Diagnose a loss of traffic

Recently on friend of mine has been charged to review a few websites that have suffered a loss of traffic. Their owners wanted to know the reasons behind the loss. This kind of exercise is interesting because the ultimate goal to solve an enigma.  It is not always possible to determine the exact cause of a loss of traffic, but we can speculate with good statistical tools such as Google Analytics.

1st Step – Enquiring the usual suspects

  • Were there any major modification on the website
Maybe the tracking code has been removed or isn’t downloading properly
  • Check for any change in the referring websites list.
Maybe one of your campaigns has been offline; one of your incoming links has been removed.etc … 
  • Check if the website has been Offline

2nd step – Determinate the type of traffic loss. 

Many people just have a look at the dashboard and see a loss of traffic. Most of them then assume their website has lost visibility. A loss of rankings is a plausible cause but it is not the only one. Sudden loss of direct traffic is almost always related to problems with the website – your website is down or the redirection has not been put in place properly, maybe the tracking code is not in place. Loss of referring website traffic means that a website which was sending you traffic is isn’t anymore. Loss of search engines traffic could also be explained with the end of a campaign. Maybe you Adwords budget is all gone! 

3rd step – How important and how sudden the loss of traffic is?

IS the loss is very sudden of very progressive how much traffic have your website loss. Very sudden losses of traffic are usually easier to diagnose than progressive ones and they usually are due to technical problems (Robots.txt, Redirects, removal of the tag, etc…). 

4th step – Compare what is comparable

Many businesses are cyclical or seasonal. A site can have huge peak of traffic a month before Christmas or the week before the summer holidays. This means that the comparison from one month to another may not be relevant. A decrease of traffic in January is normal for a e-commerce website. If you have more than one year of data, you should compare the traffic of this month with the same month previous years.

5th step - Filter the brand keywords from the traffic.

Most Web sites get much traffic on Google thanks to their brand or the brands they sell. With this filter you will have the opportunity to note which of these visitors have substantially increased or decreased. If you receive fewer visitors to "your" brand, it may be because of a poor marketing and advertising. 

6th step - Analyze your keywords

Analyze keywords and phrases that had a significant decrease in number of visits. Now that you have filtered the "brand" requests, you should be able to see which keywords bring you the most traffic. Are there keywords that seem to send less visitors in recent months compared to last year at the same time?

7th step – Check your rankings

Take a quick Google search for the key sentences for which you have detected decrease of traffic. If you do not see your site in the first page of Google, there may have some leads about the reason of you traffic loss. If your website still have good visibility, it could simply means that fewer people are doing this research now. Or it could be that your ad is not quite what the user is looking or maybe your price is too high. Maybe some new competitors have appeared or maybe some new GG maps / video results are “eating” some of your traffic.   

8th step – Check your landing page

Look at the landing page for the keyword that lost traffic. Is there any obvious reason why it doesn’t generate as many visitors as usual? Maybe even that page no longer exists? Has it changed much at some point during the year? The content is duplicated from other pages on your site or contained on other sites? Are there any links pointing to that page no longer exists?

9th step - Check long tail

Review "long tail" traffic. Since the end of April and early May 2010, a large number of small websites have lost a significant amount of traffic for key phrases that have a small number of individual visitors, but overall is an important part of total traffic. 

10th step - Analyze and decide

Decide whether you're dealing with a penalty from the search engine or not. Very large losses of traffic usually are due to technical problems, if not you might suffer a penalty. You can check your Google Webmaster Tools to see if there is a notification of sanction, but most of the time Google do not even bother to tell you. Penalties from search engines are much rarer than we think. In fact, most website owners know what they did when they have a search engine penalty. There are cases; sometime, where they may have been duped by an unscrupulous "SEO”.


Translated from French Article - "10 Etapes pour diagnostiquer une perte de traffic" by Blackat