sharing this..

  • http://www.instrumart.com JenneferA

    Incredibly relevant to me right now- and yes, key #1 is to remain calm. Thanks for the great article.

  • http://www.instrumart.com JenneferA

    Incredibly relevant to me right now- and yes, key #1 is to remain calm. Thanks for the great article.

  • http://www.gospelhall.org Christian Church Pastor

    Similar to the Christmas present example, my site has a spike every Saturday. There is a lot of information to help Sunday school teachers. I was amused to see that most people prepare for their Sunday school class on Saturday (likely many late at night).

    Another trend I spotted is that most traffic on other material peaks on Wednesdays and does horrible on Holidays. Does that mean most people are doing their casual searching at work?

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