Has your website recently experienced a drop in organic search traffic? It's all too easy to panic when you lose significant rankings for your key phrases, but in most cases the change is short term, and it's often possible to make a full recovery.
More importantly, there are actions you can take to find out why your traffic and rankings have dropped. Once you’ve identified the causes, you can work on a plan to help you climb back to where you want to be.
So, here are six possible reasons why your organic traffic may have dropped:
1. Changes to Search Behaviour & Trends
Drops in organic search traffic and rankings can sometimes have nothing to do with your content or external links. Sometimes, drops can occur for reasons that are beyond your control.
Google’s search algorithms are constantly changing. With these changes come additional changes to how search results are returned to users. But that doesn’t mean that things are completely out of your hands. Indeed, ignoring current search trends can heavily impact your site’s search visibility.
If key landing pages on your site have experienced a decline in traffic and rankings, it may be worth refreshing their keyword targets to make sure that your up to date with the sorts of things people are actually searching for.
Google Trends is a good place to start, as it can help you to gauge whether your targeted key phrases have experienced either a gradual drop or a sharp decline. Additionally you can refer to Google Search Console’s Search Analytics data to get a recent snapshot of what users are currently searching for to find your products and services.
2. Uninformed Site Changes
In addition to search marketing fundamentals, it’s common for some developers to make changes to your site without informing stakeholders and your marketing department. So if you experience a drop in organic traffic, it might be worth having a quick catch up with your developer or your senior colleagues to find out whether any significant changes have been made to the site.
From there you can request another crawl of the domain using tools such as Screaming Frog to identify any pages that may have been marked as no-index or stripped of content.
In addition to any uninformed changes made by your developer, review any new content that’s been added to the site by other people that may conflict with key landing pages on your site.
3. Manual or Algorithmic Penalties
If your site has experienced a significant drop in organic traffic, you may have been hit by a manual or algorithmic penalty. A manual penalty will be issued if your site has been flagged for not complying with Google’s quality guidelines, and your rankings will be penalised as a result. Manual penalties are easy to spot, as you will be notified with a messages from Google in the Manual Action section of your Google Search Console account.
Alternatively you may have been hit with an algorithmic penalty. These are far more more common and occur naturally when Google issues an update to their search algorithms.
It can be difficult to tell if you’ve been hit by an algorithmic penalty, as you won’t receive any notifications like you do with manual penalties. So if you’ve experienced a drop in organic traffic, try auditing your site for any harmful back links you may have recently acquired, as well as identifying any duplicate or poorly written content.
Crawl tools such as Screaming Frog will help point out any pages on your site with low word counts, and Ahrefs will identify any recently obtained external links that are spammy or irrelevant to your content.
4. Neglecting Technical SEO
It’s fair to say that many people get caught up in churning out new content for their sites and end up neglecting technical SEO fundamentals as a result.
Technical SEO is a hugely complex topic, but here are some key points that you could initially look into:
- Is your robots.txt file blocking certain pages from being crawled by search bots?
- Are there any pages on your site marked up with the noindex tag?
- Do you have multiple pages covering the similar themes or target the same keywords? Make sure these pages are correctly canonicalised to refer the original page that you want search engines to return.
- Is your site mobile friendly? Not only are more people searching with mobile devices, but it’s also one of Google’s major ranking signals.
- Are your pages slow to load? Again, page load speed was taken into account to determine search rankings some time ago now.
To help you identify and rectify the sort of common issues that may be negatively affecting your rankings, here’s a handy technical SEO checklist.
5. Check Your Organic Click Through Rates
While it’s been debated whether organic click through rates have a direct impact on search rankings, it’s important to address any pages on your site that may be ranking well but are not driving clicks.
This means another trip to your Google Search Console account. Head over to the Search Analytics section in Search Traffic, and apply fields to show clicks, position, impressions and click though rates. Sort your keywords by highest ranking and focus on any that have a particularly low click through rate.
To improve organic CTRs, you should look at improving page meta descriptions and titles by adding clear calls to actions and enticing messages.
6. Lost External and Internal Links
Losing any quality and relevant external links can have an equal impact on your search visibility as obtaining them. So if any back links pointing to your site are lost or made temporarily unavailable, it may have a huge impact on your site’s authority. This in turn may trigger a drop in rankings.
To help recover any lost back links, use professional tools such as Ahrefs to identify external links that have recently been lost. Alternatively, Google Analytics is also the perfect source to identity an declines in traffic from particular referral sources.
There’s a good chance that you will have lost external links as a result of not correctly redirecting a page that you’ve either removed or relocated on your site. So refer back to Google Search Console and download a report of all your 404 errors. You can then set up 301 redirects for any URL paths that have changed. A summary of all your site’s 404 errors is available with the Crawl Errors section of Google Search Console.