Logging in to your Google Analytics account and seeing a sharp downward trend in your traffic stats can be scary. What once looked like a promising trend in upwards traffic growth can quickly degenerate to visions of closed doors and scrapped expansion plans in the absence of the natural search traffic you once relied on.
Fortunately, some causes of traffic drops can be easily remedied, while others will take more time to repair. So before you start to panic, walk through the following diagnostic steps to determine exactly what’s caused your declining visitor counts:
Step #1 – See if your site is up and running
Though this first step might seem a bit obvious, your immediate reaction to a decrease in website traffic should be to determine whether or not your site is live.
Any number of things can take down a websites – from hosting issues to problems with your domain name registrar and more. If you see that your site is down, contact your hosting provider immediately for information on what might be causing your current outage.
Step #2 – Make sure your analytics code is installed correctly
If your site is live, your next step should be to check your analytics code integration. This is an especially important step to take if you’ve added your analytics code to your site using a plugin, as the presence of multiple plugins can cause conflicts in which one program interferes with another’s operation.
Additionally, making changes to your site’s code or introducing third-party analytics code modifications can all cause your site to stop reporting traffic data correctly. Check this before you become concerned about more serious causes of traffic drops.
Step #3 – Determine whether or not your site has been hacked
Next, if your site is running and your analytics code appears to be installed correctly, you’ll want to see if your site has been hacked, as this may result in your traffic being funneled to an external site.
The easiest way to check to see if your site has been hacked is to enter the query “links:yoururl.com” (without the parentheses) into Google. If you see any spam content in the snippets that appear, chances are you’ve been hacked. Contact your dedicated web hosting provider or a qualified website developer for help reclaiming your site.
Step #4 – Log in to your Webmaster Tools account
Another important step in the traffic drop diagnosis process is to log in to your Google Webmaster Tools account (assuming you’ve set up one before noticing your traffic decline).
Once you’re inside, navigate to the “Messages” section. This is where Google notifies webmasters of major issues that have arisen; including sites that have become inaccessible to Google’s indexing programs, sites that have been detected violating the company’s webmaster guidelines and sites that have been issued manual penalties in the search results.
If you see a notice here, you may be able to gain some insight into what’s gone wrong with your site’s traffic and what steps you’ll need to take to repair the situation. But if you have no new messages from Google, you’ll need to move on to the final step in the diagnosis process…
Step #5 – Check the SEO blogs for news of an algorithm update
Google and the other search engines are constantly changing their algorithms. As a result, a sudden drop in traffic could mean that your site no longer meets the engines’ standards and has gone down in the natural search rankings – leading to a corresponding drop in traffic.
The easiest way to determine whether or not one of these updates has occurred is to head over to popular SEO blogs like Search Engine World, Search Engine Land or Moz, as these sites are often the first to report on changes within the major engines. They’ll also be the first to report on the methods that sites can use to reclaim their lost rankings, which may be instrumental in your ability to regain the traffic your site has lost.
Be aware, though, that the process of recovering from lost traffic due to algorithm changes can be difficult and time-consuming – if you’re ever able to recover fully at all. Because this type of traffic drop can be devastating to a business, it’s best to avoid using grey or black-hat SEO techniques, as these can jeopardize your site’s long-term stability. Instead, focus on adding plenty of great content to your website and build links in natural ways – rather than using manipulative techniques to improve your search rankings.
Hopefully, the cause of your sudden traffic drop will be something that can be easily resolved, as in the first few steps described in this process. But if this isn’t the case, know that recovery is possible, though you may be facing a long road to return your site to its former traffic patterns.