The sky is falling, the sky is falling...as your website has recently experienced a drop in organic search traffic. It's natural for any SEO expert or company executive to panic when significant rankings for key phrases drop, but I have to tell you, in most cases the change is short term if you take the necessary steps and sometimes you can achive better results than before.
More importantly, there are actions you can take to find out why your traffic and rankings have dropped. Once those causes are identified, the corrective actions and plan to help you climb back to the results you want can be put in place.
Let's take a look at 5 possible reasons why your organic traffic may have dropped recently
1. Changes to Search Engine Algorithms
Drops in organic search traffic and rankings can sometimes have nothing to do with your content, links, or website. Sometimes, drops can occur for reasons that are beyond your control.
Google’s search algorithms are constantly changing. With these changes comes additional changes to how search results are returned to users. But that doesn’t mean that things are completely out of your hands. 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. Things do shift over time.
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 website and products and services.
2. Website Changes?
In addition to search marketing fundamentals, it’s not uncommon for people to make changes to your site without telling you or someone else, especially if you have a mutliple resources that touch your site. So if you experience a drop in organic traffic, it might be worth catching up your web team 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 the free 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. 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 Webmaster quality guidelines, and your rankings will suffer as a result - especially if issues go unresolved for an extended period of time. These issues are easy to find if you have Webmaster Tools in the Manual Actions area as highlighted below.
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. Technical SEO is needed too
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 because the trend since 2015 has been "content RULES the world" right?
It still does, but technical SEO also needs to be taken care of and most content managers don't know how to do this because it can be a hugely complex topic depending on your website. Here are a few technical SEO things that you should initially look into:
- Is your robots.txt file blocking certain pages from being crawled by search bots?
- As you were adding pages and/or making changes to your website, and if you don't have a sandbox or staging site where you make changes offline and push them live , did any of your pages accidentally get left with a NoIndex/NoFollow tag on them?
- Do you have multiple pages covering the similar themes or target the same keywords? These could be product categories with lots of products in them. Make sure these pages are using cononical tags correctly to refer the original page that you want search engines to prioritize.
- Is your site mobile friendly? This is a key ranking factor now since early in 2016. There is a difference between mobile friend and mobile optmized. If you have over 25% traffic from mobile, it is time to start considering your "mobile user experience" different from desktop and optimize accordingly.
- Page Speed - are your pages slow to load? Are you images being cached and optimized? You can evaluate your sites speed with this free tool from Google. This is also not new to important ranking signals.
To help, here is a Technical SEO Checklist from MOZ - first done in 2011 that they updated in 2015 (there are a few things not on the list now that we are to 2017, but it is a great starting point).
5. Check Your Organic Click Through Rates
Wait, what? 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.
Google wants to deliver relevant information to a searcher. If you are coming up organically BUT that organic result is not getting clicked on, Google is trying to figure out why and could drop your ranking because of this. To improve organic CTRs, you should look at improving page meta descriptions and titles by trying to add in calls to action and enticing messages.
To aid in doing this, look at your Google Search Console/Webmaster Tools account. Get to your 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.
There is no full proof, silver bullet, magic strategy. SEO is marathon and not sprint, as well as a something you cannot do once and forget. Your website and ranking is a living breathing asset and the more you feed it with healthy information and follow best practices, the better your organic results will be and you won't see drastic swings to results for the most part.
Take a took as our ebook on about getting on page 1 of Google for more information.