When I talk to clients I always try to temper expectations, especially if they’re fairly inexperienced when it comes to how search engines work. Winning the battle in search results is rarely an easy game, but when you do start pulling in traffic it can become a huge part of your business. Things get scary, however, when you come to rely on that traffic and it starts disappearing. In my years of experience, I’ve come to find that there are a few common threads when search traffic starts to dry up.
You’ve Lost Ground In Keyword Rankings
What’s this? Plain and simple, you don’t rank as highly as you used to. Unless you’re paying close attention to your rankings every day (who has time for that) it can be hard to notice when you start to fall off for keywords that drive a lot of traffic to your site. Unfortunately, you can lose a lot of traffic before you really start to notice this issue because it usually happens really slowly.
How to identify: The best way to look into this is by using Google Search Console (a.k.a. Google Webmaster Tools). Select the Search Traffic > Search Analytics report and select the Clicks, Impressions, CTR, Position radio boxes and set the Dates to Comparison and select the before and after dates you want to compare. You can scan down the report and look for differences in average position. If you find keywords that have fallen out of the top few listings and off the first page you’ll likely see a corresponding loss in clicks. To do this in bulk, export a .csv file of the report and manipulate the data in Excel.
It’s Not You, It’s Google
What’s this? No, it’s not a breakup, but sometimes Google decides you’re not going to get as much traffic as you once did. It’s nothing personal, but sometimes Google changes the format of their listings and your top organic listing can get pushed further down the results which leads to less traffic. This can be for any number of reasons, but here are some that happen fairly regularly:
- Addition of image listings for a keyword
- Addition of news listings
- More localized results added for a keyword
- Answer box listings take information from your site and display it in the search result
How to identify: Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of easy ways to do this. If you use a rank tracking software they will sometimes tell you if there are search features, and if you’re paying attention you can follow along to see when more arise. Otherwise, you just kind of have to sniff these out by doing searches for your popular keywords from time-to-time. Or, if you see that your Search Console CTR has dipped but your ranking hasn’t, that can be a telltale sign that something new is going on in your search results.
Pages Experiencing Technical Difficulties
What’s this? Websites have things go wrong. I wish it weren’t so, but things happen. No matter how careful we are with a site sometimes we misplace something or make a mistake and in doing so harm our precious traffic numbers. Recently I was working with a client who couldn’t seem to figure out why their blog traffic had fallen off so drastically. After some research, I realized that they had changed the URL structure of their blog posts when they relaunched their site which meant all the links to those pages had disappeared and along with them the rankings and traffic.
How to identify: The easiest way to do this is to once again head into Search Console, but rather than the default “Queries” report, select “Pages” and then check your radio boxes and set your date range. If you export this data you should be able to see pages from the earlier period getting all kinds of traffic while the new period has little or none. If the before pages and after pages don’t align after you’ve relaunched your site you’ll want to either fix the URLs back to their prior state or make sure that the old URLs have 301 redirects pointing users and search engines to the new version of that page.