Reasons Your Organic Traffic is Dropping & How to Fix
For every marketer, there’s nothing more disheartening than witnessing a decline in website traffic, especially after following all of Google’s best practices. It’s particularly frustrating when you’ve checked off every item on your SEO to-do list, only to see your traffic continue to wane. This often results in reduced visibility and, in some cases, a drop in search rankings.
However, it’s important to recognize that a decrease in traffic can stem from many reasons. In this article, I will guide you through the process of identifying the underlying causes of your website’s traffic downturn. Drawing from our extensive experience, I’ll also highlight common scenarios we’ve encountered and provide actionable solutions to address them.
What is the root cause of the decline?
The best (and quickest) way to decipher what happened to your traffic is to look at your performance report on Google Search Console or use third-party tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs.
Take a look at the charts. How does it look? Is it a steady decline or irregular? Google provided a rough sketch to help quickly guess what went wrong.
Next, benchmark your current report with the previous year to be sure seasonal trends don’t cause the dip:
It is recommended to compare the last three months year over year or the last three months YOY. This will give you a better understanding of what went wrong and when it started.
Make sure you check all vitals – URLs, devices, countries, or search appearance to streamline your search:
Lastly, affirm if it’s a site-wide issue or a page-level issue. Click the ‘Pages’ section on your performance report and select the same date difference to compare accordingly:
Now, let’s get into the various factors that could lead to this decline.
Top 9 reasons why your organic traffic is dropping
This list isn’t fully exhaustive. If you’ve tested all I listed here and still can’t figure out why your organic traffic is dropping, I strongly recommend you speak with an SEO professional. Most times, an expert has the experience of having dealt with many different types of websites, industries, and situations, and they can leverage that experience to determine a root cause.
Search engine core updates
Search engines like Google are constantly improving their algorithms and systems to deliver users relevant, informative, and quality information. This usually results in ranking changes.
Some websites may be favored with higher rankings whenever this happens, while others may notice a decline.
For instance, when Google rolled out the helpful content core update in September 2023, many websites experienced a drop in traffic. Here’s a complaint from the owner of a tech news site in Google’s support forums:
What to do: First, don’t fret.
Read the details of the core update from reputable sources. This can be Google’s web admin’s blog or following people who post first-hand information on recent updates, such as John Mueller, Google’s search advocate, or Addy Osmani, senior staff engineering manager for Google Chrome.
While analyzing the details, check if your website needs to be improved based on the updated characteristics. For example, in the case of the helpful core updates, your website should satisfy all these recommendations:
Here’s other advice from Google:
To confirm if it’s Google core updates, check other search engine traffic sources, e.g., Microsoft Bing. Use the same date difference highlighted in the first section to compare the charts.
Check out this tip from Gianna:
Your site is experiencing technical errors
Technical SEO issues prevent search engines from crawling, indexing, and ultimately ranking your web pages on the search results. This typically results in site-wide traffic decline.
If your site is currently experiencing a drop as a result of technical issues, several factors may be at play:
- Canonicalized tags
- Broken redirects
- Unintended Noindex tags
What to do:
Use Screaming Frog, or even our free SEO Grader, to analyze your site and discover issues affecting it. As I pointed out above, it can be one of many issues, and using third-party tools can help you diagnose the root cause(s) of your lost traffic.
For technical SEO, hundreds, if not thousands, of things can be addressed. But not all of them carry the same weight or priority. So prioritize activities that drive you closer to your goal – improving your web traffic.
Aleyda Solis, former head of digital strategy at Woorank, shared superb insights on the SEO unplugged podcast:
“When conducting an SEO audit, ensure that the pages you want to rank for are crawlable and indexable. In my case, it’s all about priority and impact, i.e., high-priority, medium-priority, high-impact, medium-impact. I remove low-priority, low-impact from my audit; you can always disregard it. But I will always concentrate on things that have high priority, high impact, and medium priority, medium impact.”
Publishing content that doesn’t satisfy Google’s quality content guidelines
Let’s face it. If your content isn’t up to par, you’ll be outranked by your competitors.
And thanks to generative AI, quality content goes beyond infusing keywords strategically into your content.
Google, in their helpful content publication, advises web owners to focus on creating people-first content, compared to search engine-first content:
What to do:
Koen Bongers, COO at Techopedia, shares a valuable point on The SEO Show:
“Make it easier for algorithms to understand your content (schema) because Google is building their algorithms to become more entity-based. Get experts to publish your content (although they’re more expensive), but in the long term, it’s more profitable. Have these experts share their contributions to your website on their socials. With this, you’re creating an entity graph for Google … increasing your trust score or domain authority.”
I also love this advice from Mark Webstar, an eCommerce mattress review business owner. His site received a boost during the last Google core updates, and here’s how he did it:
“Our process begins with in-depth testing of the product to get a library of data to compare each product so that we can definitely say that this product works 15% better than this. So many of the trust signals come from our website – how we research, test, structure, and disclose the level of transparency. So we put all these out there so it’s up to our readers to discern if we’re a viable source of information.”
Benchmark your content (especially the affected pages) against the Google content quality guidelines. Do they hit all the marks? Affirm these and improve accordingly.
Another vital reason why your site could be failing is because your competitors have upped their game.
In some cases, your content might be better (in terms of quality) than your competition. But they might be doing something differently.
What to do:
Conduct an in-depth SEO competitor analysis to identify opportunities to perform better. Look into their keyword strategy, backlink profile, and traffic sources. Third-party tools like SEMRush, SpyFU, and Ahrefs provide this feature.
In an interview with the SEMRush’s team, Stefan Dobois, CEO of SurveyAnyplace, disclosed that they use the information obtained from their competitor audit to:
- Select topics & keywords for their articles based on a competitor page that gets a lot of organic traffic;
- Reach out to websites that generate a lot of referral traffic for a competitor;
- Make decisions about the translation of content: which content to translate into which language — based on competitors’ organic traffic numbers in non-English languages.
Also, Ben Kazinik, director of marketing at Mayple, shares further insights into milking the juice in your competitor strategy to get more backlinks:
Website redesign or migration
If you’ve recently redesigned your website or migrated your site to a new hosting provider, it could be a contributing factor to the decline in your website traffic. See this example from a Charity website. Their traffic tanked after a failed website redesign:
This traffic loss can be a result of many factors. But the most common are missing pages, missing or misconfigured redirects, and content changes.
For example, if you’ve recently migrated your site and the high-traffic pages are not properly redirected, users and search engines will experience issues accessing your site. All these impact your user experience and web performance.
What to do:
In case of redirects, manually check all the affected pages in a browser to know if they redirect properly to a new page. Use ScreamingFrog to ensure they’re 301 redirects and not 302 temporary redirects. Also, check the redirected pages to make sure everything works end-to-end.
If you also changed your page content during the redesign, monitor its performance over time to ensure that it performs better than the previous version. Focus on key performance indicators such as rankings and user engagement metrics.
Using outdated tactics
SEO isn’t a sprint that favors the lucky few but a marathon that rewards the persistent many. It’s equally dynamic, and improvements are made over time in response to the ever-changing user behavior.
Search engines like Google release hundreds of updates every year. It’ll be challenging to keep up if you’re not a professional or not well-versed in the SEO industry.
For example, Google released the core web vitals update in May 2023 to ensure ranking sites provide seamless user experience for web visitors:
If you’re lagging in any of these metrics, it could hurt your performance.
What to do:
Changes in consumer behavior
As technology advances, it spurs sporadic changes in how users search for information online. In the last decade, we’ve seen a significant increase in mobile searches (<63% increase alone in the US).
Text-based searches are slowly diminishing, and web users are gaining mainstream adoption (up to 1 billion voice searches are conducted every month). Users are embracing the natural and conversational aspects of voice interactions when using search engines.
If you’re not optimizing your website or mobile apps for voice searches by incorporating long-tail keyword and conversational topics into your content, you risk your content being overlooked by voice-activated systems.
What to do:
Although Google hasn’t explicitly listed voice searches/voice-based keywords in their ranking factors, I strongly believe it’ll influence search in this post-chat-gpt world.
One thing remains a fact, though: Google prioritizes user-centric SEO – optimizing your website for consumers.
As a result, you need to understand how your consumers search and where they’re searching from. Are they asking their network for recommendations compared to using search engines? What kind of content are they consuming? Blog posts? Video content? Use tools to gather and analyze consumer data and update your SEO strategy accordingly.
Lastly, your traffic may be dropping due to seasonal trends. This site-level issue shows an unusual traffic pattern and could be caused by weather, holidays, or vacations.
For example, if you recently concluded a black-friday sale, it’s not uncommon to experience a dip in traffic after the peak shopping period.
See a graph showing the seasonal search demand for ‘skis.’
What to do:
Conduct live customer interviews and surveys to gain qualitative insights into post-peak search behavior. Use tools like Facebook Audience Insights or SparkToro to generate insights into consumer behavior, such as keywords used all year round and search channels. Live interviews and surveys can also provide further insights into consumer search behavior during slow seasons.
How to improve search rankings
Here are some tips to improve your search rankings in 2024:
Evaluate your current strategy
The first thing we do whenever we sign a new client at HigherVisibility is to analyze where they are currently to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s examine a similar case study together. RoadRunners Cigars, an eCommerce cigar storefront, has been trying to boost its organic traffic and revenue for years. When they came to us, they were generating less than 1k organic visitors MoM (month-over-month).
To help them, we had to start with the foundation: their SEO strategy. What could they improve? Are they targeting the right audience? After thorough analysis, we discovered some gaps in their technical SEO strategy, so we had to remedy that first.
Next, we re-constructed an effective, user-focused SEO strategy for them using a proprietary method. This covers content marketing, keyword research, conversion rate optimization, etc.
The results? Their traffic grew to over 4k YoY (250% increase in organic traffic) and 297% increase in organic revenue. Read the full case study here.
Focus on your audience
If you’re in a business that appeals to a wide audience, creating an ideal customer persona to inform your strategy/campaigns might be challenging. But you can’t choose to evade it, either.
Google rewards customer-centricity, and it’s imperative to make it your focus to increase your organic traffic.
A good way to identify this is to look into your current customer data.
Prioritize the top three or five categories that are bringing you the highest traffic/revenue. Speak to your customer success team to get even more accurate data on your customers, e.g., their pain points and favorite search channels.
You can also run surveys to know why they’ll recommend you to their network, how they found your business online, issues they experienced while using your product/service, etc.
Use this data to inform your keyword research and content creation process.
Don’t ignore the basics
- Keep your content concise, informative, logical, and authentic.
- Share your story. Use user-generated content, product reviews, customer testimonials, case studies, etc., to connect with your audience.
- While you build backlinks, don’t underestimate the power of internal linking. Link to other cluster pages (if you’re working on pillar content) and interlink contextually related pages to improve site architecture.
- Use visuals. They’re effective in communicating complex ideas and making your brand more memorable.
Being different wins
In this age of generative AI, expertise and experience will become more relevant. Google E.E.A.T. quality content guidelines affirm that.
Expertise and experience, including bylined authorship, must be displayed in your content to prove dominance. This also means challenging previous norms and beliefs in your industry, providing more effective solutions to user problems, etc.
Storytelling will help you remain different. Leverage it.
Hire an SEO professional.
If SEO isn’t in your wheelhouse, it’s typically more cost-effective and time-saving to outsource SEO. A good agency or SEO expert has the experience, tools, and industry secrets to find issues impacting your web traffic. They also understand the techniques to take you from where you are to where you want to be.
Diagnosing a decline in organic traffic requires a multifaceted approach. By considering internal factors like content quality and technical health, as well as external influences like seasonality and competition, you can develop a comprehensive strategy to improve your traffic. If challenges persist, consider consulting with an SEO professional for a deeper analysis and tailored solutions.
Need Expert Help?
At HigherVisibility, we specialize in diagnosing and resolving traffic declines. Contact us for a custom audit and expert guidance to enhance your website’s performance.