Thursday, March 13, 2014

Things to Do if Your Organic Traffic Drops Suddenly

We've all been there. Suddenly, without warning, and without an obvious reason, your organic traffic drops.What should you do?

1) Don't panic

If you notice that organic traffic dropped 25% from January to March (or whatever), don't panic. Don't start ripping content off of your site, sacrificing goats to a graven image of Matt Cutts, or firing everyone in your marketing department. 
Stay calm and figure it out. 

2) Dig deeper

Spend some significant time in Google Analytics and start evaluating other data sets. For example, did direct visits drop also? Did referral traffic drop? Did time on site drop? What about phone calls via organic traffic? What other trends do you see?

3) Evaluate PageRank

Did your PageRank drop? And, I'm not talking about your ranking for specific keywords, I'm referencing the actual PageRank. Google ranks your page's authority on a 0-10 scale. The higher the number, the more authoritative your page is. For example, a newly launched site will be a 0 or a 1. After 2 or 3 years of content work, visitor increases, and legit backlinks, a pagerank will increase to a 3 or maybe even a 4. Most private companies max out at a 5. Typically only media companies (,, etc.), big companies, and .gov and .edu sites have pageranks that are 8+. 
4) Evaluate specific pieces of content
For example, if 75% of your organic traffic has traditionally visited one page of your site, a small ranking decrease for one longtail keyword on that page can dramatically alter your traffic. Is this the case? Or, is the decrease in organic traffic distributed evenly over several pieces of content?

5) What changed?

This is the most important step in the entire process. You need to evaluate what has changed that may have caused the decline in organic traffic. Specifically, you need to evaluate what YOU changed. Think of everything, no matter how silly it may sound. For example, did you start AdWords in January? Did you stop AdWords in January? Did you do a marketing campaign with a radio station? Did you decrease/increase the amount of content you're producing for your site? 
What changes inadvertently pulled a level that caused your organic traffic decrease? 

6) Think out-of-the-box

For example, a company we're familiar with told us that their organic traffic had dropped. They didn't know why. This came after several months of steady monthly organic traffic increases. As they considered what marketing tactic may have inadvertently pulled a lever, the only change they made was increasing spend on Google AdWords.
This couldn't have hurt their SEO though, right?? Spending on Google AdWords supposedly helps SEO???
Well, when they dug deeper they realized that because of the high bounce rates associated with Google AdWords traffic (typically 98%), Google had started punishing them. (At least, this is what they think happened). So, increasing their Google AdWords spend actually harmed their SEO.

7) Change the status quo

Change something. Try something to stop the decline. If you're writing 2 blog posts each week, start writing 5. If you're spending $5,000 on AdWords every month, spend $7,000, or $2,000. 
Change something. 

8) Look for negatives

Maybe someone is scraping your content. Maybe your site has awful backlinks and a Google Algorithm change is now punishing you. Get rid of bad backlinks and stop the scrapers. Use your Webmaster Tools and figure it out.