6 Questions to Help Diagnose the Cause of Sudden Search Traffic Drop

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One day you slip off to bed, enjoying great traffic numbers and excellent conversion rates because of your time, money and effort instilled into your business website.  You awaken, prepare your coffee, pull up your Analytics account and suddenly lose your appetite: traffic has tailed off to darn near nothing overnight.  And you are completely clueless as to how such a dramatic event could happen within mere hours.  Dreams of having an excellent sales quarter nearly slide down a vortex of unknown proportions as you frantically dial your techie to ameliorate this issue before it crosses the tragedy line.  Before waking up your SEO nerd, there are six extremely useful questions and tests you can perform prior to losing your mind and heading out on the business lam, per se.  After running these tests, finding the source of your sudden search traffic attacks can be ameliorated for good.

Prior to beginning your self-assessment checklist below, it may behoove you to actually take a six month snapshot of your analytics account to make sure it’s truly your search traffic that dropped and not blacklisting of domains.  If this passes (which a severe, sudden dip will signify loss of traffic), proceed to questions below.

#1: Did Something Change In My Tracking Code?

Perhaps the first place to check is often the last place thought of: your Google Analytics tracking code.  Depending on where code is embedded, occasionally an error or site alteration you made could jar the code out of proper positioning.  Go back to Google Analytics and make sure the proper code was taken, and appended to the correct page(s) you are attempting to track.  You may call a few buddies to assure the code works simply by having them visit your site, click on links, etc.  If the code is reading correctly, and no crawler errors were reported in your Analytics dashboard, proceed to question #2.

#2: Did You Perform A Content or Site Refresh or Revision?

You’ll frequently add new content, change website themes or even add other tracking codes from Bing into your HTML schema – the question is, did the position of your Analytics code change, get deleted or not work with other added scripting?  If something happened which is causing errors to persist, you’ll need to revert the changes back to how it was prior to tracking errors.  It may also be a matter of  double-checking that you remembered to re-add the code after your changes took place.  If you submitted a sitemap with errors, Google will not properly read your XML file, nor will it pick up the analytics tracking code correctly.  Always check to assure your code is still on every page, and added to new pages, before re-submitting the sitemap to search engines.

#3: Were You a Victim Of Hacker Attacks?

It’s an absolutely horrifying thought to know your half-million dollar website was hacked by professional cyber attackers; that thought amplifies when it happens to small businesses who cannot afford to replace their losses.  If hackers tore apart your site, your analytics code would probably be the last thing on your plate to worry about, although this question still needs to be asked.  If the threat was a rookie spam bomb or something of that nature, put your site into maintenance mode, change all database and site passwords, fix the erroneous coding and backup the entire site, both on your own computer and on your host’s.  This is nearly mandatory should you wish to make your Google Analytics code work correctly and track visitors which have been missed of late.

#4: Did you Experience An Algorithmic Update Overnight?

Water fowl and primates are known to change their minds while most of the Western Hemisphere is asleep; you may want to perform quick research to see if an algorithm change took place and altered the code your site needs to correctly track traffic.  Perhaps your content was found to violate plagiarism laws or keyword spam was problematic; something could very well have altered your traffic sources should Panda or Penguin nailed the world again.  There is also an individual named Matt Cutts who seems to have a bird’s eye view of when algorithm changes will take place throughout the year: search his name and find his blog, or videos, explaining what will happen and when, so you can expect the sudden dip in visitors without having a heart attack during the process.

#5: Did Your Site Receive a PR Penalty?

Another area of webmaster concern during traffic losses are whether or not the site received a page ranking penalty for numerous reasons, including:

  • Duplicate content
  • Spammy links
  • Running link or content farms
  • Selling links that propagate page rank unfairly
  • “Tinying” your URL

Many more highly clandestine reasons go into what your quarterly page rank is and if you’ve experienced a loss in traffic, you’ve probably taken a hit somewhere.  Check all outbound links, check your entire website for duplicate content using Copyscape, tear down your sold links and make sure page URLs are search engine friendly without using T.Co or TinyUrl just to have Twitter-friendly links.  Once completely investigated and changes have been made, check your Google Analytics code and resubmit your sitemap to reinstate your traffic rights.

#6: Did Negative SEO Get The Best of You?

Similar to firing nuclear warheads at your competition, negative search engine optimization is the malicious attempt of your competition buying non-relevant links and slamming them towards your website in an effort to decrease visibility and page quality.  This can happen from onslaughts of contradictory reviews, too, which are now used by Google to rank your efforts in business.  Dirty, indeed, especially when you’ve done nothing more than operate an honest business and praise your competitors.  Unfortunately, this sort of SEM happens all the time, costing businesses to fold before they open.  Although domains holding a high authority can repel many of these attacks, nobody is safe from the wrath of mass-link mayhem.   Bing Webmaster Tools is the only search engine with the ability to disavow negative links through a useful tool; this should soon be developed by Google, yet by repelling negative links through one engine, the other should pick up the changes and give back your website visitorship since it’s caused by no fault of your own.

If It’s Not One, It’s The Other

For most, the issue with sudden search traffic loss will amount to one or two smaller intricacies that were overlooked; for others, a deeper concentration on newer web content, internal and external linking and light usage of keywords could be what is necessary, causing the entire website to temporarily go into sandbox mode.  Keep in mind that before you resubmit your sitemap to Google, your code needs to be clearly visible in the suggested areas so visitors can once again be tracked properly.   Before you decide to close up shop and throw your site in the recycle bin, check the small issues, then the large, to better see what could have killed your traffic, tracking, or both.

One Response to “6 Questions to Help Diagnose the Cause of Sudden Search Traffic Drop”
  1. Reg NBS SEO

    It is rarely out of position code, hacker attacks, or a content refresh that causes a massive drop in traffic.

    While these can cause problems, things like a content change usually only has a minor effect on the page changed.

    #4 is a distinct possibility and has been responsible for a lot of traffic and SERPs drops.

    A PageRank penalty only affect the PR number your site has.
    A drop in page rank is not connected to traffic, nor is it related to search standings.
    PR is not affected by duplicate content, spammy links, or any of the items in #5.

    Negative SEO is not a real factor since Google has the effects of links turned off as an effect on search results.
    And websites do not go into “sandbox mode” without a significant reason.

    Usually the drop in traffic can be traced to Google.
    A tightening of indexing factors can cause a site to be removed from their index, or get a position penalty.
    This was one of the factors in Penguin.
    If you built links on off topic pages, Google nailed you with a link spam penalty.