The Curious Case of the Missing Organic Traffic
In SEO, there are few things worse than waking up to find that your organic traffic has disappeared. First there’s denial, shortly before anger sets in. A few curses later and you begin bargaining before sinking into the depths of a foggy grump. Finally acceptance; it’s gone.
So, what on earth has happened to it? It’s easy to jump to conclusions when organic traffic goes missing. Some might say it no longer exists. That’s hard to believe; a market doesn’t eat itself over night. Others might think that Google has pulled the rug from underneath them, often true but not always the case.
So what can be done when you are a few thousand organic visitors light? The answer: ask the right questions. Take a step back from the situation and go through the following sequence of questions:
What has changed on your website?
The first place to look is inside. You control your website, so you should know what has changed. First you need to work out when organic traffic began to drop. There are two options here:
- The drop was very sudden (practically overnight/within the space of a few days)
- The drop began weeks/months ago and has continued on a constant, downward trend
If the drop was sudden you can be more confident that there was a specific, recent change that occurred to cause the issue. Conversely, if the drop happened over a longer period of time, you have an immediate clue that there is a fundamental change that is causing a downward spiral.
Now you know how quickly your organic traffic disappeared, you need to work out what has changed on your website to see if this is playing any role. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Have any pages been added/removed recently?
- Has a new version of the site/a feature launched recently?
- Has my content strategy changed?
- Has anything broken?
- Has my website been hacked?
- Are there new links pointing to my site?
Focus on gaining insight into the three core pillars of your on-site strategy: technical integrity, on-site content, and link profile (which directly influences the integrity of your domain).
Note down all of the changes on a timeline and then move onto question two…
What has Google changed recently?
You’ve already looked at the things you control, so now it is time to review the factors that you cannot control. Chances are, when you look at organic traffic you are mainly looking at traffic from Google. Whether Google is your primary organic traffic source or not, these principles apply just as well to other sources of organic traffic.
This question is all about understanding what Google has changed in the build up to your drop in organic traffic. There are a number of places you need to look in order to answer this question:
- Moz Algorithm Changes – a full breakdown of rumoured and confirmed search engine algorithm changes
- Google Webmaster Central Blog – official blog by Google detailing announcements and changes
- Search Engine Land (Google updates) – daily updated search engine news
These are only three sources of search engine news, but most of the time they will have you covered for anything that happens in search. Note down anything significant that has happened around the same time as your organic traffic troubles, put your pen down and move onto question three…
Has your market changed recently?
It’s all very well understanding what has changed on your website and what Google has been up to, but it would be incredibly short sighted to ignore what is going on within your market.
Chances are you already have a good understanding of the market that you operate within, but things change, so take nothing for granted. Begin by updating your keyword research. Searcher’s intent and their use of language can change quite dramatically given time and changing circumstances. By updating the keyword research data you hold you are validating whether your keyword strategy is still suitable for the traffic you are trying to capture.
You also need to review the trends within your market; are new products and services on offer that make yours less appealing? Question whether related markets are diversifying and beginning to eat up some of your organic traffic. Also review whether there has been any breaking news related to your industry; major/significant news events can often shake up the organic search market, increasing the importance of ‘fresh’ content. Google Trends is a great place to review movement in your market, and setting up Google Alerts can be a good way to monitor changes in the future.
What have your competitors been up to?
What happens if you conclude that nothing on your website has changed, Google has changed nothing (unlikely, by the way), and your market is as solid as it has ever been?
Sometimes the absence of change is as significant as its presence. In The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes draws the attention of Gregory (the detective) to the “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time”:
Gregory – “The dog did nothing in the night-time”
Holmes – “That was the curious incident”
Investigating the disappearance of Silver Blaze, a famous race horse, Holmes fixes his gaze on the fact that the family dog did not bark during the night of the horse’s disappearance. Knowing that dogs are infamous for their ability to make noise when a stranger is present, Holmes was able to confirm that the thief must have been known to the dog for it to stay silent. The absence of something proving to be the most significant clue.
And so it is with your website. When all else remains the same, often the best place to look is at your competition. You probably have a long list of competitors; go to this list and look into what each of them has been doing recently. Note down new content they have added, look at where new websites/features have been launched and see if they have moved into a new space within your market.
Also look to see whether anyone new has moved into the market. Look at whether a previously weak competitor has suddenly found momentum. SEMrush is a great tool to use when reviewing competitor changes and can be enough to highlight a change in fortunes for your competitor’s websites.
Your website, Google and the market may have stood still, but if your competitors have carried on moving forwards chances are you are going to lose out as a result. After all, in a world that is constantly changing, standing still is as good as moving backwards!
Having carried out your investigations you should have a list that covers:
- Everything that has (or hasn’t) changed on your website
- Everything that Google has updated recently
- How your market is changing
- What your competitors have been up to
Now all you need to do is look through all of the facts and come to a conclusion. Focus on the significant facts, line them up in order and then run through the scenario. Like a good detective, keeping to this process will help you uncover everything that matters in your quest to uncover what happened to your missing organic traffic. After all, organic traffic does not simply disappear!
Credit – Sherlock Holmes icon by James Keuning on The Noun Project.