If you’re monitoring your traffic from day to day or week to week, you’ll be readily aware of the fluctuations in volume over time. Ideally, you’ll have a bumpy but upward climb, depending on how close you look. Weekends may be peaks or troughs, depending on your business, but the ideal is to have a growth from Monday to Monday, month to month, year to year.
It can be a heart-stopping shock to check your analytics, then, and find a sudden, dramatic decrease in your traffic. What do you do? How do you handle it?
Step 1: Determine the Scale of the Loss
Sometimes, what looks like a very dramatic drop in traffic might just be an off day, zoomed in. If you’re accidentally looking at your traffic from hour to hour, for example, one bad hour can look very dramatic despite not being dangerous at all.
Sometimes, the drop has a root cause in seasonal fluctuations. If there’s a holiday you forgot about, even a minor one, people might be out celebrating rather than visiting your site. Of course, if you’re catering to that holiday, you may be more concerned, but that’s not typical.
If the drop is sudden, dramatic and visible at a wide view, you have a deeper issue. 30% or more of your traffic disappearing overnight is cause for concern, and you need to diagnose what caused the loss.
Step 2: Determine the Cause
There are a wide variety of possible causes for traffic loss.
- Technical reasons. This might include your site being down, or some critical DNS server or relay being down. It might be a fault in your robots.txt blocking indexing. It might be a fault in your analytics code, reading a fraction of your real traffic. It might be a rogue hacking, with your site flagged as harmful until you fix the issue.
- It might be a Google penalty. To diagnose a Google penalty, you will first want to search sites like Moz.com to see if there was an update on the day of your lost traffic. If so, you may have some idea of where to start in diagnosing and fixing the problem.
- It might be an artificial penalty, such as a Negative SEO attack. Negative SEO occurs when a competitor purchases hundreds or thousands of low-quality spam links and directs them at you, earning your site a Google penalty. Only certain sites are at risk of such penalties, but if you’re sufficiently new and unprotected, you might be vulnerable.
- Did you change the way you post content in some way? If you suddenly dropped from one post per day to one post per week, it indicates a loss of trust or value in the site, and can earn you a corresponding loss in traffic.
Step 3: Develop and Implement a Fix
Depending on the issue you have, you may have a quick fix, you might have a long site revamp ahead of you or there may be nothing you can do. Here are some general guidelines for fixing lost traffic issues.
Host downtime. To fix this issue, first make sure your host is actually down. If it is, contact them about it. They should have an explanation of the downtime and an estimate of when your site will be back up. Until then, there’s nothing you can do. You may want to investigate a new web host, however; any host without redundancy and guaranteed uptime can be harmful in both organic and SEO terms.
External relay downtime. If your host is online, but a large section of your userbase can’t access your site, it could be an Internet relay having issues, or an issue with a specific ISP. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to fix this problem.
Hacking. If your site has been hacked, you need to take it down as quickly as possible. Restore an older backup if you have one. Remove any affected file and replace it with a clean version. Check logs and try to determine if any critical user information has been compromised, and deal with the issue accordingly if so. Google has a set of detailed steps to follow.
Robots.txt error. Just check your robots.txt files, or any robots.txt entries in your page headers. Do they include entries like “Disallow: /”? If so, you may be accidentally blocking your pages or entire site from being indexed. Remove that entry to allow indexing, then wait for Google to perform that indexing.
Panda penalty. Panda is primarily concerned with low quality and thin content. If your site has a large number of pages with only a hundred words each, you may have thin content. If your site has content copied from other pages, either on or off your site, you’ll have duplicate content issues. You can diagnose a Panda penalty in a number of ways, but foremost among them is checking for a Panda refresh in various SEO blogs. Fixing content issues is a long and difficult process, and you may need to hire a freelance writer, contract a content mill or set your in-house writers to work.
Penguin penalty. Penguin is primarily concerned with your link profile, both in how you link to other sites and how other sites link to you. Use a tool like Ahrefs to pull your backlink profile and look for issues like keyword-filled anchor text, too many instances of the same anchor text or a large volume of links coming from spam sites. Work to disavow or remove those links.
Other Google penalty. Sometimes, Google just changes the way your site is displayed. There may not be anything you can do about it beyond improving your content and your site as a whole. Look at your competitors, figure out how they got ahead of you and work to improve your site.
Low volume content. If you changed your content habits and your traffic dropped, change them back. Anything you did that caused a loss of traffic can be undone.
False alarm. If it turns out your analytics was at fault, laugh at your panic and move on. A good scare is healthy, now and then.