You’ve noticed a dip in website traffic. Your email marketing, social media and content strategy are all on target, so what’s causing a decrease in visits, and what do you do?
First thing: Don’t panic.
Keep in mind that Google updates its algorithm between 500 and 600 times per year — and that doesn’t even include the major updates such as Panda (2011's emphasis on strong content) and Penguin (2012's crack down on over-optimizing and keyword-based anchor text).
It’s good to keep an eye on your website visits and performance to notice change over time, but if you’re getting less traffic and fewer phone calls, it’s time to investigate further.
Step 1: Check your code.
Even seemingly simple website tweaks could result in the accidental deletion of your tracking code.
Whether you’re using Google Analytics or a marketing automation tool such as HubSpot, double check to make sure you’re receiving the accurate performance data from your entire website.
It sounds like an obvious check, but you won't believe how often it can happen if you have a webmaster or someone else making website edits for you.
Step 2: Analyze your keywords.
Those search terms that had you on page one of Google last week — are they still holding up?
If a few of your website pages dropped from the first, second or third search result position down to seven, eight or nine, that could result in a major drop in visits to your website.
I recommend you look at your larger traffic-driving keywords and overall pages to see if there has been a decline in placement across the board.
Even a drop in placement from the 1st page to the 2nd, 3rd, 5th+ page could be a sign that you're in penalty — meaning Google sees suspicious or outdated tactics and lowers your search result ranking or removes your website completely from its pages.
There is plenty of keyword tracking software out there that can do all the heavy lifting for you. All you would need to do is check your rankings and monitor for big keyword shifts. From there, you should evaluate how bad the drops in rankings are and adjust your SEO strategy.
(Download the "How to Rank Above Your Competition Using Ahrefs.com" eBook to learn more about the free tool that shows which companies are ranking for your search terms.)
Step 3: Take a look at Domain Authority.
A key factor in calculating your search engine ranking is Moz’s Domain Authority.
It’s calculated by the frequency of new pages published, number of pages, number of outbound and inbound links and quality of links, among other parameters — and it’s so influential that Google weighs it in the algorithm.
So when Moz rolls out an update to the Domain Authority of all websites, if you’ve lost quality backlinks or stopped making updates, your ranking could fall and subsequently get a loss in website traffic.
You can keep an eye on it here.
Why is this important? Well, your website's authority tells Google a lot. If your authority is dropping, it's a signal to Google and other search engines that maybe the quality of the site isn't as good as it used to be.
If the quality is suffering, Google doesn't want to damage its reputation as a search engine and deliver poor results.
You want to keep an eye on this on a monthly basis and make adjustments as you see your authority start to change. If it's getting better, keep doing what you're doing! If it's declining, then it's time to change your strategy — either by adding content that people would find interesting and linking to or reaching out to high quality sites for a link back to your site.
Step 4: Analyze for toxic backlinks.
Although Google says bad backlinks can’t hurt you, they definitely can.
Even if you believe you have strong and clean link building practices, you could be in penalty and not even know it — thanks to Google’s Penguin update.
You definitely should look for referral links that you wouldn't necessarily want your website associated with. You can see this by taking a look at your referral traffic in your web analytics or marketing automation tool — pull up the data and ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have any partners in different parts of the world?
- Do you see an increased amount of links coming in from a different language?
- Do you see links to pages that don't exist on your website?
Those are definitely things to watch out for as that could be a clear sign of a hacked website or unfavorable links. Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately.
If you uncover toxic backlinks, compile a list and call in the professionals — it's time to submit a disavow file to Google and start the cleanup process.
Step 5: Call in the outside reporting.
If you've made it this far and still haven't found the issue, I recommend purchasing reports from SEMRush. This tool provides a small amount of data to show where you’re ranking, charts to show a drop in organic keywords and a look at whether there’s an algorithmic change.
Once you have the data, a look the organic graph and analyze what it's telling you: If you're seeing declines in keywords and traffic, then check and see if it coincides with an algorithm update.
Typically, you can pinpoint what month and year your decline took a nosedive and research to see if Google rolled out any updates during that timeframe — there would likely be extensive coverage on Moz with advice on how to remedy the situation.
The truth is, Panda and Penguin are just the beginning of changes Google is going to roll out over the next decade.
Usually major algorithm announcements are made the same day they’re rolled out in search, but I tend to see movements in website data weeks — or even months — before that.
You'll tend to see major movements in other industries before they're rolled out everywhere, so that's why I like to keep my ear to the ground.
You never truly know what Google will change next, so you have to keep analyzing what’s happening with your online presence and stay up to date with tactics and trends — it’s all part of a strong inbound marketing strategy.
We’ve got a bunch of great content on understanding keyword fundamentals, ranking above competitors and tips for increasing website rankings to help you master your search engine marketing strategy.