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8 Reasons Why Your Website is Losing Organic Traffic

  • April 24, 2022
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About the author

Cesar Cobo

I’m a data driven marketer who enjoys talking shop, Salsa dancing and 90’s sitcoms. Whenever I'm not maniacally poring over an audit, I’m probably contemplating an intricate strategy to dominate Google while tenting my fingers.

Picture this: It’s Friday.

You’re doing some admin work before shutting it down for the weekend.

You decide to take a look at Google Analytics to see how your website’s organic traffic is doing.

It’s taken a dip this month. Weird! A little more digging and it’s clear that . . .

Your organic traffic has fallen off a cliff.

WTF is going on?!

It’s every website owner and marketing manager’s worst nightmare.

When organic traffic dive bombs, most website owners and managers panic, are confused and don’t know what to do.

A sudden and unexpected loss of traffic can impact:

  • Customer acquisition/inbound leads
  • Conversion rates
  • Sales, revenue, and profits.

You need to figure out why this has happened and how to fix the problem. There are many reasons why organic traffic suddenly declines:

  • An algorithm update
  • Technical issues
  • Unexpected website penalties

Diagnosing the problem is the first step. Only then can you implement fixes that should restore web traffic, click-through, and conversion rates, to normal.

Firstly, keep calm, it’s not the end of the world. Every website goes through organic traffic dips and drop-offs at some point. There’s always a reason. And it’s almost always fixable.

Let’s dive into my 8-step audit process to diagnose the problem and find a solution . . .

1. What type of organic traffic loss is occuring?

The first step is looking the velocity of your traffic loss, as this can give us a strong indication of why your website is losing organic traffic. Once we know why, we can diagnose and fix faster.

Did your traffic fall off a cliff suddenly?

If your traffic took a large nose dive in a short period of time (30 days or less), the root of your issues is likely algorithmic. Google releases algorithm updates regularly which can impact your traffic overnight. Algorithmic penalties can be removed fairly quickly once you understand the changes you need to make to get your site compliant.

seo traffic loss - big drop

Did your traffic fall off a cliff and go to zero?

In the previous example, there was still traffic being recorded. In this example, your traffic goes all the way to zero. In this scenario, it’s likely you have a tracking issue (i.e. your Google Analytics script was removed, broken, etc). This is the best case scenario, as you’re not actually losing traffic, just tracking visibility (which is an easy fix).

seo traffic loss - go to zero

Is your traffic steady declining over a longer period of time?

While it still could be algorithmic, a long steady loss is more likely due to neglect. Not creating content, not getting inbound links, etc. The grass is green where you water it – if you don’t actively market your website, you won’t get much traffic.

2. Is it a technical roadblock?

Open Google Search Console (GSC) to look at your Performance on Search Results report.

checking google search console for traffic loss

We’re looking to see if there’s been a drop in keyword specific rankings.

keyword loss traffic

You’re looking to see if there’s most (or all) of the dropoff is coming from specific keywords or pages.

If yes, keep reading, we have solutions for you.

If no, then the issue is likely technical (i.e. domain migration, website redesign, misused directives, etc).

Look for any of the following technical issues in Google Search Console:

  • Check your tracking code is installed correctly (you can do this in Admin > Tracking Info > Tracking Code), to ensure Google is reading the site correctly
  • Any messages from Google about manual actions you need to take (more about this later, under Penalties)
  • The crawl rate, and whether that’s taken a hit
  • Website technical errors (canonical tags, NOINDEX tags, incorrect redirects, etc.)
  • Are you sure every page is being crawled and indexed by Google (are they all visible in search engines)?
  • Are there any broken links, 404 error pages, or 301 redirects?

Our agency developed an audit that helps us troubleshoot all of these issues from a single screen.

Have a look inside the most powerful SEO audit on the planet, The Website Quality Audit

3. Were you hit by a Google penalty?

As the world’s leading search engine, Google is the ultimate algorithmically-powered guardian of online content quality and relevance.

Google penalties, while not all that common (so long as you’re playing nice and not doing black hat-ish things), can wipe your traffic out significantly overnight. That causes a lot of misinformation, fear, doubt, and uncertainty.

If you’ve suffered a traffic drop, it’s not always (and likely not) because of a penalty. There are numerous other reasons — algorithm updates, technical issues, etc. — as we are going through in this post. However, it’s always worth checking if a Google penalty has been issued.

Here’s how you check for Google Penalties:

  • Log into your Google Search Console;
  • Go to the “Manual Actions” tab
  • Check for any “Manual Actions” Google has flagged, indicating a penalty has been issued;
  • If spammy links are the problem, you can easily disavow and submit a reconsideration request in Google Search Console.

Google also provides a range of helpful options and actions you can take if you have incurred penalties.

Don’t worry if you’ve still not uncovered the reason for losing traffic. You can take several more steps to find and fix the problem.

4. Were you impacted by an algorithm update?

Google rolls out algorithm updates hundreds of times a year. Most are inconsequential and go unnoticed. Others are significant — such as Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda — and Google usually makes a statement afterward, to alert website owners.

Algorithm updates can wreak havoc on websites.

Google rarely announces updates beforehand. Even if they do, it’s usually very cryptic and nebulous, which means as a website owner or manager, you typically have no warning it’s coming.

However, tools like SEMrush allow you to check your keyword rankings against algorithm updates, making it easy to diagnose algorithmic issues.

google algorithm update

The impact on traffic could be minor — or more significant — depending on how the change affects your website.

Unfortunately, in most cases, you can’t fix or appeal the impact of an algorithm update.

If your site has been impacted by an algorithmic update, it’s very likely that you will need to reassess the direction of your marketing and make adjustments to things like your website architecture and/or content silos.

5. Is it due to traffic seasonality? UX issues? Regional?

Now, it’s time to dig deeper into user behavior. In Google Analytics, set your timeframe over 3-5 years.

Are there easy-to-spot trends that could explain why your website traffic is declining?

google analytics organic traffic loss

A screenshot from our client’s GA account. Since our clients don’t lose organic traffic, we couldn’t find an example that would properly demonstrate 🙂

Within Google Analytics, review the Device and Demographics reports:

  • Is there a device-specific decline? Maybe your website isn’t mobile-friendly (these days, that’s a big factor in how Google ranks websites).
  • A reduction in traffic from a specific country or region?
  • Or could it be seasonal?

For example, companies that sold products and services specifically for the pandemic are seeing massive drops in traffic.

New types of content — more long-term and less seasonal (known as “evergreen content”), new product/service pages, and making your website mobile-friendly — could solve these problems.

6. Did you lose rankings?

Now we are going to dive deeper into analytics data. Everything above are the most obvious reasons; with pretty simple solutions, a website suddenly loses traffic.

In Google Analytics, you can compare a traffic window before the drop with after.

Here’s how and what you’re looking for:

  • Download this data into two separate spreadsheets
  • Pick specific keywords your website ranks for
  • Compare the before and after across these spreadsheets, looking at keyword rankings, sessions, and visibility.

Having this data visible won’t solve the problem. But it should give you a clue as to what’s happened, why traffic has dropped, and then fix the problem.

7. Are competitors stealing your search engine rankings?

Sometimes, a drop in traffic just comes down to good ol’ competition. You may have had an early mover advantage into a niche with low competition but this usually doesn’t last forever.

Tools like SEMRush have useful search engine results pages (SERP) tools and charts. Drop in some keywords, and it gives you a snapshot of what the SERP looks like now vs the historical index.

Above is an example from a client keyword we monitored using AHREFs SERP Position history tool.

Plugin your keyword(s): Does the SERP look like our example?

If it’s similar, you’re seeing competitors rapidly entering and taking over search engine rankings. Remember that rankings are a zero sum game. If one site goes up that means another has to go down.

Now you know what the problem is, it’s time to take rapid action to solve it.

8. Are you losing SERP real estate?

Alongside algorithm updates, Google frequently rolls out SERP updates.

These changes affect what people find when they search for things. In turn, that could impact the traffic coming through to your website.

serp results

SERP layout changes — such as snippets, shopping results, and FAQs — are reducing and increasing website traffic. Your website might be affected. Here’s how to check:

  • Go to Google
  • Input various keywords and phrases that you know people use to find your website
  • Review what you see — are web pages and articles showing up under the keywords you would expect?
  • Do the results (SERPs) look different?

It’s hard to know for sure. But, if pages and articles from your website aren’t showing up anymore, you can start to change the content on your website to align with SERPs, to bring that traffic back.

Key Takeaways 

It’s always worrying and confusing why a website suddenly loses traffic. It could be a specific issue — a penalty, algorithm update, technical errors — or for a number of other reasons.

Whatever the cause, the 7-steps in this article should get you on the road to recovery.

Often, when a website does suffer a sudden unexpected drop in traffic, website owners and marketing managers use this opportunity to fix a whole load of SEO issues.

You might find this is the perfect time to refresh your website content. Solve long-standing technical problems, and overhaul your website to bring more traffic and customers in than ever.

Need help recovering lost website traffic?

Speak to our team about your website: Get started today with an SEO Sprint, and stop losing traffic and money.

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