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:
- Log into your account and head over to 'Traffic Sources' -> 'Search Engines'.
- Select a date range that includes the traffic drop and choose to compare it to an equal period in the past.
- Choose to show non-paid keywords only and add another dimension to your report called 'Keyword'
- 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.
- Click Export and choose CSV or CSV for Excel
- Open the .csv file you've downloaded in Excel, then go to the View tab and click the 'Macros' button
- Type in the macros name (e.g. sort), and click 'create'
- In the macros module window copy and paste the following piece of code, then hit run (or press F5)
- 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
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.
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.
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?
- 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:
Study their onpage tactics:
Take a peek into their keywords chest:
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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