When you see dramatic differences in your website traffic data, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what has happened, and you’ll often think about the most recent change that you’ve been involved in. It can be worth looking at your data in a bit more detail, breaking it down into different segments, looking at external data sources or asking about other changes in the business around the time of the change.
I’ve been asked “why has my traffic gone up/down?” many times, and although this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s a good starting point for further investigation.
1. Marketing and Advertising
Changes to your marketing activity or advertising budget can have a dramatic impact on your search engine results, organic traffic and traffic from other sources. Compare the activity and budget for the previous period or year objectively.
2. Brand and reputation
Related to marketing and advertising, but sometimes as a result of internal operations, processes, and customer interactions. Positive or negative comments and stories, and the volume or significance of them, can have an impact on links to your website, mentions in social media and brand terms used in news articles. These can directly have an impact on traffic in terms of people clicking on these links or searching directly for your brand or website, but this can also have a knock-on effect in the search engines.
3. Website content changes
Even small changes, such as adding a new blog post, which ends up being fed through to the homepage might have a positive or negative impact because it changes the text & image on the page. All of this is evaluated by Google against the search phrases that users use.
Removing content (either blocks of text or pages) can reduce the terms on the page.
Adding new content that is not relevant or well written can water down the quality.
Social media widgets that pull in data from your feed (e.g. Tweets or Facebook page) can change the content shown (words on the page, images, and the widget code), this can change the context that the search engines see, but it can also impact the load time (and you will be reliant on loading data from external sources).
4. Website metadata
Title tags and descriptions, in particular, can have an impact on the search results for a website. If these are changed, you may rank for different things (which may be more or less relevant).
5. Search engine algorithms
Google & Bing test their search results pages all the time, which results in regular changes to where your website will rank.
Changes to the search results page layout (not just rankings) can also impact your traffic – for example, if Google decides to start showing your competitors website, then local listings, which pushes your listing onto page two.
6. Website hosting
Hosting speed or outages can cause problems when the search engines crawl your website, which could reduce your visibility.
The above can also mean that users don’t wait for the page to load, so they click away before their visit is tracked.
7. Website speed
By adding new content that has not been optimised (e.g. large images), this can impact the load time, which is a factor in Google’s search algorithm.
Poorly optimised code can impact site speed.
8. New plugins or tools
9. Changes to the .htaccess file
Adding lots of redirects or rules to the .htaccess file can slow the website down.
10. Changes to the robots.txt file
Rules in the robots.txt file could have changed the way search engines access and index the website. For example, when moving from a development environment to a live environment, developers have been known to leave the ‘disallow all’ rule, which prevents the development version of the site being accidentally indexed, but of course, isn’t good for a live site.
11. Changes to page headers
12. Tracking issues
How you track your impressions, clicks, hits, sessions or users will impact the numbers. Changes to your tracking tools or the way you implement tracking can result in inflation or drop in figures. For example, by adding event tracking, you may change your bounce rate. And by adding filters, you may see a drop in results.
13. Changes to keyword targeting
By changing the keywords and phrases that you target, you may find that you’re up against a different set of competitors (or the same competitors who are stronger/weaker for these terms). So your rankings for these terms are likely to be different.
The terms that you target may have a different search volume, so even ranking higher in the search results, you may find that your traffic is lower than before.
1. Competitor activity
Competitors could be investing more in marketing, advertising, PR or SEO, which could strengthen their brand and give them a comparative advantage in the search results.
2. Loss of links
There will naturally be attrition of links pointing to your website. For example, if you have been placed in an article that features on the homepage or first page of the news section, a few weeks down the line, that feature and corresponding link may be archived to a later section.
Some websites will be removed.
Some websites will be re-built with different content.
The removal of sitewide links (e.g. from the footer of a website, or blog sidebar) can result in the loss of a very large number of links because they are on every page (or every page of a certain section)
Check back to see what the trends were for previous years. There may be peaks and troughs due to calendar events throughout the year (e.g. School holidays, Christmas, Easter).
4. News and current events
Trends, celebrity news, natural disasters or political issues can mean there is a change in interest or demand for your products or services.
5. Rich snippets
Google, Bing and other search engines are using structured data (often called rich snippets) to show answers to people in the search engine results so that users don’t need to click through to the actual website. This can be great for brand exposure, or it can reduce traffic and impact sales or advertising revenue. It’s worth testing and evaluating on a case by case basis. A good example of this is the Q&A format, which you can optimise your content for so that you are showing up at the top in the search results pages for relevant terms.
Changes such as the Cookie law and GDPR can mean that you have to change the way you advertise (which can directly impact traffic) or how you track visitors (which can make it seem like your traffic has gone down).