Website traffic is one of the most important key performance indicators for most businesses. Traffic leads to inquiries and sales, and consistent visits from the same users mean repeat customers. When your site traffic suddenly dips or your rankings plummet, it will create lost opportunities that affect your conversions and sales.
Why your website is losing traffic
The first step to fixing this problem is to figure out why your site is losing traffic. Here are the 10 most common reasons for traffic drops.
1. Algorithm updates and trends
If you see a significant dip in your web rankings, it could be the cause of an algorithmic update. Google’s algorithm updates are adjustments to factors that help produce the best results based on submitted queries, page relevance, content quality, and uniqueness. Google may have penalized your site as a result.
An example of a website traffic issue due to an algorithm update would be a case in 2012 when several websites experienced huge drops in traffic. This was the year that the Penguin Algorithm Update was released, and link-building strategies completely changed.
In 2012, websites were automatically ranked higher based on inbound links, and some marketers abused this signal to the point where they were able to create all kinds of linking tactics just to build links that connect back to a website. These black hat strategies pushed irrelevant content up the search engine results pages, which made Google act in the form of the Penguin update. This update was designed to detect web spam and reduce shady links, in turn, encouraging high-quality content for users.
The case above perfectly highlights a scenario wherein marketers are implementing tactics they consider as normal, then having those tactics invalidated by Google. The update caused their rankings to tank or their websites failing to show up on search engines at all.
To check if your website received a penalty from a search engine; if you see that your website isn’t ranking on one search engine but is still ranking on another.
With Google, check Google Search Console and look for warnings in the message menu. You can also check its Manual Action section where you can find a list of non-compliance or broken guidelines Google may have found on your website. To help avoid these issues, focus on producing high-quality and informative content over leveraging cheap or shady tricks.
2. Website and design changes
Aside from algorithm updates, you may have implemented some website changes that may have influenced its performance. Design changes affect load times and page speed most of the time. Additionally, if you’ve done website migration, see if all the elements are still intact.
Here are a few things to check:
- 301 redirects are correctly mapped out
- Images are all loading properly
- The content is experiencing no issues
- The inbound link structure is working on your new site
3. Keyword cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization is when you have multiple pages in your website vying to rank for the same keyword or search query on Google. This can be caused by either the topic that the pages are covering are too similar or you have accidentally optimized some pages with the same keyphrase a page is already optimized for.
You can check for keyword cannibalization through Google Search Console. Just head over to the performance report, and you’ll automatically see a list of queries people use to find your site. Click one of these queries using the “pages” tab, and you’ll see a list of pages and URLs that are ranking for it. If there are many URLs showing, this could mean they’re “cannibalizing” each other. There will be associated stats beside it that will help you assess which page is the most valuable for that particular query. Then make the necessary adjustments.
4. Tracking code errors
Is your tracking code properly implemented and working?
A traffic drop may just be a case of the pages not being properly tracked by Google Analytics, or a Tag isn’t working properly.
Check that the code is working properly, and if needed, contact your web developer or SEO specialist to have them check it for you.
5. Failed redirects
Broken redirects could be the cause of your ranking drops, especially if you just launched a new website or migrated to a new server.
Make sure that you have implemented a 301 redirect strategy. 301 redirects signal to search engines that a particular page (or pages) on your website has been moved, and you’re asking them to send all visitors to that new address and not your old one.
When moving a page to another URL, it will take search engines some time to recognize it and rank it the way it was ranked before.
The implementation of 301 redirects depends on your hosting site or server. Most platforms offer solutions or plugins that can help the user implement redirects easily.
Here are some web server guidelines you can follow, depending on what you’re currently using:
- Apache: Check the Apache .htaccess Tutorial and the Apache Rewriting Guide.
- NGINX: Check this blog on the NGINX website about Creating NGINX Rewrite Rules.
- Blogger: Search for this article on Blogger 301 Redirects.
6. Competitors are improving
A drop in traffic may not be due to any changes you or Google made, but due to your competitors stepping up their game.
Review and analyze your competitors’ activities, SEO strategies, and content. Use tools like competitor analysis tools like Semrush to collect data on their backlinking activities, keywords they’re using, and other activities that they’re doing.
Alternatively, work with an SEO company to quickly determine strategies that competitors are implementing and how you can outperform them, as well as have them implement the necessary activities the right way.
Finding out who’s ranking or who’s getting ahead of you and how they’re outranking you will reveal what you need to do to perform better than them.
7. Lack of meta information
Meta information is a crucial ranking signal for Google, but it’s also mostly overlooked. Google uses meta information to match keyword information to user’s search queries. It’s also a way for Google to quickly understand what a web page is all about.
Check if you have existing meta-information for a page, or if it was removed. Next, see if the meta title and description all possess the root keywords that accurately describe the page.
You can also access Google Analytics to see if the dip came from organic search, paid search, or social media.
If the traffic drop is coming from paid ads, then check the keywords and metadata you’re using in your Google Ads campaign. If it’s from organic search, then review your robots.txt, SSL, and sitemap.xml.
8. Server overload
Server issues aren’t uncommon, and your site may be experiencing it, causing your traffic to drop. It may be because of a broken caching function, or a Googlebot encountered an empty markup.
To check if it’s a server issue, use Google’s Fetch and Render tool found in Google Search Console. This will show you how a URL or a page on your site is crawled, or how it renders.
9. Page speed
Page speed affects user’s experience — and Google’s recent Page Experience update covers this very metric under the Core Web Vitals.
When a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load, you’re going to get a higher bounce rate, which tells Google that people don’t want to see your content. Many elements affect page speed, like huge image files, unnecessary plugins, and web design.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to see how your pages are performing.
If you have elements in your site that take time to load, then fix them, update them or remove them. Huge files are never good for page speed, so if you do have them, they need to go.
10. Lost links
Lost links can heavily influence your website and cause major traffic drops. When a page loses an inbound link, Google sees it as a sign that your website isn’t as authoritative anymore. This will lead to lower rankings, lower site visits, and less traffic.
Link building is one of the most effective ways to boost your website’s ranking on search engines since it validates your content and website’s credibility.
If you think that link loss is the reason for sudden traffic drops, validate your hypothesis by using backlink checker tools like Ahrefs.
Tools like Ahrefs will help you find information regarding:
- A site-wide link decline
- Link decline pertaining to a specific page
- Link decline in the external pages that provided the inbound link to your site
You can always restore lost links by pursuing other link building strategies like:
- Guest posting
- Earning links from influencer marketing
- Diving into social media marketing and earning more social shares
Keep calm and optimize
Traffic decline can make any marketer anxious, but it’s a normal part of the cycle.
As with any marketing strategy, whether it’s traditional marketing or internet marketing, there will be changes in the system. All you can do is adapt and equip yourself with the knowledge and the right SEO tools to develop a better strategy.
Search engine optimization will always exist as long as people are using the internet, and it will always evolve. You may encounter a different issue other than those listed above. All you have to do is take a level-headed approach to the matter and evaluate using the list above. One way or another, you’ll determine the probable causes and get to the bottom of your traffic issues.