If Your Web Traffic Falls…

I recently read a blog post that listed three top reasons for falling traffic at your website: Penguin, Panda, and people not searching for you.

We’ve never had a a client hit by an algorithm update (though our lab site, where we try out different stuff we would never do with a client’s site, was affected by one) and we rarely see drops in traffic, but it can happen.

What causes traffic loss, and what should you do about it?

Overall, if you do nothing intentional to increase web traffic, you can expect it to stay about the same. Our analysis of managed vs. launched-and-left websites showed that a good website left on its own will — on average — stay about the same from one year to the next. Google’s most recent benchmark report shows that the average website lost a few percentage points in traffic over the preceding year. With averages like that, it’s safe to say that some unmanaged websites will lose traffic and we shouldn’t be amazed by that.

falling-traffic

But what it you’re managing your website? What if you’re actively trying to increase web traffic and the numbers still go down? Here are some possible reasons:

  • Seasonal variation In the example above, our lab site FreshPlans lost traffic severely over the Christmas holidays. Most websites see a drop over the holidays, and this particular website always drops over any school holiday. This is nothing to be alarmed about and we don’t need to take any action. The traffic has come back now.
  • Problems with data We’ve seen drops in traffic before because we’ve filtered out workers, because visits from one page of the site to another were being counted as referral traffic, and for other tech reasons that have nothing to do with actual traffic. This can be frustrating, because it takes a while to get accurate data to work with, but again it doesn’t require any action.
  • Unwise changes We often see a drop in traffic when a client stops blogging or makes changes to their website that don’t take search into account. If you made a change and you see a fall in traffic, give serious thought to undoing that change. However, consider the other possibly explanations first, to be sure it’s not coincidence.
  • People aren’t searching We had about 300 visits at FreshPlans for the keyword “vampire babies” in November of 2011, and scarcely any since then. If we check Google Trends, we can see that 11/11 was the peak for search volume on that term, and we shouldn’t expect to see that traffic again. Obviously, this is not an issue. However, if you find that your main keyword isn’t generating much search any more, this will explain a traffic drop. One of our clients has a single most important keyword which shows this graph at Google Trends:

trends

Fine. Let’s get as much of that traffic as we can — but let’s not kid ourselves into expecting rising traffic for that term. Instead, we should work on other keywords — and possibly other income streams or new products.

  • Better targeting One of our goals for clients is often targeting their traffic better. A reduction in traffic outside your service area or in traffic from ForexNinjas or other spam sites can mean an increase in conversions. When that targeted traffic increases to replace the lost poor-quality traffic, you’re likely to see results in your business even though your overall traffic isn’t immediately increased. This is not a bad thing.
  • Spikes If you had a spike in traffic, as we did with “vampire babies” when that movie came out and with “Bunsen burner” when we were featured in the Google Doodle, then you should expect a correction back to roughly where you were. One of our clients took out a large ad in a national newspaper. Traffic rose sharply — and then it fell after the ad stopped running. Find out the reason for spikes, repeat it if possible (and if the traffic converted), but don’t include it in your normal long-range data.
  • Competition If you have new competitors — or your old competitors step up to the plate and improve their web presence — then you may lose traffic to them. You may have to step up your efforts to recover lost ground, and it can take months of hard work. If they have far more resources than you do, you may have to accept a loss of traffic to that competitor.
  • Changes There are unwise changes, and then there are just changes in the world. If the economy is struggling, luxury goods sites may see less traffic and less conversion. If your real-world business is having trouble and gaining a bad reputation, your website will probably also suffer. If there’s no snow this year, your ski resort will feel it. Don’t use these things as excuses for poor website performance, but don’t ignore them, either.

The first step if you have falling traffic is to figure out why. If it’s not a problem, as in many of the cases above, then let it go.  The next step, if you’ve determined that it is a problem, is to fix the cause of the drop. If you aren’t sure, it makes sense to do some testing. Sometimes you have to work hard to correct the problem. Sometimes you have to accept the drop as something you can’t fix with the resources available to you. It never makes sense to sit back and do nothing because you assume there’ll be some random fluctuation.

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