Analyzing traffic drops in Google Analytics with easeAutor Thea Zinner
Time for panic or false alarm? Here you can find out what you have to do if your website experiences a drop in traffic.
Time for panic or false alarm? Learn here how to find out what you have to do if your website experiences a sudden traffic drop.
Everyone goes through highs and lows, both we as SEOs and websites. But have you ever been in a situation where the website traffic of the client you are working for or your own website has decreased and you weren’t really sure what to do?
For SEOs and virtually every marketer, it is crucial to correctly identify and analyze a traffic decline. Because you have to know exactly when you need to get your client or boss on board and what measures are to be taken. And it won’t work without an in-depth analysis.
This article will guide you through the analysis process and provide instructions on how to deal with a traffic drop and what exactly needs to be analyzed.
Confirm the drop
A crucial first step is to identify a real traffic drop as opposed to tracking errors or seasonal fluctuations. After all, you don’t want to raise a false alarm with the customer or the manager.
So before you go into the analysis and dive into Google Analytics, you should make sure that you have selected the right and above all a suitable time frame.
What do I mean by that?
For example, select the same number of days in total, days of the week, and weekends in the comparison periods. Also, pay attention to whether in the two periods to be analyzed, e.g.
- bank holidays (especially Christmas, Easter, etc.)
- holidays (summer holidays, etc.)
- or a special sales or marketing event such as Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, Amazon Prime Day, etc. took place.
Moreover, avoid working with sample data that is too small or only a small amount of data in total. If your website generally is low in traffic, you can, for example, choose a longer period in the comparison periods.
You should also verify that all Google Analytics tracking codes have been correctly implemented and that Google Analytics measures reliably.
If you are sure that a real traffic drop has happened, you can start the analysis.
Identify where and why you lost traffic
To fix the problem and find the right solution, it is important to locate where on your website or in which area the traffic has decreased. Check the following:
Channels in the acquisition report
Which marketing channel is affected? A single channel or the entire website?
Check the different channels like Organic Search, Social, Referral, Direct, Email. Depending on whether a single channel or several / all are affected by the traffic drop, you can refine your analysis and analyze more precisely what could be the trigger of the drop. If the drop only happened in the organic search, you can check competitors, backlink profile, on-page factors, or positions in SERP in the next step (see also the paragraph after next).
Check different segments
Did the drop only happen in a specific segment? Analyze for example the difference between:
- Device type (mobile vs. desktop vs. tablet): If the mobile traffic drops, the problem may lie in the loading time, responsiveness, or the general mobile usability (button or text size, etc.).
- Page type (e.g. product pages vs. category pages vs. blog posts vs. homepage etc.)
- Check the audience report: Are new or returning users affected? If the traffic falls from new users, the website may have a visibility problem; if the number of returning users drops, the problem is more with user loyalty.
Have the positions changed?
Go to the Search Console report in Google Analytics under Acquisition and look for a change or decrease in the rankings for important keywords or whether you can see a general drop.
From this, you can already draw conclusions as to whether the problem is concentrated on a few pages and keywords or rather the entire website is performing poorly. If a very important, conversion-strong keyword has dropped from position 1 to 3, it can have a big cut in traffic and conversions. You should then analyze in more detail why the competitors have overtaken your website in the SERPs and can derive appropriate measures.
Does SEM cannibalize SEO traffic?
One reason for a traffic drop could be that the PPC traffic cannibalizes the success of your organic results. If the colleagues from the SEA department suddenly target the same keywords for which the website ranks very well and high in the organic search results, this can have negative consequences for organic traffic. But not only your own ads can affect organic traffic, but new search ads from competitors can also steal valuable clicks.
In order to check whether cannibalization is the cause, it is helpful to use the data from Google Analytics to create a stacked area diagram to visualize the traffic by channels.
Analyze traffic drop outside of Google Analytics
First check the obvious:
Was there a Google update?
A very common reason for a drop in organic traffic is a Google update.
You can find information about Google Updates e.g. on the well-known SEO news sites or if you follow Google on Twitter or the SEO community in general 🙂
Did some of the pages fly out of the index?
Log in to the Search Console and examine the corresponding URL in the URL inspection tool. If you don’t have access to the Search Console, you can simply go to the page that suddenly has less or no traffic. Examine the source code of the page and use the search function (Ctrl + F for Windows, Cmd + F for Mac) to find the word ‘noindex’. If you find this code, you should remove it because it causes the page in question to be removed from the index and not appear in the search results:
<meta name = ”robots” content = ”noindex, nofollow” />
Is the drop due to seasonal fluctuations?
As explained at the beginning of the blog, this includes holidays, vacations, bridge days etc. These can sometimes have a major impact on the performance of the website.
Check whether someone has accidentally blocked the entire website or important subpages/subdirectories in the robots.txt file.
Here’s what a robots.txt looks like that blocks all bots from crawling the website:
User agent: *
Or only for individual subdirectories:
User agent: *
Disallow: / folder /
Is there a manual Google penalty?
Your website may have received a manual penalty from Google. You will find a notification about this in the Search Console. Select the respective property and navigate under ‘Security & Manual Measures’ to ‘Manual Measures’. If there is no penalty message here, you have one less thing to worry about.
Did the decrease in (organic) traffic coincide with a major change in the website or a change in marketing activities?
e.g. Redesign, migration, new domain, stop of all Google or social ads …
Poorly implemented website migrations, extensive changes to the layout or navigation of the website can have a huge impact on performance. So talk to the developers and other colleagues who are working on the website and make sure that no major changes have been made that could be responsible for the bad numbers.
Has the website just been overhauled by one of the competitors in the SERPs? e.g. Check in ahrefs or SEMRushs Rankings Distribution Report or manually in the SERPs.
Have there been changes in the SERPs?
Check whether Google made changes to the search results pages itself or whether competitors optimized their snippets. To do this, either use well-known SEO tools such as Sistrix or ahrefs or simply check manually whether the search results page has changed. What can change in SERP?
- Number of Google Ads (Search Ads, Google Shopping)
- New or additional SERP features such as, Featured Snippets, People Also Ask, Google Maps, Image Pack etc.
- Optimized snippets of competitors through FAQ scheme, product scheme, sitelinks, reviews, etc.
Last but not least – check the backlink profile of the website. Perhaps the website was the target of a spam backlink attack or the link has suddenly dropped. If your backlink profile is bad, you should remove the toxic links with the Disavow Tool in the Search Console.
Hopefully, this post was helpful to you, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by email or social media. If your website is affected by a traffic drop and you would like help with the analysis or need SEO help in general, please contact us.