So you’ve been having steady traffic on your website for a while now. You are eyeing expansion and everything seems fine. Suddenly, your traffic nose-dives. There are a few reasons this can happen. Some are very easy to fix, while others are more problematic. Here is a six question checklist to help identify what is causing the issue and how to solve the problem. Before going through the checklist, please make sure this is actually a search issue. If you go to Google Analytics and go to Traffic Sources->Sources->Search->Organic and select a range of a few months, you will see an image depicting your traffic with the sudden drop. If there is a drop in traffic on this chart, you likely have a serious search issue.
- Has the Analytics Tool Been Removed or Altered? – This tiny issue is by far the easiest to fix. It can happen frighteningly easy and frequently, but use an Analytics checker/debugger tool, and you can quickly find and fix this issue.
- Have There Been Any Significant Website Changes? – Sometimes just redesigning your website can shatter your rankings. Even removing content or restructuring what order your content appears in can have big effects on your site. Usually, this issue can be solved by using an Analytics tool to see if there were any changes right before the drop in traffic.
- Have You Been Hacked? – It is not as easy to know when you’ve been hacked as movies might make you think. There are spam attacks that don’t affect Active pages, but instead create new directories with spam content. This makes the hack harder to find. If a search engine picks up on it, the website is often penalized. Google and Bing Webmaster Tools can help you quickly find out if you are vulnerable to hackers. You can also do a manual search of “links:[your URL here]” to search for meta descriptions that look like spam. The solutions to being hacked vary but once you’ve uncovered the issue, you can look for specific solutions. Usually, it will involve loading a clean backup and changing all passwords.
- Has There Been a Major Algorithm Update? – If none of the above questions have helped, it’s quite possible your traffic issues are being caused by an update. Look through available and reputable resources to see if other websites are dealing with similar issues. If your problems are caused by algorithmic changes, it is time to seek professional help. Changing code won’t fix the problem. Instead, you will likely have to make large shifts in company practices, strategies, content and link building.
- Has the Site Been Hit With a Ranking Penalty? – If an algorithmic update isn’t your problem, chances are your Web site has been penalized. If you have incurred penalties, it means there has been a sudden spike in bad links or spam content. You should audit who is in charge of making sure your site is following SEO policies and make sure they are up to date with the best practices.
- Are You The Victim of Negative SEO? – Negative SEO happens when a competitor manages to automate spammy links at your Web site, causing site wide ranking drops. Bing Webmaster Tools has a Disavow Links Tool but unless you’ve seen a sudden rise in spam content or bad links, you can ignore this tool.
These steps can help you fix sudden traffic drops but you may have to hire professional assistance if the first two questions didn’t help. Luckily, these problems are fixable and soon your site will be back up to its steady flow of traffic.
You can read more about identifying search traffic drops in John Lynch’s article over at Search Engine Watch.