We usually expect traffic to rise at the websites we work with. But — especially if you don’t have SEO professionals working for you — that’s not the only direction traffic can go. Sometimes traffic goes down.
Here’s an example. This was a website we had worked on, but the site owner took on the day to day maintenance in-house. After a couple of months, we had a call from the client saying traffic had dipped.
Lesson one: when you see a dip in your traffic, give your SEO pro a call. I have colleagues who say that traffic just goes up and down and you should accept that, but I think it’s always worth further examination.
So I pulled up the client’s analytics to give them some examination. Follow along with me to see how you can analyze traffic issues at your own site.
1. Where is the dip?
Check your traffic sources and visitor info to isolate the particular population that’s declining. Remember, that traffic sources pie chart only shows percentages, so you’ll need to click through to the specific reports for each traffic source.
Your direct traffic percentage might be down because you had a lot of referral traffic, even if the number of direct visits remained the same. In the case I’m describing, search traffic was up (which means that our SEO work helped), referral traffic was off slightly, and direct traffic was really down.
If the traffic sources were fairly even, I’d have gone on to look at other visitor info, but this difference was worth exploring. Remember that direct traffic can also be any traffic Google hasn’t identified, so you have to be open minded when you look at direct traffic.
2. Look further at the group that has dipped.
In this case, new visitors coming to the site directly had dropped slightly, but returning visitors had dropped sharply.
The client has a web address that’s easy to guess and easy to remember, so they expect a high level of direct traffic from people simply typing in their URL. They also advertise and put their web address on their marketing materials.
There was no obvious reason for the new visitors to decrease.
When it comes to returning visitors, though, we had asked the company to filter out their workers when we began working with them. It was therefore possible that the drop in returning visitors could be the fact that we weren’t tracking the workers any longer — their visits would naturally be direct traffic from returning visitors.
3. Check your hypothesis.
If the filtering of workers’ visits was the source of the change, we’d expect to see a fall in returning direct traffic from the day the change was made. I checked the email telling me that the filter had been applied, checked the direct traffic from that month on, and found that this particular category of traffic had indeed fallen from that day onward.
Looking at the direct traffic from the month we began working with the client to the present showed a rise in new direct traffic and a fall in returning direct traffic. This is therefore part of the explanation.
However, the fall in direct returning traffic was steady, not a precipitous drop followed by a straight line or by a rise. So this wasn’t the entire explanation.
4. Dig deeper.
If your hypothesis isn’t confirmed, then you have to look further.
I looked at the cities, the network providers, and the landing pages as well. I then looked at the entire year — and found that there had been an unusual rise in direct traffic the preceding year. Where the site had been receiving 1200-1300 direct visits a week, it had suddenly risen to 1550, then 1700, then back to 1500 in the weeks of November.
This looks like a traditional ad campaign encouraging people to visit the site, or perhaps a mailing (not an emailing) to customers which sent them — many of them returning — to the website. Since the URL is memorably, people responding to the ad probably would have gone directly.
5. Test your hypothesis and/or plan a response.
If your traffic is lower simply because workers’ visits are no longer being counted, you set a new benchmark and move on. In this case, the additional information suggests that the company look back on what they had done to increase traffic the previous year and do it again.
You might see something different: perhaps your traffic has fallen off because you’re not updating your blog or maybe it has been falling steadily for a long time and you’ve just noticed it. Once I had a call from a gentleman who was unhappy with his traffic, and we discovered that his site was down. The response depends entirely on the reason the traffic has fallen.
This particular case is different from yours, no doubt, simply because they’re all different. However, I hope that the process and the example might help you think about how to approach the problem when you face it. If you need help, you can always contact us.