The fact is, SEO is all about trial and error. No matter how much time you put into optimizing your web design and content, there’s always a chance that suddenly, out of the blue, your traffic could drop. And it sucks. It really sucks. But it’s not the end of the world.
Once you’ve gotten over the initial shock of it all, it’s time to get down to business and figure out what went wrong. The first thing you should do is check your Google Anaylitcs: do you notice any patterns in your web traffic that might explain it? For example, if it’s winter and you’re a landscaper, it could be that your content is optimized for lawn care at the expense of snow removal. Or maybe it’s a holiday and no one’s currently looking to have their well water tanks replaced?
Second, double check that your code is updated and that your traffic is accurately tracked. It could be that your Google Analytics codes are not integrated properly or that a part of the code has been accidentally left out.
If these don’t solve your problem, it’s time to do a little investigative work. Join me as we examine the five most common reasons for a sudden drop in web traffic.
1. Search Engine Penalties
The thing to remember about the Google search engine is that it always puts search relevance first. Its goal is to ensure that when someone searches for a keyword, they get the information, product, or service that they want—as quickly as possible. In order to ensure searcher satisfaction, Google sends crawlers out to explore the internet. They come back in with valuable information about new web pages and websites which it then indexes and makes searchable.
If Google finds out you’re breaking one of their rules or are not offering the quality content you’re claiming to, you may get punished. In some cases, this punishment might mean that a competitor will suddenly rank higher than you because their content looks better to Google. In cases where you have violated Google’s guidelines, they may take punitive action against you and even go so far as to de-index your site.
Let’s take a look at 6 issues that may cause Google to penalize your website and affect your web traffic:
- Paid backlinks: The internet is made up of links and in order to rank well on Google, it’s important to have a lot of them. However, this has encouraged some people to buy backlinks in order to make their site appear more authoritative to Google. If Google links your website to a linking scheme or a network of bad links, you can be punished. And it can happen overnight.
- Cloaking: Cloaking is a technique that gives different information to a search engine crawler than to a user that’s using the search engine. It’s usually used to boost a website’s searchability on a keyword that the content is not optimized for. So make sure that users see the same content as the crawlers and you’ll be okay!
- Redirects: It could also be that a page on your site is redirecting users to a suspicious or spammy website. Make sure that if you’re using a redirect, that it’s redirecting users to the right place.
- Duplicate Content: One of the first rules of content creation is that it needs to be original. It cannot be copied from other parts of the web or duplicated on multiple parts of your own website. Google will flag your website for duplicated content because it will appear that you’re trying to scam their crawlers.
- Thin Content: Make sure your content is high quality and offers users the information they’re looking for. Having lots of pages with next to no content (or bad content) could be flagged by Google.
- Keyword Stuffing: Take a look through your content and double check that it reads naturally. Overloading your content with keywords is a sure-fire way for Google to flag your website. Many people mistakenly believe that the more keywords, the better. But with Google, the rule is that content should, first and foremost, be written for human readers. Work in your keywords naturally, don’t overstuff them.
2. Updates to the Google Algorithm
Google is constantly updating its algorithm. If you need proof, here’s a history of Google’s algorithm updates . Every time they do an update or tweak it, a bit of chaos ensues. Some websites will drop off and others will rank better. In the end, we’re all trying to keep up with the changes that Google makes to improve user satisfaction.
Because Google’s algorithm changes affect so many websites and businesses, they usually get covered on SEO news sites. For the latest information, scope out The Moz Blog , Neil Patel, Search Engine Land , and Search Engine Journal. These sites usually do write-ups of major and minor tweaks to the algorithm.
If the changes have only affected a niche market focused around unique keywords, there’s a chance they won’t be reported in major news outlets. If you suspect this could be the problem, use a SERP tracking tool to determine whether there have been any recent fluctuations in the rankings around your keywords.
3. You’ve Recently Updated Your Site
You could experience traffic drops on your site if you’ve made changes to either the content or the site architecture. Same goes if you’ve had a whole new website constructed on the same URL—you could end up with a sudden dip in traffic even though your new site is optimized for SEO.
A. Content Changes
Whenever you do a major site overhaul, there’s a good chance that the content will need to be updated along with it. Whether these changes are tied to structural changes in the design, to new interactive content like videos, or because you’re simply expanding your products and services, new content means big changes for SEO.
Whenever you make major content changes, Google will automatically reassess the relevance of the new pages for the keyword. If your keyword is not included in the right parts of the page (H1, H2, body text, etc.) then it may appear that your content is less relevant than it was before. Ensure that all your content is still optimized for SEO.
Be careful when removing pages of content as well. If you remove a page with a keyword that has a high traffic potential, there’s a good chance your overall site traffic will drop off. On top of losing high traffic content, you may also create gaps in your content. Gaps create a disjointed user experience, forcing them to go elsewhere for content that is relevant to them.
B. Site Architecture Changes
Websites are basically collections of pages that are linked together. The organization of these links is called site architecture. When Google crawlers pass through the links that make up your website, they analyze how effectively it is organized.
Creating a sitemap with a strong focus on your site’s hierarchical structure is crucial to maintaining good rankings. The pages on your website will be ranked according to how many clicks are required to arrive at them from a high-value page (like Home or About Us). Conversely, changes to the architecture can hurt your ranking and cause a decrease in traffic.
Take a close look at your sitemap. Is it well structured? Is it easy for users to find what they want? Are your most relevant pages easiest to find? And most importantly: were some links broken during the redesign? Do you have links that go nowhere?
4. High Authority Backlinks Lost
Backlinks are the single most important way to improve your SEO. Backlinks from high authority websites are crucial for improving ranking. And anyone who has ever tried to improve their SEO while following Google’s rules and policies knows that natural backlinks are hard to come by. They take a lot of effort. But the payoff is huge.
However, that also means that losing good backlinks can seriously affect your ranking. Use a backlink checker to see where your backlinks are coming from. Make sure you keep a close eye on your backlinks. They have a tendency to disappear and knowing why they do can help you preserve your ranking or regain it.
The most common reason for a lost backlink is that the URL it came from is expired or under new ownership. In fact, this is so common that there is a spam industry that relies on it. These companies wait for URLs to expire and then snatch them up, along with all the backlinks to it. Because these companies often have low authority ratings and are often considered downright suspicious, your own ranking might be hurt just for linking to them.
It could also be that the owner of the site decided they wanted to do a little cleaning and deleted the page of content that linked to your page. The flip side of this could happen too: if you’re linking to a page that no longer exists, your readers will be directed to either the wrong site or a blank page.
Finally, the owner of the site that’s linking to you could have started creating garbage content. Or they could have decided to increase their pop-up ads. When a site you’re linking to gets hit by Google penalties or loses its authority, this can seriously affect the quality of your backlinks. Your association with these sites can affect your ranking and your traffic.
5. Are You Falling Behind the Competition?
Rankings can change quickly online. If you start to fall behind on some trends you might lose your spot on the SERP. This can be affected by things like high ROI and high traffic keywords. It can also be affected by not adopting current standards like mobile-optimized sites.
In this case, you might be falling behind a competitor not for anything you’re doing, but because of what you’re not doing (that the competitor is). A great example of this is Google’s recent addition of the mobile-first index. Introduced in May of this year, the mobile-first index has been developed to rank mobile sites. Mobile-first means that Google is going to rank your URL based on the mobile site that’s attached to it. If you don’t have a mobile site, it will still crawl your desktop version as seen through a mobile device.
Google has, for a long time, recognized the importance of mobile for their search engine. It’s one of the reasons that they’re the leader in local searches—well beyond their competitors Bing, Yahoo, and AOL. By prioritizing mobile in this way, Google has sent out a very clear message to its users: go mobile or go down. It’s as simple as that.
If you’ve recently noticed that your ranking changed, and your traffic dropped it could be because your competitors have already built beautiful, user-friendly mobile sites. You might not have done anything wrong, but everyone else is doing something right!
It’s also possible that you’ve lost traffic because the keywords you’ve been optimizing are no longer valuable. As we mentioned before, Google is designed to give users the information that’s relevant to them. If you’re trying to optimize keywords that are no longer considered relevant, your page might fall down in the ranks.
If you’ve learned anything from this article, I hope it’s that SEO is a game that never ends. It’s a constant negotiation. A permanent back and forth. There are no shortcuts. Just hard work, every day.
If keeping up with the latest keyword trends, algorithm changes, and other constant updates is not your thing, you could always try hiring a professional. At LinkNow Media, SEO is what we do best. Our job is to increase your site traffic—whether it’s a website we’ve built or not. With all the right tools and a dedicated team of marketing professionals, LinkNow Media will get you the traffic you want and keep it coming.