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Is Your SEO Going Down?

Aug 29, 2022   |   SEO
SEO Going Down?

By Erik Newton, VP of Marketing

Read on to find out what may have happened to your traffic and what to do about it.

Down and to the right in your analytics is the wrong way to start the day, but it happens sometimes. You have to be prepared to understand it and react to it. When it happens in your SEO, the biggest channel, there is nowhere to hide as the effect on traffic will be visible to even the non-SEOs.

Here is my checklist of what to examine when it happens:

Was it a holiday? Is it seasonal?

Holidays are almost always bad for site traffic as people get away from their computers and even their phone screens and hit the lakes, rivers, mountains, and city sites. Additionally, the beginning of summer season usually starts a long slower period. Start by looking at your data year over year and see if a similar drop occurred last year. Remember to account for day of the week fluctuations also. Here is the compare controller in GA4.

SEO detrending

Are the analytics wrong? Did Google change the way it counts?

Analytics being wrong happens on at least two fronts: the tracking pixels get removed from the site or template or a new filter is added or incorrectly added and eliminates legitimate traffic. Google does sometimes change the way it captures and reports data. It will usually report this is in the Google Analytics blog https://blog.google/products/marketingplatform/analytics/ or the https://developers.google.com/search/blog. Also look for indicators in in your GSC report that look like the below. They indicate a change in collection and reporting was made. You will often see a noticeable dip or jump in traffic.

You can setup alerts in GA 4 for any anomaly in traffic or events data.

GA 4 alerts

This GSC report shows a change in data reporting on 2/2/22.

GSC alert notification

Was there a bot generating pageviews that has been blocked?

Bots are part of the fabric of the Internet. Many news and tracking sites crawl the internet every day or every week. They will appear as visitors to your site and they do consume resources and bandwidth. Your IT department might decide to block one or dozens of crawlers by using a white list system where only known and welcome crawlers are permitted to visit the site. This action will cause a drop in traffic but you might see an increase in conversion as the bot traffic is eliminated. Bots don’t need to buy shoes or gold clubs.

Google Analytics latest version GA 4 automatically excludes the traffic from known bots and spiders. If you have delayed GA 4 migration, then this can be one of the reasons to do it now. At the end what you need is clean and quality data for better decision making.

Here is what a bot filter looks like in GA UA. In GA4, check and see if the audience definition was changed by one of the IT engineers.

GA bot filter exclusion

Did someone break the site? Did someone cripple the site?

Breaking the site might mean introducing a mistake in the robots.txt file that instructs the searchbot not to visit whole sections of the site and could lead to rank drop or deindexing. Crippling the site is fairly easy as someone could load a very heavy image or glitchy javascript tracking pixel file to a high-traffic page. 3rd party javascript can down and block page loading and the searchbot may regard it as a temporarily unavailable. Scan your analytics for slowest pages and fix any problems. Remember to focus on mobile speed over desktop as that is how Google prioritizes the device experiences. Check the trend chart on Good URLs in GSC.

GSC crawl error examples

Did someone turn on ads on the brand?

If you have not been running ads on your brand term and you start, you will see about a 40% reduction in SEO traffic and a consequent rise in Paid Search traffic. Paid search will allow you to direct the traffic to particular landing pages, while SEO is more, well, organic.

GA 4 channel conversion reporting

Is the drop on brand or generic keywords?

If the drop is on brand keywords, look at the spending and activity in other channels that would drive brand searches. Check if the brand term dropped in rank, which is less likely. If the brand query volume and rank are stable, then look at generic keywords and see if rank has fallen for high-volume keywords. You may need to refresh that content or re-optimize it vs. your competition.

In GSC, filter out your brand queries like this and see if the generic keyword volume dropped.

GSC brand exclusion reporting

Did the macro-economic conditions change?

It is obvious that the government injected trillions of dollars of stimulus into the economy at the beginning of the covid pandemic to keep businesses open and provide people unemployment, food, and rent support. That increased disposable income for many and they went shopping, pulling demand forward even as supply was being restricted by covid and the supply chain. Now that the increased government support has gone away, prices and interest rates have increased, economic growth has slowed, ecommerce sites are seeing a slowdown in traffic and purchase across the board. It might be necessary to update the forecast to reflect the new realities.

US stimulus payment and usage reporting by income

Was there an algo change?

If you go through the list above and don’t see any issues to fix, the cause of the drop may be a dreaded search algorithm change. Check https://developers.google.com/search/blog and https://searchengineland.com/ and https://www.searchenginejournal.com/ and https://www.gsqi.com/marketing-blog/ to see what the community sees with its collective eyes. After getting an understanding of the update, check your site content to make sure your content and practices are consistent with best practice guidelines.

SERP volatility trackers can show spiked wen major algorithms are rolling out.

Algorithm update reporting

How to recover after a traffic drop

  1. Check your analytics and reporting. Create custom reports and dashboards to give you more insights into the traffic changes. Milestone can help with GA4 migration, custom report setups, or custom dashboards.
  2. Invest in infrastructure and speed vs your competition. The fastest most secure website usually gets rewarded with visibility, traffic, engagement, and increased conversion. Milestone can help with a site audit.
  3. Invest in new helpful content. You should be able to expand your visibility and traffic by covering more topics with helpful and fresh content. Work with subject matter experts to produce the content. Milestone can help identify in-demand topics with a content audit.
  4. Add FAQs and HowTos to existing pages wrapped in schemas. Adding 3 to 5 FAQs across hundreds or thousands of pages will likely give you FAQ Rich Results exposure that will boost your SEO traffic to those pages by 20-30%. Milestone’s FAQ Manager and Schema Manager can help. Working in HowTos will make the articles more obviously helpful.
  5. Optimize the website for engagement and conversion to make the most out of the traffic that arrives from all channels. Milestone can help with a CRO study that will create a roadmap of what to address.
  6. Make better content. This tactic is simple but difficult. Helpful, relevant content written by your experts is best. Milestone can advise on content research and planning.

Upgrade to new Google Analytics 4 for better measurement. With its cross platform tracking capability and event-based data model GA 4 provides better understanding of user journey and engagement. Milestone has completed 100+ GA 4 migrations. Reach out if you need help.

Milestone provides full-service SEO and content solutions for customers across industries.

Milestone increases acquisition by enhancing digital experience and increasing content visibility. Contact us at [email protected] or call us at 408-200-2211

Erik Newton has been working in SEO and digital marketing since 1999. He is a frequent webinar and podcast speaker and published more than 165 blogs and 12 research reports on SEO.

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