You must be able to understand why organic search traffic (Google traffic, Bing traffic, etc.) declined before you can implement the best strategy to improve it. That was the topic for week two of Weekly Emsights: COVID-19 edition, which you can watch here:
If you look at your organic traffic in your reporting platform and you see meaningful declines – here is a list of questions to help you diagnose this loss further:
Questions to help you diagnose organic search traffic declines
- Are there any current events?
- Is the decline unique to organic search?
- Does seasonality play a factor?
- Are there any tracking issues?
- Were there any technical errors?
- Are organic conversions or sales down?
Are there any current events?
Has something happened recently that could impact search results or user behavior?
Writing this in April 2020, the coronavirus is top of mind. User behavior has changed with businesses shutting down, massive layoffs, and people working from home – causing major shifts in organic traffic for many businesses. See our analysis on how COVID-19 is impacting SEO here.
Outside of a national pandemic – any trendy topic that gets picked up by all the news outlets can take over the search results page. Is an executive in the news for doing something positive or negative? Did a certain product type get deemed not animal/child/environmentally safe? Many other types of stories could take over if there is a related trending topic on something where you typically receive a lot of organic traffic.
Is the decline unique to organic search?
Is this decline only seen with organic search or have all channels seen similar declines?
Review all your channel types in your reporting platform. Is organic search the only channel seeing these declines? If not, it may not be specifically an organic search issue.
Changes in other parts of your marketing plan can impact organic search performance.
Was there a decrease in traditional marketing spend like radio/TV ads, etc.?
Traditional marketing can lead to more branded searches – leading to more organic traffic.
Did paid search budget increase or did they change their strategy?
If more paid spend was placed on high organic traffic driving queries – like branded searches – it can take away from the amount of traffic that arrives organically. It is important to make sure it is truly just an organic search issue.
Does seasonality play a factor?
When you saw a decline in organic traffic – did you compare the date range you saw the decline to the same date range last year? Did you compare the same days of the week?
Certain seasons, months, holidays, days of the week, etc. can impact search demand or interest – which can impact your organic traffic. Try to compare this data as one-to-one as possible.
If you see a similar pattern when you compare it to a more one-to-one date range – it may not be as big of an issue as first thought.
Are there any tracking issues?
Did your tracking code get removed anywhere on your site? Were there any changes in your ecommerce tracking or how your track goals? Were IP address filters added/removed? Did your IP address change? Was anyone working remotely with an unfiltered IP address? Is your analytics property or view set up correctly?
Make sure the data you are looking at is accurate!
Were there any technical errors?
Was your site down at any point? Were there issues with your servers causing page speed issues? Were noindex tags or a robots.txt blocking all crawlers implemented on accident? Did you launch a new site and start losing organic traffic? See our SEO site migration checklist here. Any recent site pushes to double check?
Any recent changes or technical issues like that may be the cause of your organic traffic declines. If these issues are settled – you should hopefully start to see your traffic normalize soon.
Are organic conversions or sales down?
Is the loss of traffic hurting your bottom line? Often a site will have one old random blog post driving a lot of traffic and that traffic never converts. If that old post loses traffic – it does not impact your bottom line in the short term.
There is still a lot of value in that very high funnel traffic – it may build links, create brand recognition, etc. – but at least it’s not an immediate crisis. You can work to optimize that post without dropping everything else and potentially harming other initiatives in the process.
After you go through those questions and you know you have a meaningful decline in your organic search performance – how do you implement a strategy to improve it?
How to address declines in organic search traffic
- Where in the site was organic traffic lost?
- Are you losing visibility/rankings?
- Are you losing your click-through rate?
- Did search demand change?
Where in the site was organic traffic lost?
Is organic traffic declining sitewide? Or is most of the traffic loss coming from a certain section on the site or a certain page?
You can find this in Google Analytics by going to the default channel groupings, click Organic Search, and see landing pages. What pages are showing the decline? You can filter by certain URL subdirectories.
You hopefully now of a more manageable size of pages to review and optimize!
Are you losing visibility and rankings?
Look at the rank tracker you are using or your average positions in Google Search Console for the page(s) you are losing organic traffic.
If your rankings are decreasing, what is Google now showing above you?
Review those pages. What are they doing better than you? What are they targeting that you are not? What can you do better than them? Optimize your page accordingly.
Does Google believe the intent of the search is different?
Dumb hypothetical example – you used to receive a lot of organic traffic to your post “The History of the Taco” from the query “taco” but are now losing it as your rankings plummeted. You review the search results page for the query “taco” in your rank tracker or in an incognito window and see Google now only shows taco recipes or taco restaurants. This is because Google now believes that when someone searches “taco” they want a recipe or a nearby restaurant.
If you want to receive visibility for that query, you will have to create the content to satisfy why the user searched that. In the case of “taco” – you’d have to create a taco recipe and link off to your “The History of the Taco” post if you want to have that visibility and drive as much traffic as possible to that post.
Are you losing your click-through rate (CTR)?
Look in Google Search Console and compare your CTR for the page(s)/queries you are losing organic traffic. If your CTR is declining – and especially if your rankings have remained stagnant – there are a few things you could investigate further.
Search results page (SERP) features
Are there any new SERP features like a People Also Ask box, a new answer box, additional paid ads, image and news carousels, etc.? These features can steal some of the clicks you previously received.
If there are new features, evaluate how you could get featured in them. Or consider how you can repurpose content you already have – or create new content – for less crowded/less competitive related queries.
Metadata and rich results
Look at the organic listings around yours. Are their page titles and descriptions more captivating? Do they have any rich results like star ratings, price, or any other features appearing within their listing?
Look into creating more captivating, click enticing, metadata. Look into implementing schema to get more rich results.
Did search demand change?
Maybe the topic you are targeting was trendier last year or last period.
Look in Google Search Console and compare your impressions for the page(s)/queries you are losing organic traffic. If your impressions are declining – and especially if your rankings have remained relatively stagnant – this topic may just have less search volume now.
Another way to potentially see this is in Google Trends. Enter the popular search terms where you are losing organic traffic. Has interest gone down?
Seeing organic declines can be very alarming and properly addressing them can be tough. It’s important to take the time to diagnose the decline in your organic traffic before making any rash decisions. Once you have a better understanding of the situation – you can put the best plan of action in place.
Just a calming reminder that organic search is a long-term investment. If you believe in your plan – there is no need to panic if you have brief dips in organic traffic. Keep with the plan you believe in and make any needed adjustments and optimizations along the way.