Your Google traffic has taken a plunge into the deep end, and you’d really like it to come up for air. You, in fact, are gasping for breath on its behalf.
Take a deep breath. We’re going to guide you in finding out more about what happened and how to bring your traffic levels back up.
Good. Let’s open your Google Analytics.
(If for some reason you do not have Google Analytics, put it on your site now! This whole post will then be worth it. Although if you don’t have Analytics I’m not sure how you would know your search traffic has dropped. In any event…)
We’re going to take a look at your search traffic. Here’s how you get there:
Set the date range to about two months and take a look.
Does it look something like this?
(Thankfully, we didn’t have any clients who were hit in the latest algorithm updates, so this is actually a graph from when a client made a change on his website and lost his Analytics code for a few days until it was restored. But this is what the graph would look like.)
Maybe it’s not this bad. Maybe you still have some traffic – but it’s significantly lower than usual.
So what do you do?
When did it drop?
First, look at the date when it dropped. Then compare it with this list of Google algorithm updates. (There was also a new Panda update yesterday, June 11th – which is not yet on the list.)
If the date corresponds with the Penguin or the Panda update, you can check last week’s post for likely factors that would have made your site prey to those updates. Check your site for those issues, and fix them.
If the dates don’t match, continue on to the next step of your investigation.
Even if the dates do match, and you’re pretty sure you got slapped by an algorithm update, still continue on to the next step. You might have been penalized for one keyword but not for another (especially with Penguin), and so it pays to find out.
What keywords dropped?
To do this effectively, you’re going to need a custom report in Analytics.
Wait! Don’t panic yet. I did say this was going to be “Easy Analytics”, so even if you’ve never used Custom Reporting before, it’s going to be easy. I’ve designed the report for you, and you can just import it straight into your account by clicking on a link.
Complicated link, simple report. It should look like this:
To see how much your traffic has dropped for each keyword, do the following:
Go to the top right where it shows the date range and click the little arrow to the right. You’ll get this drop-down:
Then you’ll see a report that looks like this:
We’ve seen when there was a drop, we’ve seen what keywords dropped. Before we start to analyze, let’s answer one more question.
What pages dropped?
Here’s your custom report to check that out:
This is what you should see:
Let’s compare with last month, as we did for the keywords above -
Time to Come to Conclusions:
Let’s give some options for what you might be seeing and what you would do about it.
1) A keyword or a page that is seasonal has dropped because it’s off season
What to do:
Absolutely nothing. Wait until next season. Put your efforts elsewhere.
2) Traffic has plunged for a particular page
What to do:
a) Put the URL into your browser and see if the page actually works. Sometimes the drop in traffic might be caused by a page suddenly breaking and returning a “404 – Not Found” when your visitor tries to access it. If that’s the case, fix the error, and your visitors will be back.
b) If the page does work, then go back to your Unique Visitors per Landing Page report and click on the page in question.
You’ll get the breakdown of how many visitors came for which keywords – for that particular page.
This brings us to option 3 -
3) Traffic has plunged for a particular keyword
a) If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a Penguin update, it may be that you over-optimized your links for this particular keyword. Do you know if your anchor text is slanted in favor of that keyword?
(If you don’t, unfortunately there aren’t many good free tools that enable you to check. If you have a PRO subscription to SEOMoz, then Open Site Explorer is a phenomenal tool that lets you slice and dice your link data – and other sites’ data – many different ways. They do offer a 30 day free trial, so if this is a real issue for you, probably worth doing. Majestic SEO will give you all their backlink data for your site, but it’s a laborious and “techie” process. You have to register, then go to the reports page, then click “Report Options” -> “Create Report.” You’ll be asked to verify your site by uploading a file to the root directory, which if – like me – you’re not a born webmaster, this detailed explanation may be helpful for. And when all is said and done, the data isn’t as easily analyzed as SEOMoz’s is. If you export the report to CSV (link on very bottom left of page), then you can play around with filters in Excel – otherwise it’s reading a long list.)
What to do:
If your anchor text is very unnatural, try to get some webmasters to change the anchor text to your brand name or something more natural sounding.
b) If your traffic drop doesn’t correspond with Penguin, do a Google search. Make sure it’s done without personalization, which means putting this search string into your browser:
https://www.google.com/search?q=your+keyword+here&pws=0 (yes, obviously replace that dummy phrase with your key phrase, words separated by plus signs)
Check the results. Are you ranking lower than you have been? Has anything strange happened to your title and snippet? Has the competition around you changed so that their titles and descriptions now sound more compelling than yours?
What to do:
- If your rankings have dropped, you may need to step up your SEO efforts.
- If your title and description are turning visitors away, either fix them or try out some variations to see if you can get a better click-through rate. Try each for a month, to make sure you have enough data to come to a conclusion.
There’s no one definitive answer. Use your brain and your power of observation. But now you should know what to look for.
Any other ideas of what might cause your search traffic to drop and what you would see in Analytics to hint to that?
Enlighten us all in the comments below!