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Sudden Drop in SEO Traffic? A Troubleshooting Guide

5 min read

In today’s Ask an SEO segment, we’re tackling a commonly raised query from both SEO professionals and clients.
Let’s delve into the first part of the question: “What could be behind the decline in my monthly traffic?”
Britney from Houston presents the full question:
“What might lead to a significant decline in a company’s organic search traffic from month to month? We’ve ensured there are no broken links, all on-page SEO aspects appear strong (titles, meta descriptions, etc.), and our pages are indexed on Google.
We’ve been running Google PPC ads with reasonable success, consistently driving traffic to the site. Additionally, our direct traffic is on the rise. I’m puzzled… Any insights?”

A decline in month-over-month (MoM) organic SEO traffic can be concerning, often prompting clients to seek immediate resolution and understanding.
You’re already engaged in a thorough investigation, but there are additional factors worth considering.
Let’s begin with a sort of diagnostic “checklist” aimed at identifying and, ideally, resolving the SEO drop.

Step One: Identify the Nature of the Decline
Before delving into technicalities or potential causes, it’s crucial to pinpoint what exactly has experienced the drop. Was it a particular page? Specific queries? Or does the issue encompass a broader scope?
The most effective approach is to utilize Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools (select the search engine witnessing the decline).
Start by extracting the MoM report and arranging it based on changes observed. Subsequently, scrutinize any particular pages or queries responsible for the drop.
In cases where no specific pages or queries exhibit declines, consider exploring if a particular type of page or query category is affected.
This process involves manual data examination, as each site differs. Familiarity with our site allows us to identify any discernible trends. For instance, it might apply a decline in product landing pages, product family pages, or blog posts.

Valuable tip: One of my major gripes in agency reporting revolves around reports indicating a specific percentage increase or decrease in SEO without delving into the particular pages, queries, or products driving that change.
Clients genuinely seek this information. It’s the context they require to take actionable steps based on the report’s insights. Ensure your reporting includes the underlying causes behind any fluctuations to provide meaningful context to your clients.

 

After identifying the cause behind the drop, the next step involves a straightforward investigation.

 

If it pertains to a specific page or template, ensure it’s not blocked by robots.txt, continues to return a 200 status code, and lacks unintended noindex or canonical tags, among other potential issues.
Surprisingly, these issues surface unexpectedly, even on extensive enterprise websites, often without anyone pinpointing the cause. It’s a good practice to verify these aspects.
Following that, it’s essential to assess the page or template rendering to ensure that alterations in code have helped the search engine’s comprehension of the page. This occurrence is quite common and can be elusive to detect.
A viable starting point involves examining the page cache on Google/Bing and utilizing their respective ‘fetch and render’ tools accessible through their search consoles. In today’s web landscape, merely viewing the source code is insufficient—given the dynamic nature of tag insertion and JavaScript, examining the rendered content is imperative.

If we’ve ruled out straightforward technical errors, the investigation delves deeper.

Having confirmed that search engines can crawl the pages and access their content, what else could trigger the drop?

 

Could the decline be linked to branded queries?

 

If the drop correlates with brand-related searches, examining other marketing and advertising endeavors is crucial. For instance, if the reduction is connected to the brand name, consider the changes in paid search queries for that brand. Has there been an increase? If so, there might be a case of cannibalization. Has our ranking for that query altered? Did paid search clicks for the brand also decline?
Another angle to explore is a potential demand issue. Is there a decrease in search volume?
Assess Google Trends for validation and scrutinize expenditures on TV, radio, display ads, email campaigns, social media, etc. These channels indirectly influence branded searches, and a reduced advertising budget often correlates with decreased branded searches.

 

Is it tied to a Featured Snippet?

 

The issue might involve a need for clicks for queries that can be directly answered on the search result pages. Return to Google Search Console to assess the rank and impressions. If impressions remain steady, but clicks decline, potential anomalies in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) might be at play.
(Note: Utilize rank, impressions, and clicks data for detecting potential paid search cannibalization.)
If our rank persists for the query but clicks dwindle, it’s plausible that users find their query resolved without clicking through. Queries like “How old is Taylor Swift?” or “What time is it in Bangalore?” often seek immediate answers rather than webpage referrals.
Recovering this traffic might be challenging. Remember, search engines aim to answer queries, not necessarily route traffic to web pages. It could be prudent to evaluate the business model to ensure it offers more than mere answers.
If the aforementioned doesn’t apply, reviewing and updating our title tag could be beneficial.
While not covered in this article’s scope, ensure the title tag is compelling, featuring action-oriented language inclusive of primary keywords, among other considerations.

 

The process veers into more subjective territory when none of the prior methods yield a solution.

 

Begin by conducting an (incognito) search for the dropped queries. Observe the types of sources or pages that secure rankings. If, for instance, third-party review sites dominate the results instead of brands, it signifies that the search engine’s intent for that query isn’t to favor a specific brand. You may no longer rank for that query.
Consider this: A query for “best TVs” might display reviews and informational content without brand presence. In contrast, searching for “OLED TV” predominantly showcases transactional content—places to buy a TV.
If your content no longer aligns with the search engine’s intent, there might be limited options—aside from developing new content that resonates with the engine’s preferred intent. This shift has been a challenging realization for many SEO professionals.
Often, we approach SEO from a push marketing standpoint—how to secure rankings for specific terms. Instead, we should view it as pull marketing—understanding what people seeking these terms desire.
Our users’ search behaviors and the search engines’ preferences dictate the sites displayed for each query.
Our task is to heed these signals and build sites that cater to these preferences. This frequently involves substantial effort and investment, but it might be the sole avenue to reclaim lost traffic in specific scenarios.

 

In Conclusion

 

Hopefully, this guide has provided insights into diagnosing the causes behind a drop in SEO performance. Often, there isn’t a singular definitive answer, but following the outlined investigative path frequently sheds light on the issue.
It’s crucial not to rush to hasty conclusions and to allow observation time. With Google’s ongoing algorithm updates, pages sometimes regain their positions naturally, or the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) intent evolves gradually.
Maintaining a balance is essential—avoid extreme reactions, hasty removal of valuable content, or losing sight of the user and SERP intent in the quest to rectify the issue. If navigating this seems challenging, considering our monthly SEO packages and seeking expert assistance might be beneficial.

Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]