What To Do If Your Website Traffic Is Down

By Christina

Feb 11, 2020

A decline in traffic to a website is enough to make most people panic, but there can be a number of simple reasons for this and it is not that difficult to find out why it has happened and how to sort it out.  Firstly you have to identify the type of drop in traffic you are suffering from.

Types of drops in traffic can include:

  • A drop with a noticeable recovery
  • A large drop
  • Several significant drops
  • A slow decline in traffic

Below I give some advice about each type of drop mentioned above and what you need to do to recover from it.  If none of the above apply to you, then keep reading as I cover other areas that you can investigate.

A drop with a noticeable recovery

graph of traffic drop and recovery

A drop on a specific date with a recovery within 24 hours usually means you have been hit by a Google update but as your traffic is recovering you do not have to worry about it or do anything.

Have a look to see if there was a Google algorithm update on or around the date you experienced a significant drop in traffic.  Moz is a good place to start:

Moz blog - Google Algorithm Change.

Find out what the change was and how it has affected other websites, bare in mind it may take a few weeks before people start reporting their findings.  If you have recovered just be aware of the type of update and why Google launched it, this knowledge will help you plan future content.

A large drop or several significant drops

graph of traffic drop off

A large drop on a specific date can be one of two things.  Either your tracking code has been removed from multiple pages.  Or you have been penalised by a Google algorithm update.

graph several drops in traffic

Several significant drops on several separate dates can usually be pin pointed to a Google Algorithm update.

Again, check the dates you experienced major drops in traffic against Google's algorithm changes. 

Google makes hundreds of changes throughout the year, but every now and again they launch one that has a huge impact, previous penalties targeted: poor content, low quality links, exact match domain names, keyword heavy content and over optimisation.  Over recent months the search engine results have been a very stormy place for the majority of websites, with little explanation from Google to what is going on.

Once you identify which algorithm update impacted your website, you will be able to arm yourself with all the information you need to make improvements.

A slow decline in traffic

Your Heading Here

A slow decline in traffic over a long period of time is usually caused by one of two things.  You are neglecting your website or worse case scenario your industry is going out of fashion.

Daily I hear and read BBC news reports about footfall being down in the high street, in February 2019 it was down 2%.  December 2019 saw a further 5% decrease compared to previous years figures.  However, where many retailers are seeing a decline in high street sales, they are noticing a continuous and steady growth in online sales which makes it clear retail is not dead yet. 

The BBC also reported that people have less money to spend because wages are not keeping up with living costs.  The generation that liked buying stuff are now retiring, and the next generation with money to spend are preferring to clear mortgages and invest in pensions.  The next generation in their 20's to 30's are enjoying experiences over owning stuff.  To get people to buy what you are selling means having something that they really need because it solves a problem for them.

This is not new, each generation wants to be different, this generation is likely to only buy things that they think they need over what they want, and at the moment they seem very environmentally aware of the impact they are having on the planet.

If you are worried about your industry, then the ONS website has some great stats about industry trends:

ONS reports online sales are increasing.

  • E-commerce sales by business in the UK (non-financial sector) were £688 billion in 2018, rising from £582 billion in 2017; at 18%, this was the largest annual growth seen since comparable records began in 2014.
  • Growth in total e-commerce sales has been mainly driven by an increase in website sales of £138 billion since 2014, while electronic data interchange sales have increased by £37 billion.
  • In 2018, 20.5% of the turnover of businesses with 10 or more employees was from e-commerce, up from 16.8% in 2017.

Early reports show December 2019 saw another increase in online sales when compared to previous years figures.  If you know your industry is healthy and you have not been hit by a Google penalty, and you are not enjoying increased online sales then something is wrong with your digital marketing efforts.

Even if you are trading business to business, unless you are unique, you will need to work hard at keeping your website up-to-date to beat your competition to the top of the search results.  You may not feel your website is needed to generate sales, but your potential customers will use it to research who you.

When none of the above apply...
If your decline in traffic does not fit any of the above mentioned, you will now need to systematically work through the following areas to find out what is wrong.  When it comes to declining traffic because of neglect you will need to know which types of customers you are missing out on and where they are coming from, which is covered below.

Compare current data to previous years data
You will not get a good sense of what is happening to your traffic unless you look at the bigger picture and use a wider data set.  Look at twelve months worth of data and compare it to the previous twelve months, do you have seasonal peaks and drops in traffic, these are your traffic trends.  If every January you see a drop off in traffic that bounces back in February then you do not have anything to worry about.

Check your code

graph traffic drop after analytics code removal

Make sure your analytics tracking code is in every page of your website.  It is usually the number one culprit for dwindling traffic.  Tweaks, removal and additional new pages can result in the accidental deletion of your tracking code.  It often happens when you have a webmaster who only updates your website, without monitoring your sites performance.

Go to any page of your website, right click on your mouse and a little box will appear:

  • click view page source
  • use your keyboard and hold down keys 'ctrl' and 'f' to open a search box in the top right hand side of your screen
  • type in 'your code' - this will highlight your analytics code amongst all that text.  If it is not here inform your web developer, or use your content manager to add it back in.[ELi]

Check meta data
Meta data can be found in your code.

From any screen in your website simply right click on your mouse and a little box will appear:

  • click view page source
  • use your keyboard and hold down keys 'ctrl' and 'f' to open a search box in the top right hand side of your screen
  • type in 'title' - this will highlight your title tag.  If your keyword is not here inform your web developer, or use your content manager to add it back in.
  • then type in 'description' - this will highlight your meta description.  Again a description of the page and keywords should be here, if not replace them.

Recent website changes
Keeping a record of every change I have made to a website has proved very useful time and again.  Simply work through each change one by one, reverse the change and monitor your analytics for improvements, if nothing happens then you know the last update was fine and can be re-installed, go to the previous change and repeat.  It is time consuming but worth it.

Get to know Google analytics and search console
Google analytics and Google search console are powerful tools that are free to use.  I would also recommend using independent data companies, but if you are starting out these two tools will be fine.  Google have plenty of videos and how to guides to help you understand how to use these software packages.

Technical issues
Look for crawl errors and HTML errors.  These two will show you how many internal errors your website may have.  Too many errors will impact on your user experience, which can lead to new visitors avoiding your website and drive returning visitors to your competition.

Speak to your web developer about any errors you find.  The most common are 404 (page not found) you can wait until Google de-indexes the missing page, or put some code into the old page to tell Google it has been removed.  Broken links are another common problem, this can take ages to check, I often use Moz software to crawl a website which gives all the details about the broken links.  Simply work through the list, or hand it over to your web developer to correct the problem.

Server overload
Web servers can easily become overloaded, make checking server timeouts a priority.  Your website may not be able to keep up with demand when too many people visit at the same time.  Be prepared for these times or change to a server that can handle high traffic numbers 24/7.

Check your keywords
Keep an eye on your top performing keywords, there is plenty of independent software available, some of which I prefer to use over Google's Search Console, such as Moz or Semrush.  You will be able to see if your top keywords are declining in the search rankings.  If your high performing keywords are dropping in ranking then that is a good indicator why your website traffic is dropping.

Do some research to see if your keywords are still relevant or if overall search for them is declining.  Look into new words that are being used.  You have the option to change your keyword focus across your website, or start creating more content that covers these new words. 

Identify where your traffic is coming from
The traffic into websites comes from multiple sources:

  • Direct traffic - visitors that land on your website either by typing your URL into their browser or who have bookmarked your page
  • Organic - visitors who arrive at your website via a search engine.
  • Paid - visitors coming from adverts within a search engine.
  • Referral - traffic brought to your website by your referral network, which are the websites linking to yours.
  • Social - users who land on your website from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram
  • Direct traffic
    When direct traffic drops off it is likely to be caused by a lack of updates to your website, new competition or a decline in your client type.

    Has it been months since you last updated your website?
    What are your competition up to?

    Come up with a plan of action for new content enabling you to update your site on a regular basis, this will give the search engines and your customers a reason to keep coming back.

    Organic traffic
    Organic traffic can drop off because of a Google penalty, keyword relevancy, new competition or missing keywords in the meta data.

    Once you know what penalty you have been awarded you can come up with a plan of action to start dealing with it.  Really think about what your customer wants and create great content, publish more often, improve links and avoid keyword stuffing. 

    Paid
    Paid can drop off because of budgets, missing code, decline in interest in the product or because of aggressive competition.  Have a chat with the company who is running your advertising to see if they can give an explanation and a new strategy.

    Referral
    Referral drop off could be because the referrer no longer links to you, or the content is old and buried too deep within the referring website for anyone to find it.  Ask the referrer to link to you again, or ask if you/they could update the content for republishing with a link to your site.

    Social media

  • Are you participating enough?
  • Are you answering your customers questions?
  • Are you selling more than giving advice?
  • Are you linking to your website?
  • Think about how you communicate with a new friend and how that friendship grows over a long period of time.  Apply similar rules to building your social media network but keep it professional, these are your customers not your best buddies.

    New or returning users
    A decline in new users is generally caused by the searcher having trouble finding your website in the search results.  Do some keyword research and make sure you are still using the right terms and consider content you could add which will incorporate those words.  Ideally keywords should be checked on an ongoing basis.

    Check your website structure when having problems with returning users.  They may be seeing 404 errors, or it is taking too long for your website to load to their browsers, a lack of new content and a general bad experience can all be reasons for returning visitor numbers to drop off.

    Check out your domain authority
    Moz do a nice little calculation that gives you a good idea what your domain and website page authority is.  It is calculated by the frequency of new pages published, number of pages, number of outbound and inbound links and the quality of those links etc. 

    The higher a websites domain authority the better it will do within the search results, plus it will be protected from a few bad links.  A huge decline in quality back links or the number of times you update your website can see a fall in ranking, thus leading to a loss in website traffic.

    Monitor your authority on a monthly basis so you can make adjustments where necessary.  When your authority improves, keep doing what you are doing.  When it gets worse, try something else.  Add the best possible content you can that helps your customer out, and go after back links from high quality websites only as well as linking pages within your own website. 

    Look for low quality back links
    Google does not like too many low quality links.  These links could be coming from bad neighbourhoods, they could also been seen as websites that were created purely to link to other websites for a small fee to help them get higher in the search engines.  When you have too many low quality back links, especially if it happens over a short period of time, Google will slap you with a penalty at some point.  You will either have to work really hard to get better quality links that outshine the amount of bad ones, or you can find and eliminate the ones you do not want.

    Check out your analytics tool for all the referral links your website is receiving.  You are looking for links that come in from different parts of the world, use a different language or link to pages that do not exist on your website.

    Get the professionals to check it over for submission to Google to disavow the links, which will clean up your link profile.

    You can read more here about the disavow tool

    Look at your competition
    Is there a new kid on the block, or has your existing competition been putting more effort into their site?

    To stay ahead of the pack you will always have to do more and be better than the rest of your industry - nothing new there.

    Get outside help
    Still can not find the problem but want to sort it out yourself? Purchase a report from SEMRUSH.  Their reports will make it clearer when, where and why your traffic dropped.  You will be able to do some research to pinpoint a Google update and read Moz's advice to remedy the situation.

    If you want to work with a person who has experience dealing with technical SEO issues then give us a call to see how I can help you.

    Final thoughts
    Google tends to test major algorithm changes on bigger companies months before it is rolled out to everyone else.  Keep an eye out for blogs reporting fluctuations in traffic, it may give you the time to make changes before your website gets noticed. 

    Nobody but Google knows what is coming next, so keep analysing your online presence and stay up to date with current trends, but most of all learn what works best for your business by doing your own tests and providing your customers with what they want, instead of concentrating on ways of gaming the search engines.

    Further Reading:
    10 common reasons your website traffic is dropping
    Website goals strategy and tactics - know the difference

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