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SEO traffic drop: who to blame and what to do?

By: Aleksandra Pautaran
March 27th, 2018

I guess, if there's ever a tragedy for a website owner, that would be, with no doubts, a sudden drop in search engine traffic. To be completely honest, there's hardly a website owner to never experience one. So, if it happened to you, the first thing to do is to set your antidepressants aside, stop praying to SEO Gods and realize that it's not the end of the world, just the end of your site (jokes☺). So, inhale and exhale deeply, then take a fresh look at your site and try to figure out the reason why it's bleeding. And I'm here to offer you a helping hand. So, here are some common issues to take into consideration while investigating a case of your traffic theft. Enjoy!

1. Inaccurate data

When dealing with SEO traffic drops, one of the major things you need to be 100% sure about is your data accuracy. Make sure you are not barking up the wrong tree missing a piece of stats for a certain period of time, a device or a page type. The good news is that those disappearances are quite easy to spot and prevent in the future.

What is more, there's nothing abnormal in traffic swings. Ok, just to calm yourself down, you can compare the stats by calculating an average SEO traffic fluctuation. For instance, you can plot your weekly SEO traffic for the past 12 months and calculate the average deviation with the help of Excel. If that's not the case, and the drop is still dramatic hmm… you're in a big trouble, dude (jokes again☺).

2. Penalty

Once you've checked the data, but the traffic drop is still deeper than the Mariana Trench and your site is nowhere to be seen, there is quite a chance it's a big old manual search engine penalty. To prove this theory right or wrong, you simply need to check out Google Search Console. In your account, go to the Search Traffic, then to the Manual actions section. And if your site has been given a red card, there should be a notification addressing the reason of the penalty and specifying what exactly has been affected. Check out this article if you want to learn more about Google penalties and algorithm changes.

In a perfect world, at this point, you would have fixed the issue and been back on track with your site. But we're in harsh SEO reality, remember? So, if still in doubts about the penalty reasons, here are some common ones for you to check out:

  • Hacked site

Like it or not, but no one is immune from hacking, and so are you. To check if you've been hacked, please go to Google's comprehensive list of all the necessary steps to bring your site back to life. Luckily, this is the only penalty reason that is sort of out of your control, but still fixable. So, cheer up!

  • Duplicate content

Content is king, that needs to be taken for granted. For that reason, make sure to remove all the thin and duplicate stuff from your site. The logic behind this is pretty simple: the more original content you have, the more valuable you become for Google. To check your website's content originality, don't hesitate to use Copyscape.

  • User-generated spam

To identify and block the naughty spammers, you need to go through the pages of your site that offer user-generated content and remove all the irrelevant links as well as the content you find suspicious. Just as simple as it sounds.

  • Redirects

Nobody loves being redirected to a page that cannot be found for some reason or to some other unwanted sites. That is why it's only right to check your site for having any suspicious redirects. For doing that, type in your website's URL in WebSite Auditor to create a project. Wait a sec for the crawl to be done, then, in the Site Audit dashboard, go to the Pages with 301 or 302 redirects and also the Pages with meta refresh. Now you can enjoy a clear view of a full list of the redirected pages, just remove all the unwanted stuff and you're done!

  • Malicious links

Things get a little bit more complicated when it comes to off-page violations, which, as a rule, take place if your site is flooded with a bunch of toxic backlinks. By the way, the best practice is to carry out regular audits, and SEO SpyGlass is your lucky find for doing that. Firstly, you need to create a project, then pick SEO PowerSuite Link Explorer together with Google Search Console for the tool to analyze the backlinks to your site.

Now that it's done, go to the Penalty risk tab in the Linking Domains dashboard. Now SEO SpyGlass is taking some time to analyze your linking domains. Once it's done, let's quickly sort your linking domains in accordance with their maliciousness by clicking on the header of the Penalty Risk column.

As a matter of fact, any link, which has a Penalty Risk value higher than 50%, must be further investigated. Yes, it's not the most enjoyable process, but when you thoroughly went through all the suspicious links, the only right option is to disavow them by right-clicking the link and then hitting Disavow Domains. Ok, we're almost at the finish line. The only thing left to do after your disavow file is complete is going to Preferences, then Disavow/Blacklist Backlinks and hitting Export.

And finally, in your Google Search Console account, submit a reconsideration request to Google. This can be done simply by going to the Manual Actions section and clicking Request a review. And so we're done! Now you only need to wait for a week or two for Google to consider your request. Moving on!

3. Google algorithm updates

Another thing for you to take for granted is that Google doesn't normally bother informing you about any algorithm updates. On the other hand, some major updates are normally covered in search engine news. There you can find comprehensive information on what has been implemented in particular and what needs to be improved to make your site great again. In case your website has suffered from older updates, this article will be of the greatest use.

A slightly worse scenario happens when a sudden change in the algorithm hits a limited number of sites. If that's the case, you'd better manually monitor the SERPs for your keywords. For doing that, start Rank Tracker, go to the SERP Analysis tab and then click Record SERP data. Now that your top 30 search results are recorded, jump up to the SERP History table. Here on the Fluctuation Graph you can see how the SERP is changing for all the keywords as well as for those that you pick separately. More than that, it gives you an opportunity to switch between your target search engines. And don’t forget to adjust the date range to see the accurate statistics for a certain period of time. Do I need to say that this tool is an absolute time-saver?

Just to be on the safe side, make sure to check your link profile and crawl your site on a regular basis, doing that will at least keep Panda and Penguin off your site.

4. Major site changes

Recent website migrations, updates or redesign may also explain why your traffic has seen better days. This is the second time Google Search Console gives you a helping hand. Go to Crawl, then Crawl Errors, have a close look at the graphs to spot any differences that may have taken place after your site's renovation.

Got them? Then download all the broken URLs in the csv format and open WebSite Auditor for a cheeky little crawl. After that, in the Pages dashboard, type in those suspicious URLs from the file you've just downloaded in the quick search bar. In order to figure out where exactly the broken links hide, go to the Links to page tab (you can find it at the bottom of the page in the Pages dashboard) and fix them.

What is more, to see if something else is wrong with your site, you can go to the Site Audit dashboard in the Site Structure module. However, the check may take some time. Done? Ok, let's carry on.

5. Links missing

There is hardly a website owner who doesn't realize the power of backlinks, is there? However, having a substantial amount of links doesn't guarantee you aren't at risk of losing them at some point. Of course, losing the most high-quality ones is especially heartbreaking. But don't you worry, everything is fixable, because this is the part where SEO SpyGlass breaks in.

Open your project in SEO SpyGlass, then make sure that the Backlink Progress graph in the Summary dashboard is going up. After that, you need to switch to the Backlinks dashboard to select all your links and click Update Backlinks, then select Backlink Page Info to be updated as well.

This is how we smoothly came to the hardest piece of work, which SEO SpyGlass kindly does for you. Don't thank, just give it some time to analyze the backlink pages and search for the links to your website. After the check, have a look at the Links Back column, which informs you on your links' current statuses. Go through all of them to spot any with a No (Link missing) status. Did you find any? If yes, then congrats: you've found the Achilles' heel of your site!

Just a tiny bit of snobbish advice for the future: in order to prevent the traffic drops, it's always better to monitor the state of your backlinks from time to time, a monthly audit would be more than enough to keep you safe.

Now that you found out where the shoe pinches, it's only right trying to fix the links. Basically, the only thing you can do is to contact the site owner asking nicely to get the link back.

6. Competitors

Life is a battle and so is SEO. They say: "There's no better place to hide a dead body then on Google's second page". So true. That is why, when dealing with the traffic drop, make sure you didn't get outranked by a competitor. If you were, well, now you know who stole your traffic.

Long story short, the core question you need to answer when being beaten ranking-wise is simply "Why him?". But first, you need to understand who you're dealing with. The easiest way to do that is using Rank Tracker's SERP History feature. In the Target Keywords module, go to the Rank Tracking dashboard, then, in the lower screen, click the SERP Analysis tab and after that click Record SERP data. Taa daa! Spying on your competitors has never been that easy, right?

More than that, with every new check, Rank Tracker will save all the SERP for you to comfortably track the dynamics and, what is more important, your competitors' positions.

To that tune, Rank Tracker also gives you a brilliant possibility to automate your rank checks (not to run them manually every time). Interested? Then go to the Preferences tab, click Scheduler and hit the "plus" button. After that, adjust all the necessary parameters to your taste: the type of the task/time/regularity and you good.

7. SEM traffic cannibalizes SEO's

Moving on! As you already know, SEM involves gaining traffic through paid advertisements while SEO traffic, on the contrary, only comes from organic search. To be completely honest, SEM traffic can quite always devour SEO's. This is quite a rank-and-file situation, because the ads are located higher than organic search results and that is why (surprise-surprise😀) gain more traffic from the too-lazy-to-scroll-down users.

Let's think of two possible situations in this case. First of all, you need to compare the list of keywords in your PPC campaigns with those that bring you organic traffic. If you spotted any duplicate keywords, don't hesitate to pause the PPC campaigns they come from. Because why paying for the traffic that you can get for free?

The second situation is a little bit less optimistic. Your competitors might have increased their bids for your keywords. So, you can either overbid them or, if those particular keywords are not of huge value to you, leave it as it is.

8. Mobile-First Indexing

You must have been living in another galaxy for the last year at least if you don't know that Google is going nuts about making the Web more mobile-friendly. That means, when it comes to ranking, mobile-friendly websites are a lot more prioritized. But don't panic, that doesn't mean desktop sites are not participating in the SEO competition.

However, missing a mobile-friendly version of your site can also explain a sudden ranking drop as well as the loss of traffic. For instance, one of your competitors could have optimized his or her site for mobile devices and, as a result, outranked you on a mobile device. By the way, here is a nice tool for you to check if your website is adapted for mobiles. If not, I highly recommend optimizing your site. Just think of how often you personally surf the net with the help of the phone. See now?

What is more, in order to understand where exactly the traffic drop took place, you can filter out your traffic by device with the help of Google Analytics.

9. A change in the SERP

Alongside with all the above listed reasons that may have negatively affected your traffic, there is the last one, but by no means the least. As you already see from the title, I'm talking about a sudden change in the Search Engine Result Pages. Although it happens once in a blue moon, there's still a chance that Google started answering some of your queries directly in the search results. With no doubts, it makes users' search process faster and easier, but, of course, affects your traffic not in the best way. So, keep an eye on that as well!

And again Rank Tracker is there for you, because going to SERP History in the Rank Tracking dashboard can show you exactly what has changed in the SERP as well as the progress you're making.

Here is an explanation of every icon for your convenience.

That's it for now. I hope you've managed to reanimate your precious traffic and understood how to prevent it from the potential drops with the help of our tools and not only. Please feel free to share your opinion and experience in the comments. And may the force of SEO be with you.


By: Aleksandra Pautaran
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