So, you’ve been keeping an eye on your organic traffic in Google Analytics or some other software, and your traffic or rankings have been dropping lately. If they’re dropping enough, you may feel like the world is ending. I get why you might be feeling that way. It’s perfectly natural for any business owner’s or marketing manager’s heart to drop along with sinking organic traffic. When your rankings for keywords you’ve worked hard to optimize and rank for are no longer producing fruitful traffic – that’s serious. But I assure you, if you take certain steps, you’ll be back on track in no time – and could even get better results than ever before.
Here’s the deal: your rankings and traffic have dropped due to changes in something Google is doing. Surprise, surprise. And a lot has changed lately with what Google is doing. But this is good news, because this means you can fix it – by adjusting what you’re doing to meet the focus of Google (and by proxy, your users). SO, let’s first find out WHY your traffic and rankings have dropped. Then, you can take action to correct those issues and get back on track.
Here are 5 major reasons your organic traffic or rankings are dropping.
1. Changes to Search Engine Algorithms
Google’s search algorithms are always changing. Algorithms are sets of signals to determine how trustworthy, reputable, relevant or authoritative a website is. When Algorithms change, it’s Google’s response to the way users search and travel web. The algorithm uses bots to crawl and read millions of web pages every day. When the method those bots use to crawl changes, the factors they look for as they crawl changes, and THAT changes what results they offer to searchers as results to all their questions.
But that doesn’t mean that things are out of your hands. The key thing you should focus on with the above paragraph is “…Google’s response to the way user search…”. Point is: Don’t make Google out to be some enemy of your rankings. They’re only attempting to do what you should be doing anyways: creating the best possible experience for users. If pages on your site have dipped in traffic and rankings, it may be worth refreshing the content and keyword targets to make sure that you’re emphasizing the sorts of things people are actually searching for. After all, things do shift over time.
2. Your Technical SEO isn’t tight
For years, the old adage for anything digital marketing has been: “Content is King”. And that is a fair assessment based upon analysis of the companies that are doing the best vs those that aren’t doing so well. But the truth is, many marketers and business owners can get caught up in producing content and overlook technical aspects of SEO. Depending on your website – whether it’s e-commerce, service, products, or content based – there are multiple factors that will contribute to keeping your technical SEO “tight”.
Here are a few technical SEO questions to ask about ANY website:
- What pages is your robots.txt file blocking and allowing to be crawled by search engine bots?
- As you update content or add pages, did any of your pages accidentally get left with a NoIndex/NoFollow tag on them?
- Are there any pages on your site covering the same topics, targeting the same keywords, or with the same overall theme? This goes beyond duplicate content (which is also a big deal). But for instance, with e-commerce, this could be a ton of products in one product category (the bots can’t tell which page is primary). Make sure these pages are using canonical tags correctly to refer the page that you want Google to prioritize.
- Is your website mobile responsive? This is a key ranking factor now since early in 2016. If it isn’t, it should be, like, yesterday.
- Page Speed – are your pages loading too slow? Are your images being cached? Are your images optimized for web? You can check your site’s speed with this free tool from Google.
To help get you started, here is a Technical SEO Checklist from MOZ .
3. Manual and Algorithmic Penalties
Okay, so it’s not just a “dip” in traffic? It’s a “plummet”, you say? 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 is issued when your site has been flagged for not complying with Google’s Webmaster quality guidelines. If these issues go unresolved for an extended period of time, your rankings will drop as a result. Nevertheless, these issues are easy to find if you have Webmaster Tools in the Manual Actions area as highlighted below.
While penalties will be visible in your Google Search Console account – algorithmic penalties won’t. Algorithmic penalties are far more common and occur relatively naturally when Google has an update to their search algorithms.
It can be difficult to tell if you’ve been hit by an algorithmic penalty, because Google won’t tell you like they do with manual penalties. But things like toxic backlinks or duplicate, thin, and poorly written content can all be contributing factors.
Crawl tools such as Screaming Frog uncover 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. Organic Click Through Rates
What do your organic click through rates look like? It’s been debated whether organic click through rates have a direct impact on search rankings, but even from a user experience standpoint, it’s important to address any pages on your site that may be ranking well but are not commanding clicks. Bottom line: Google wants to deliver relevant information to a searcher. If you are ranking for a search but it’s not getting clicked on, Google will think it made a mistake and try to figure out why it’s not getting clicked on. To improve this – improve your meta descriptions and page titles by including compelling copy and calls to action.
The only foolproof strategy to SEO is to treat it as a long-term investment. The more you put into the investment account – with quality content, technical SEO, and good user experience – the more your website and rankings “interest” will compound – thereby growing the value of your account. Then, IF something does happen with Google’s algorithms, or even if something drastic changes in your market, your rankings and traffic will be insulated from the tumultuous outside world.
Of course, if you have questions about any of this stuff, or would like us to take a look at your site and make some recommendations, let us know.