A business contacted us recently to try and understand why their client’s website traffic had taken a dive. They were comparing website traffic in Google Analytics for one month this year versus the previous year. Their website traffic had dropped nearly 19% and then declined a further 35% a few weeks later bringing total traffic to the site down by 54%.
It was a significant drop and one which aroused our curiosity, particularly since a large loss of traffic impacted this business significantly.
Here are the steps to diagnose why there was a drop in traffic.
1. Look at what date the drop started to occur in Google Analytics.
In this instance, the change in overall traffic started to decline significantly on 10th January (-22%). Fortunately, this change did not coincide with any major Google algorithm changes (the last major update was 22nd January). There were also no annotations in Google Analytics so we did not have a history of any promotions or changes that were made to the website.
2. Check Google Trends to see if searches for significant keywords had declined overall
Google trends revealed that there was an 11% decline in searches for key search terms in January. That might go part of the way to explain the drop but it still didn’t explain such a big drop, Time to dig a little deeper.
3. Drill down to Traffic Sources in Google analytics.
Look at the Search section and check the organic and paid search traffic. Determine if the drop is from organic or paid search. In this instance, the drop was definitely organic and the drop started to occur before January. In fact, the first noticeable drop in traffic was 26th December (26%) and the drop increased significantly on 1 January (40%) and then again on 27th January (57%).
4. Think about what events happened in that time period.
Make a note about what event happened that may have impacted site traffic. For example:
- Were there any promotions during the previous period?
- Did the website change significantly over the past year?
- Were there any major Google algorithm changes?
- Have you changed SEO providers?
In this particular instance, there were 2 major Google changes (22nd December 2012 & 22nd January 2013) and the business had also changed SEO providers (18th January).
5. Do a backlink analysis to see if any links had been dropped
There are a couple of tools we use to review backlinks. One of the most important tools in Webmaster Tools. It’s a great little resource because not only is it free, you can also download a list of the sites that link to your website. Unfortunately, at the time we were analysing this Webmaster Tools had a little bug and did not show any data.
Fortunately, we had a backup. There are a few alternatives you can use to review backlinks. These include ahrefs, Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer.
An analysis of backlink history showed a number of backlinks to the home page were lost in January. The backlinks that were lost were links from several domains with duplicate content that the previous SEO company-owned. Seems that when the company stopped SEO, the SEO provider removed the links. This can be a dangerous situation and it can happen more often than you think.
Apart from the loss of links, it also looked like an algorithm update (Panda version 24) may also impacted website traffic.
6. Review anchor text of backlinks
If you have followed the steps above and still have trouble identifying the root cause, then it is also a good idea to review the hyperlinked text (anchor text) for the backlinks. If any of the links contain keyword-rich phrases in the links with very few generic or branded terms, it’s a good idea to either review the existing links and request to have them modified or aim for new links with a greater diversity of anchor text.
You can review anchor text using a paid tool like Majestic SEO. Alternatively, there are a couple of free options including one provided for free from webconfs.
In this example, it appeared that the website was impacted by two major events. The first event was the removal of backlinks from the previous SEO provider and the second event was a Google algorithm update. Whilst diagnosing the issue can be relatively straightforward, it is not always the case.
The key is to keep drilling down to understand the root cause. Once you understand the root cause, you can take steps to fix the problem.
An important thing to note is that if annotations were added in Google Analytics then this would have helped provide more richness to our review. This is because websites can be quite dynamic and change significantly over a period of time.
Trying to remember key changes after the event can be difficult. Documenting any changes to your website at the time they occur may help assist in diagnosing anything that may have been done to impact the website. Sometimes it can be very simple things (like the removal of a couple of pages) that can impact traffic.