Is your website traffic dropping or are your rankings plummeting? Here are some possible reasons why your website might be tanking…
Websites exist to be visited, but visits can mean different things for different sites.
For media sites, for example, traffic can be a source of income from advertisements. For e-commerce retailers, traffic translates to direct sales.
Some sites might not be selling anything, or they might be selling a brand where just having eyeballs on your content is enough to count as a win.
No matter what your site is about, traffic = customers.
And in search engine terms, ranking = traffic = customers.
So when your search ranking drops – or your traffic drops – that’s a problem.
Whether you’re a digital marketer, SEO professional, webmaster, or some other stakeholder, it could be your responsibility to investigate the problem and figure out how to get things back on track.
Here are some places to start looking if your traffic has dropped and you need a solution.
1. You’re Tracking the Wrong Rankings
If your site has been online for many years, your keywords may not be relevant today. Think about your own search behaviour and compare that to the keywords that show up in your Search Console data.
Do you use industry or niche terminology that might not align with what your potential customers know?
Many people will search different variations of the same question and still be unable to find an answer or solution to their problem.
Engineers at Google have improved their natural language comprehension ability a lot. Today, people can type in more natural language to find results. It’s easier to rank for those things if you keep your content in plain language, too.
The search engines also picked up on this phenomenon in recent years. Rather than relying on just a few keywords, they are ranking websites based on complete sentences and other elements of more natural language.
Look at your keywords and keyword phrases. If you are trying to optimise your website for old or generic keywords, you’re tracking the wrong rankings and need to update your strategy.
2. Lost Links
Another reason your search ranking and traffic might have dropped is that you’ve lost links from other websites.
Check your site for lost links over the last 90 days using a tool (e.g., Majestic, Ahrefs, CognitiveSEO).
If you’ve lost a lot of links, this might be the reason for your drop in rankings.
There are more questions you should ask about this link loss:
- Is the link drop sitewide?
- Are the lost links located on the same pages of your site where you have seen a drop in rankings?
- Has there been a drop in inbound links to your pages that have lost their ranking?
- Do you see dropped links to pages on your website that link other pages that have lower rankings?
If your inbound links are broken or lost, you’ll need to determine exactly where those links are coming from and why they are broken.
You can then either remove, replace, or retain them.
Each link should be checked individually to determine your next steps:
- If the links were removed intentionally, it could indicate that they were not natural links and could, if they weren’t already, be flagged and penalised by Google. Let these links go.
- Sometimes links break or change during a site update. In these cases, you might have a chance of convincing the site owner to restore them.
- If the internal links were replaced with new links to a different source, you have the option to link to the new source, too.
Remember, you can always replace the old links with new ones that work.
To prevent lost links from affecting your rankings in the future, it’s worth the effort to invest in link monitoring software or programs to actively track lost links. This way you can be proactive and take corrective measures before you lose your rankings.
3. Broken Redirects
If you’re launching a new website, migrating to a new server, or doing any structural changes to your site, you are likely to see a drop in your rankings unless you have a proper 301 redirect plan in place.
Broken redirects are every SEO professional’s worst nightmare.
When using a 301 redirect, you must make sure that XML sitemaps, canonical tags, and links are also updated.
A 301 redirect is akin to a change of address notice for the web. This notice tells search engines that a page, several pages, or your entire website has been moved. You’re asking that your website visitors be sent to your new address and not your old one.
If done correctly, you won’t lose your rankings, nor will you get penalized for duplicate content because search engines are indexing both your old and new web address.
4. Manual Actions
If you see an abrupt and significant drop in your website rankings, it could indicate that Google is penalizing your site. Manual actions are applied manually rather than as a result of algorithmic updates.
If your site continues to rank on other search engines like Yahoo or Bing, this is an almost sure sign that you are suffering from a Google penalty.
Whether your penalty is manual or automatic, you’ll want to fix the problem and get the penalty removed. The best way to start is to look at notifications from inside your Google Search Console account.
Look for warnings in the messages menu and the Manual Actions section. Here, you’ll find a list of instances where a Google employee has found that certain pages of your website are not in compliance with their guidelines. You’ll be able to find suggestions and information on how to fix the problems.
5. Search Algorithm Changes
Google is always looking for ways to improve strategies and results by making algorithm changes. Many sites have been hurt by these changes and suffered from lower site rankings.
To avoid being crippled by Google’s updates, use an effective cross-channel marketing and traffic strategy that includes social media and other marketing channels.
6. Natural Changes in Search
There are times when you might notice a drop in your search engine rankings that are not a result of anything directly related to your website. Google has often made changes to the type of results based on user behaviour.
For example, if there is a sudden increase in search for a specific topic, Google may bring up newer results first and push static content further down.
If your content falls into the second category, you will see a loss in your ranking.
You can look at Google Trends to see if there are any changes that might explain those discrepancies.
7. UX Changes in Google
Google sometimes changes the UX of search pages in ways that take clicks away.
Maybe a Featured Snippet popped up on a key search result, directing the traffic that way. Maybe some search experiment has affected the click-through rate.
Check what terms have dropped and see if anything has changed.
8. Geolocation Discrepancies
Your rankings will be different depending upon the location where the search was made. If you check your rankings in one geographic area, you’ll need to check them in several other areas to get a more precise and more accurate understanding of your rankings.
Have you noticed that the results you get for a specific search can be entirely different from another person doing the same search?
Also, if you search while logged into your Google account and then repeat the search after logging out, you will get different results.
The reason for this is that Google will look at and take into account sites you have previously visited, where you are located, and even the device you are using before bringing up your search results.
9. Competitor Improvements
It’s possible that you are doing everything right but still lose traffic and see a dip in your rankings. One reason for this might be that your competition is doing a better job.
Keep an eye on your competitors by analyzing and monitoring their social media activity, link building strategies, and content marketing. You can use tools like Wayback Machine or Versionista to see what changes your competitors have made.
You can also use backlink tools to see if they have had an influx of new backlinks; they might be running an SEO campaign of their own.
Once you understand what your competition has done to outrank you, make some of the same changes – only do them better.
10. Page Speed
How fast the content on your pages loads will not only affect your rankings but also your website visitors’ user experience. When pages take longer to load, the bounce rates are higher because people don’t want to wait to see your content.
To check your page speed, try using Google’s new and improved PageSpeed Tool. The tool was revamped to incorporate real user data.
Pages are ranked fast, slow, and average depending upon how quickly they load.
Page Speed on your site can suffer if you have moved the site to a slower server or installed some new widget or plugin.
11. Server Issues
If your site encounters server issues, it may be the result of a broken caching function or an empty markup served to Googlebot. It’s critical that you resolve any server issues quickly.
Look for errors in your server logs and use Google’s Fetch and Render tool to test how a URL on your site renders or is crawled.
12. Other Web Vitals
Google has said that other UX signals and web vitals, like “Cumulative Layout Shift,” can change how they rank your site.
- What is the user experience on your page like?
- Does the layout shift around a lot?
- Are there lots of ads?
13. Internal Navigation
Your website navigation tells your visitors what and where they will find information on your site.
Try to have a flat, narrow structure of two or at most three levels deep for your internal navigation. If your visitors have to click too many times to find what they are looking for, they are more likely to leave.
It’s possible that search engines will stop crawling content buried deep in your website. This will, in turn, lower your rankings and you will get less traffic to important content areas.
Internal link strategies are not only a part of good search optimization but also integral to your other client retention strategies.
Making your internal links and navigation simple and logical improves client retention and boosts other rank metrics like time-on-site. Using keyword-rich internal links will help search engines quickly determine what your site is about and whether your content is relevant to queries.
14. Bad Quality Link Penalties
Not all links are created equal.
If you use risky, spammy, or outdated link building strategies, Google will penalize your site.
Google states very clearly what it considers to be a low-quality link in the first paragraph on their search console help section called Link Schemes:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
Take the time to develop a high-quality link building strategy to avoid getting penalized by Google and grow your organic search traffic.
Some suggestions for building good links:
- Fix your broken links by building new and valuable ones.
- Use PR to get cited in online content or a news article.
- Write exceptional content and promote it heavily on social media so people can find it.
- For other suggestions, read SEJ’s Link Building Guide.
15. Recent Website Changes & Redesign
If you decide to redesign your website, the last thing you want to do is lose the traffic and rankings you worked so hard to build.
Some specific steps you can take not to hurt but even help your rankings are:
- Ensure that all 301 redirects are mapped out correctly.
- Check the link structure of your inbound links to make sure they are working correctly on your new site.
- Before launching your new website, get some baseline metrics reports such as rank tracker, site audit, traffic, and page URL mapping.
With careful planning and attention to the essential components of your redesign project, you will avoid negatively impacting your SEO and rankings and can even make improvements.
16. Simple Technical Issues
Technical SEO is the health measure of the technical foundation of your website. It refers to SEO work that affects how search engines crawl and index your content.
See Most Common Technical SEO Mistakes: How Severe Are They? for some of the most common issues that could affect your website traffic and rankings. Being aware of technical SEO issues helps you take better care of your website and keep your rankings up.
Technical SEO issues are some of the baseline problems that can stop you from ranking.
17. Server Overload
If your server is not set up or prepared for sudden surges in traffic, it could overload and crash. Those on a shared server have a higher chance of going down because someone else on the same server might see a sudden increase in traffic.
Many hosting packages will take your site down if you exceed your bandwidth limits. This can happen if your site manages to get featured on a popular site.
If your site experiences too much downtime, it will negatively affect your search rankings.
18. Meta Information
Meta information, or meta tags, are used to tell search engines what information your site provides.
One of the most important types of metadata that will help raise your SEO rankings is the title tag. Other types of meta information that can help your website rankings are headers and meta descriptions.
Avoid being inconsistent when providing your meta information.
For example, if you change the date of an article on your site, be sure to change it in the meta description as well. You want to avoid duplicating your meta information or using meaningless and generic titles like “Home.”
19. Source of Traffic
Your website traffic includes not only the number of visits to your site but also the number of pages clicked and the amount of time spent on each page.
Traffic can come from several sources including:
- Email marketing
- Direct traffic
- Organic search
- Paid search
- Social media
Which one is the best?
The answer is whichever source produces the most engagement, the lowest bounce rate, and the most conversions.
Your traffic can decrease from sources outside of organic search. For example, if a change has been made to how links are treated on Twitter or Facebook.
Direct traffic is when someone types your URL into an address bar.
This may not be crucial for rankings, but it’s important because:
- Visitors choose to come back to your site because they already know you and want what you are offering.
- You are already recognized as an industry expert in your niche, so visitors come to your site because they know your brand.
- Direct traffic isn’t affected by social media or Google changes and serves as an independent source of visitors.
You can track your direct traffic stats in your Google Analytics dashboard. If you want to increase your direct traffic, focus on having a clear and memorable brand.
Continuously provide value and expert advice to your website visitors and show them that you are an expert in your industry.
20. Time on Site
User engagement can impact your search rankings. Bounce rate and average time spent on your web pages are two metrics you can easily measure inside Google Analytics.
These metrics aren’t a direct ranking factor, but they do indicate whether you’re delivering a good experience for your users.
21. Duplicate Content
Google defines duplicate content as substantial blocks of content that appear across or within domains that are significantly similar to or completely match other content.
This is not always considered deceptive or malicious and doesn’t always result in lower search engine rankings.
When content is obviously deliberately duplicated to manipulate rankings and increase traffic, your site will get penalized. It can mean your content competes for the same queries, and when Google thinks a query should have more diversity it may penalize one of those pages.
Your rankings will suffer and, in the worst-case scenario, your site can be removed entirely from Google’s index. It will no longer be found in search.
22. You’re Using Old Clickbait Techniques
Some ways to get users onto your site – like lists – still work, but users can get sick of this kind of technique and avoid clicking on your links.
Do your titles accurately describe what’s on the page?
Are you avoiding gimmicks like “you won’t guess what happens next”?
Do your meta descriptions hook people, or drive them away?
Try A/B testing meta descriptions and titles to see if there are fixes that can attract more people.
Protect Your Valuable Search Ranking & Traffic
There are no shortcuts to increase your website traffic.
If you want to get more search engine visibility you have to put in a lot of time and effort.
Don’t try to take a shortcut through sketchy strategies, or you could suffer the negative consequences of poor search ranking and lost traffic.