Lost Search Engine Traffic
Here are 9 steps you can take to diagnose the cause of lost search engine traffic:
1. Determine what type of traffic loss you're dealing with. Many people look at Google's overview page, see a loss of overall traffic to their website, and assume that they must have lost their rankings in Google and the targetéd traffic that comes with it. This may or may not be the case. Be sure to check for search engine traffic, and even more specifically Google non-paid traffic.
3. Compare apples to apples. Many businesses are cyclical or seasonal. A gift site may see huge spikes in traffic the months leading up to Christmas or the weeks before other holidays. This means that comparing any month to the previous month may not tell you the whole story. A drop in traffic in January is probably fairly normal for a gift site. If you've got more than a year's worth of data, you'll want to compare this month's traffic to the same month in previous years. Ideally, you'd of course want to see a growth in traffic. And if you don't, then you may very well have a problem on your hands. If you don't have data that goes back that far, you can compare month to month, but be sure to take the data with a grain of salt.
5. Analyze which keyword phrases have had a significant decrease in visitors. Now that you've filtered out the brand traffic, you should be able to see the keyword phrases that are bringing you the most traffic. If you have lots, you may want to view 100 phrases at a time rather than the default of just 10. Are there lots of keyword phrases that seem to bring far fewer visitors over the last few months as compared to last year at the same time? You may also notice some that are bringing significantly more visitors.
6. Do a quick Google search for the phrases. If you're not seeing any pages from your site on the first page in Google, it may or may not be a clue (given the fact that everybody sees different search results) but it is definitely a cause to investigate further. If a page from your site does show up fairly high in the líst, it could just be that fewer people are searching for that phrase now as compared to before. Or it could be that your listing isn't quite what the searcher is looking for based on your title and descriptive snippet. There might also be other results for the keyword phrase that have images or video embedded whereas yours doesn't. Or there might be local map results showing up that make your result less appealing.
8. Review your long-tail traffic. Since the end of April and early May 2010 a few large sites lost a substantial amount of traffic for keyword phrases that brought small numbers of visitors individually, but in aggregate they made up a lot of website traffic. You'll want to filter your keywords to those that have only a few visitors (even just 1) and see if there are significantly fewer of those than previously. If this is the case, Google has gone on record stating that they're doing a better job at sending long-tail traffic to more meaningful and relevant pages than they used to. Which means you'll have to go above and beyond what you're currently doing if you want to get that long-tail traffic back.
9. Decide if you're dealing with a search engine penalty. For drastic drops, in the rare cases where it's not a technical issue, you're most likely dealing with a penalty. You can check your Google Webmaster Tools account to see if there is a notification of a penalty, but they don't usually bother to tell you. Still, search engine penalties are much rarer than people think. In fact, most website owners know what they've done wrong when they have a search engine penalty. There are some cases, however, where they may have been duped by a less than scrupulous "SEO" company. The penalties I've seen seem to occur on sites that have no redeeming value because they have the same products and content that can be found on many other sites (often ones owned by the same company), plus they are deeply entrenched in massive link farms. It's likely that they are also hosting part of the link farm on their own site in the form of a link directory. If this is what you find, you may be better off to start from scratch rather than trying to salvage the penalized domain.
I hope these steps help you diagnose your loss of traffic. I imagine they will keep you busy for quite some time!
Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings and co-founder of SEMNE, has been performing SEO services since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.
If you've lost search engine traffic and would like Jill to determine what the problem might be, fill out the contact form at www.highrankings.com/contact/ and mention it in the "Business Goals" section. She can review most sites that have Google Analytics installed for a one-time $600 fee.
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