Written by Aaron Rains July 20th 2022

Your website’s organic traffic can decrease for a variety of reasons.

An abrupt drop in traffic or even a slow decline could be spurred by an update to Google’s algorithms. Or, maybe recent changes you made to your website have spurred some new technical problems. It could also be possible that a rival has made progress and is now beginning to outperform you.

In this article, we’ll help you evaluate a decline in your organic traffic performance, and determine how you can combat these downturns in the future.

With over ten years of SEO experience, our team specializes in helping website owners diagnose and reverse traffic decreases when possible.

This post will answer the following questions:

  1. Has your Search Engine Ranking Position (SERP) Dropped?
  2. Has Google updated its algorithms?
  3. Does your Site have Technical SEO problems?
  4. Have you recently made changes to your website?
  5. Are Seasonal changes or real-world events affecting your traffic?
  6. Has your website received a Google penalty (manual or algorithmic)?
  7. Have your Competitors Improved their SEO Performance?
  8. How to assess a slow ongoing decline in traffic?
  9. Have you lost Backlinks?

1. Has your Search Engine Ranking Position (SERP) Dropped?

Checking your rankings should be the first thing you do if you see a drop in organic traffic. When tracking your rankings over time, you can use software like Ahrefs,SEMRush, or Rank Ranger.

If these tools don’t indicate a decline in your ranking positions, but your traffic is decreasing, it could be caused by a sudden shift in Google’s algorithm or in the search intent and behavior of users.

It’s also possible that Google made changes to the search results, including (or excluding) certain elements like:

  • Google Maps listings
  • Top News Stories
  • Shopping Carousels
  • Featured Snippets
  • People Also Ask (PAA) Results
  • Image Carousels
  • Interesting Finds

Most of the website owners who experienced a drop in ranks during the Google core upgrade in May 2022 lost their positions in the featured snippets.

If you lose your position as a featured snippet, it could have a catastrophic effect on the amount of traffic that you receive.

If you are not currently watching your position in Google’s search engine results page features, it may be difficult to assess these factors. While Google Search Console does provide information on certain Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features, such as FAQs, the vast majority of these features, including featured snippets, are not reported on.

If you have a paid account with either Ahrefs or Semrush, you will have access to historical data regarding your position in featured snippets and other SERP features.

2. Has Google updated its algorithms?

Multiple times each day, Google will update its underlying algorithms. The majority of these changes will not result in a noticeable shift in your website’s organic traffic.

But, a few times a year Google releases what they call “core updates”. These are major upgrades to their algorithms and they tend to have a significant effect on website traffic.

When Google makes changes to its algorithms, the position that your website holds in the search results may either improve or deteriorate. If you are aware of when Google makes these changes, you have a point of reference from which you can determine if the change was caused by something you did or whether it was caused by a Google algorithm change or core update.

Recent examples of Major Core Updates for Google:

This is a comprehensive list of all of Google’s algorithm updates and core changes since 2003.

How to know if the Traffic drop was caused by algorithm changes?

If a Google update hurts you in some way, there really is no way to know for sure that the update was the reason why you lost traffic. Google Search Console will not send you a message.

One way to check is to see if the traffic decline you’re noticing is also reflected in Bing or Yahoo!

If your traffic drops only happen on Google and it occurs at the same time that Google announces a change to its algorithm, it’s likely that the change is to blame.

How do you recover traffic losses after an algorithm change?

Most of the time, it is possible to recover your traffic, but not always.

If you lost organic traffic after a Google core update, it means that Google’s algorithms think your content is less useful or relevant than other sites.

Most of the time, updates are related to the level of content quality on your site. This often targets elements of E.A.T (Expert, Authority, Trustworthy content).

These core updates don’t usually focus on technical SEO improvements, so while it’s good to improve your website’s technical health, a core update drop is rarely fixed by technical changes.

Instead, Google says to “focus on content” and “learn the quality rater guidelines,” especially the parts that talk about E.A.T. The history of search engines shows us that the best way to succeed in the long run is to make high-quality content that gives your visitors real value.

If a core update has significantly harmed your traffic, talk to SEO expert Aaron Rains to find out how you can get it back.

3. Does your Site have Technical SEO problems?

There are a lot of technical problems that can hurt a site’s ranking. Look for things that make it hard for Google to find your content or “crawl” it.

Some of these are:

  • Noindexed pages
  • Pages blocked by robots.txt
  • Problems with JavaScript that interfere with the page loading speed
  • Issues with page canonicalization

There are also other technical problems that could affect how well a website ranks:

  • Hosting problems like slow response times
  • Orphan Pages with no links pages
  • Differences in content between mobile and desktop

If you’re having trouble getting certain pages indexed or ranked, look at these pages in your Google Search Console to see if you can find any issues.

Any site that isn’t doing well in search should have a technical audit done. Tools like Semrush or Ahrefs that do a quick technical audit can help you find possible technical issues. But these tools often find problems that take a long time to fix and aren’t likely to be the reason for your drop.

A tool like Screaming Frog can crawl a site thoroughly and give you relevant information, but you still need to know what to do with that information.

4. Have you recently made changes to your website?

If your site’s traffic has dropped after you’ve made big changes, look first at these changes to see if they might be to blame.

Here are some of the most common issues we’ve seen that cause a traffic drop:

  • After a site redesign, internal links were removed.
  • URLs changed without redirects being put in place.
  • Massive changes to web design or content

Viewing your pages’ source code on Archive.org and using a tool like Diffchecker will help you determine what modifications caused your traffic to drop.

If you moved your website to a new domain or even switched it from the HTTP protocol to the HTTPS protocol, it is essential that all of your previous URLs redirect to an appropriate and comparable URL on your new website.

Organic traffic drops can result from failing to redirect each URL or from redirecting every URL to the homepage or a category page.

Extra Resources:

  • Assessing redirects after a site migration with Screaming Frog
  • Use Archive.org to analyze site migration problems

5. Are Seasonal changes or real-world events affecting your traffic?

When the core update was implemented in May 2022, many website owners mistakenly believed that the update had affected their traffic when, in fact, the changes were the result of brief shifts in searcher behavior.

The release of the May core update coincided with a long American holiday weekend. Because people’s search habits frequently alter over holidays, many websites will experience changing traffic patterns.

Additionally, due to seasonality, the SERPS may occasionally alter to reflect shifting user search intent. For instance, several SERPS may alter in the weeks before Christmas to include more eCommerce pages. This may result in a drop in rankings and visitors if you run an informational website.

In order to identify whether seasonality is at play when assessing traffic reductions, we recommend examining year-over-year traffic patterns.

It might be challenging to determine whether a global incident or a seasonal shift has impacted a website’s traffic at times. The best way to counter these effects is to completely understand the industry you are operating in.

For example, if you run a sports website you are likely to see significant changes in traffic throughout the year. You will see large increases in searh traffic in the middle of the season or during the finals series. But, in the off season there may be less search intent and traffic will drop.

6. Has your website received a Google penalty (manual or algorithmic)?

A traffic decline used to be frequently attributed to Google penalties. Google does still takes manual actions against websites that violate its policies, but this no longer happens very frequently.

How can I tell if Google has punished my website manually?

You will find a notification in Search Console from Google if you’ve received a manual penalty from the search engine.

If there is no message for you in GSC, then there is no manual penalty on your site.

Sites that have been subject to a manual action will be sent with information on the rules they have violated, such as spam or links that are not natural-looking. After that, you can fix the problems and ask for a second chance. Your reconsideration request will be examined by a member of the webspam team, and if approved, the manual penalty will be lifted.

If a traffic drop feels manual but isn’t, this leads us to our next FAQ…

Would Google penalize my site algorithmically if there is no manual action in Google Search Console?

Although algorithmic suppressions are still conceivable, they are far less frequent now. When Google first introduced its Penguin algorithm, we frequently saw websites that had been penalized due to aggressive, unnatural link-building techniques.

Although the Penguin algorithm is still in use today, it was modified in 2016 to disregard unnatural links instead of penalizing sites that continue to maintain them.

Google has stated that a site may still experience algorithmic suppression as a result of artificial link building, but only in extreme cases when the issue is so severe that their algorithms struggle to decide which links to include and which to disregard.

7. Have your Competitors Improved their SEO Performance?

Losing the top spot for a high-performing keyword will significantly affect traffic. It’s possible that you didn’t do anything wrong to trigger your loss. Instead, a competitor has probably upgraded their content or obtained more reliable links.

Following a Google update, it is typical to see competitors overtake you in the ranks, but this can also occur with daily, routine ranking changes.

If you’re losing traffic for certain keywords or queries, check the search results to see which competing pages are now ranked higher.

To check if this competing page has received new links, use a service like Ahrefs. If a rival page has received fresh, authoritative links, it will have the potential to outrank you.

In some circumstances, studying your competitors’ fresh links can assist you in creating ones that are similar.

Because the majority of site owners are continually overwhelmed with requests for links, outreach techniques that beg for links have a low success rate.

The best course of action in this situation is to provide content that is significantly more useful and superior to that of your competitors. Really good content is typically something that people like to share and link to without feeling pressured to do so.

8. How to assess a slow ongoing decline in traffic?

A drop in organic traffic that lasts for several years and for which there is no clear explanation is something that we frequently observe. What could the problem be then?

In the vast majority of these situations, you will not be able to identify a smoking gun or a glaring issue that can be held responsible for the decline in traffic. If the drop starts on a certain date, you can check to see if this date aligns with a particular change in Google’s ranking algorithms or core.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Have your competitors been consistently improving their content?
  • Have you re-optimized your website based on new search intent and user behavior?
  • Does this long-term drop coincide with a past algorithm change or core update?

9. Have you lost Backlinks?

PageRank is still an essential component of the algorithms that Google uses. It is possible that you will fall in the rankings if you lose a significant amount of inbound links pointing to your website.

It is quite unlikely that the removal of a single link will have a substantial impact on a website’s ranking. If you are attempting to determine the cause of a decline in traffic to a specific URL, a tool like Ahrefs can assist you in checking changes to inbound links.

Links that increase rankings also likely drive traffic to your site. If you look at the referrals in Google Analytics, you can check to see if any of your top backlinks have stopped sending traffic to your website. This will give you a good insight as to whether you have lost links or not.

Final tips to fix a drop in Organic Traffic 

  • Compare organic traffic results Year over Year
  • Check that your Technical SEO health is okay
  • Identify Keyword Rank changes
  • Make sure none of the site changes you made are affecting traffic.
  • Check to see if SERP features have changed
  • Look at competing websites and their organic traffic numbers
  • Improve the quality of content on pages that have dropped traffic
  • Improve your content to be better than your competitors
  • Check that you have not received a penalty from Google

Has your site lost traffic?

We feel your pain if you’ve seen a reduction in organic traffic. L ess traffic means less visibility, which means less conversions and less revenue. We’ve been there, its scary. You’ve worked your ass off to optimize your website and all that hard work has disappeared.

Even though it might seem counterintuitive, the best thing to do in a situation like this is to take charge and not panic. Instead, use this article to help identify the root of your traffic problems, then make the necessary adjustments.

By now, you should have a good idea as to why your site is experiencing a drop in organic traffic. If you’re still unsure why your site has lost traffic or dropped down the ranks, contact me for a free 15-minute consultation.