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Blog Traffic Drop? Here’s What You Need to Do First
People take different approaches to blogging. You could be doing it for your own enjoyment with no desire to make serious money. You could have goals to grow your blog traffic and make some side cash to supplement your daytime job. Or, you could be the entrepreneurial blogger intending to make it into a profitable business.
No matter what your intentions are or where you are in your blogging career, there is one thing that all website owners have in common. It’s scary when blog traffic takes a nose dive.
When you’ve put time and effort into building an audience and developing consistent traffic, this sudden decrease can be frustrating at the very least. If you’re making an income off your blog it’s even worse, putting financial stress on your life.
Bloggers spend time building up mailing lists, posting on social media, and hustling to get mentions from influencers. They do everything possible to keep their audience engaged and draw in new visitors. They put in even more time doing keyword research, optimizing their content, and discovering new things to discuss so they can stand out from their online competition. It takes all this work to build up a relationship with readers and increase blog traffic.
But what do you do when your traffic suddenly plummets? This step-by-step guide will walk you through the actions you can take right now. It will help you find the source of this problem and remedy it so you can get back to blogging.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Tracking Results Are Accurate
When you notice that your Google Analytics is showing a traffic plunge, the first thing you want to do is make sure this information is accurate. It’s possible that changes have been made to the global site tag tracking code for your website. If someone was poking around in the code for your site, they may have altered or deleted this tracking code.
If you’re not using Google Tag Manager (GTM):
If you deployed Universal Analytics directly to your site, check to see if your Google Analytics tracking ID number matches the number in your source code.
You can find your tracking ID in your Google Analytics Admin section. Instructions on where exactly this information is located are provided here.
Once you have your tracking number, go to your website and hit Ctrl+U to view the source code.
Then, use Ctrl+F to display the page search bar and type in “UA-“. Once you have located this in the code, make sure the number that follows “UA-“ is the same as your tracking code number.
If it isn’t, or if you can’t find any tracking code at all in your source code, follow Google’s tracking code troubleshooter. This means that your Google Analytic results are not displaying accurate traffic levels for your website.
Another option: Use Google Tag Assistant
An easy way to troubleshoot is to download Google Tag Assistant from the Chrome Web Store. An icon that looks like a sales tag will appear in your Chrome browser.
Once you’ve installed the Tag Assistant extension, navigate to your website and click the tag icon to test your site.
If you installed Google’s Universal Analytics directly to your site, you’ll see the UA code displayed:
When running Tag Assistant tests, you’ll get either:
- A “happy” smiling tag (everything’s fine)
- An “uh-oh” mouth-open tag (something’s amiss, but whether there’s a problem is ambiguous)
- A frowning tag (there’s definitely a problem)
For example, here we see some frowning tags and some “uh-oh” tags:
Clicking on each tag icon will give you useful information.
If you’re using Google Tag Manager (GTM):
If you used Google Tag Manager to inject your Google Universal Analytics tracking code into your site, then don’t expect to find a UA number in your source code. Instead, check to see if GTM is installed correctly.
What is Google Tag Manager? It’s an easy-to-use tool to inject tracking and marketing code snippets into your site with no coding knowledge. You can use it to inject your Google Analytics tracking code.
You can check it manually, using the first method described above. Search for “google tag manager.” Check the GTM number and make sure it matches the GTM account for your site.
Or, use the quicker method of clicking on the Tag Assistant.
In the example below, you would click on “Google Tag Manager” to get analysis of a problem.
Step 2: Analyze Your Google Analytics Graph
Before you can troubleshoot problems with web traffic, you need to narrow down the possible sources for the problem. To get an idea of this, you’ll want to look at the Google Analytics line graph where you first discovered the traffic drop.
Look at the Bigger Picture
Don’t just compare the traffic of this month to the previous month. It’s possible that you just had some especially high traffic recently and the traffic for the current month appears to be low in comparison. Zoom out of your data so that you can compare traffic across the entire year. This will let you see the average traffic your site gets on a monthly basis. If you have over a years’ worth of analytics, you can also see if your site experiences seasonal traffic drops.
Consider if the drop in traffic occurred during a holiday weekend. People are less likely to browse the internet and read blog posts during these times.
If you have determined that this is not a normal drop, the appearance of the line graph can indicate reasons behind it. Does the traffic drop seem to be recovering? Has it already rebounded? Or, is it a sharp decline that is not improving?
A sharp drop that doesn’t appear to be rebounding could mean your site has been hit by a Google penalty. A drop that looks like it’s returning to normal could indicate a temporary connectivity issue with your site that may have already been fixed.
If Your Traffic Has Flat-Lined
If your traffic dropped and completely flat-lined, this could mean a variety of temporary connectivity issues:
- Your domain name expired
- Your website was moved between hosting providers resulting in a DNS issue
- Your website was switched to HTTPS
- There was an outage at your hosting provider
- A spike in traffic caused your website to crash.
If any of these problems occurred, it is likely that they have been fixed already and your traffic will soon return to normal. Contact your developer or hosting provider to find out more.
Step 3: Determine Where You Are Losing Traffic
Once you know the nature of the traffic dip, you can rule out temporary issues that may have affected your site for a short period of time. Determining the sources of the lost traffic will help you focus in on exactly what is causing it.
Check Traffic Sources
Websites get traffic from a variety of sources. These include organic search engine results, direct traffic from URL searches, paid traffic from ads like Google Adwords, referral links from other blogs, or traffic from social media. You can find out where you’re losing traffic on your Google Analytics account by going to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium.
If you’re experiencing a drop in organic traffic you may have a Google penalty or SEO problem. If you’re losing referral or social visitors, check if you are missing links to your content in social media. Also, check out your referral sources to see if other sites have removed links that were sending traffic your way.
You can monitor your referral traffic from your Google Analytics account by going to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals.
Check New vs Returning Visitors
You can also see if you’re losing traffic from new visitors or returning visitors. In your Google Analytics account, go to Audience > Behaviour > New vs Returning. If there’s a drop in new users but not in existing users, there could be a problem with how your site appears on Google. This could also indicate a Google penalty or SEO problem.
If you’re losing returning visitors, there may be problems with your website. Check out if anything has changed with the navigation or usability of your site. Maybe it’s taking unusually long to load. It could also be that your visitors are being greeted by too many 404 errors.
You can also see whether your drop in traffic is coming from mobile browsing. This would indicate a problem with the responsiveness of your site for devices other than desktop computers.
Regular website maintenance will ensure that user experience on your site remains consistent for your visitors.
Step 4: Check if You Have a Google Penalty
If you suspect you have a Google penalty, log into Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools). Your website can be hit with two different types of penalties: manual and algorithmic.
Manual Action Penalties
A manual action penalty occurs when a human reviews your site and determines that it doesn’t comply with Google’s guidelines. If someone flags your site for a violation, it can be removed from Google search results or demoted in ranking.
You will be notified of manual action penalties in your Google Search Console account. Here, Google will give you a report on the penalty. This will let you know if the penalty applies to just one page or your whole website. Their message should tell you what happened and may even give you suggestions on how to remedy it.
WordPress users should be conscientious in making sure their security plug-ins are updated. Outdated security can open the door for automated site attacks such as the common “Japanese keyword hack” which generates text, links, and even pages in your website featuring Japanese characters and random images. This hack will certainly lead to a manual penalty. A message from Google warning users about the unreliability of your site will appear in your search engine ranking results, driving traffic away.
Log in to Google Search Console for recommendations on how to fix any hack attack you have experienced. Once your hack has been fixed, submit your site to Google for review. (Instructions for how to do this can be found in your Google Search Console account.) Allow up to two weeks for review. Lastly, realize that your site may not return back to its previous ranking for some time, if ever.
If you don’t have a manual penalty, your next step is to check for algorithmic penalties. These can occur if Google comes out with an algorithmic update. Their updates can change the way that current SEO strategies work. These types of penalties result in the lowering of your website’s search ranking. They can be a little more difficult to identify but are easier to fix.
To check your Google search ranking, log into your Google Search Console account. In the left sidebar menu, click Search Traffic > Search Analytics. Here you can see the impressions and average position for your site in search results. If you have a dip in impressions, fewer people are seeing your website in their Google results. If your average position is lower than it was before your traffic dropped, you have either been outranked by competition or you have an algorithmic penalty.
Some things that may trigger an algorithmic penalty include lack of content or duplicate content, too many ads, slow loading, or difficult navigation. Fixing these issues should remove the penalty. Your penalty may also be due to spamming links back to your blog. This will require you to remove these links or file a disavow to Google.
Step 5: Make Sure Google Can Still See Your Website
If you’re seeing drops in organic traffic that aren’t due to penalties, there may be a problem with your SEO features. This affects how easily people can find your website in Google search results.
Check robots.txt File for Recent Modifications
The robots.txt file is used to instruct Google’s web crawlers on how they should identify and index your website pages. It tells Google which parts of your domain they can crawl and which they cannot. Crawling allows Google to display your website to people searching for your key terms.
If the robots.txt file has been changed, Google may not be able to find your website. You can test if this file is working by using Google Search Console’s robots.txt tester.
You can also check for crawl errors on your Google Search Console account page. Find this by going to Google Search Console and click Crawl > Crawl Errors. This will tell you if there are any errors on your site that are preventing Google from crawling specific URLs. If your site has crawl errors, you can troubleshoot these using Google’s guide.
Step 6: Check for Changes to Your Website Content
You’ll also want to see if any other modifications have been made to core content or the layout of your website. For example, consider if anyone has:
- Made changes to the content on your main pages, such as your home page
- Altered the structure of your website navigation
- Deleted any website pages
- Changed URL structures without redirecting them.
Changes to your page titles or header tags will also affect your SEO ranking. For example, removing target keywords will cause these pages to rank lower in search results, affecting your organic traffic.
Also, consider whether you have started producing less content or reduced the frequency of posting on your blog. Google favors regular updates to websites. That’s why consistent posting is better for SEO. The search engine also gives better rankings to pages with longer content on them. For example, posts of 2000 words generally perform better for SEO than posts with 500 words.
Your Traffic Will Come Back
A drop in traffic can be scary, especially if you’ve never experienced it before. It feels like you’re losing everything you’ve been working hard for. But the important thing to remember is that in almost all cases, you will be able to get your traffic back. Unless you’ve been penalized by Google for violating key guidelines, the issues that caused your traffic to nose-dive can be easily fixed.