It is a situation we could unfortunately all find ourselves in: a (bad) morning we open Search Console and find that traffic from Google Search has decreased. Thanks to John Mueller, we should already know that there are 5 causes of the most frequent traffic drops, but now Google goes further and not only visually shows the effects of such declines, but it also gives us 7 tips to analyze these negative fluctuations in organic search traffic and try to respond and raise our site.

Sites in decline, causes and tips from Google

A drop in organic search traffic “can occur for several reasons and most of them can be reversed,” writes Search Advocate Daniel Waisberg in the blog post, noting that “it may not be easy to understand what exactly happened to your site”.

Just to help us understand what is affecting the traffic on our site, the Googler has sketched some examples of falls and the way they can potentially affect our traffic.

For the first time, then, Google shows the real look of the various types of organic traffic drops through the screenshots of the Google Search Console performance reports, adding a number of tips to help us deal with such situations. It is interesting to notice the visual difference that exists between the various graphs, sign that every type of problematic generates characteristic and distinctive oscillations that we can recognize at a glance.

Le onde specifiche dei cali di traffico organico

In particular, site-level technical problems and manual actions generally cause a huge and sudden drop in organic traffic (top left in the picture).

Technical issues at the page level, a change in the algorithm such as a core update or a change in the search intent cause a slower drop in traffic, which tends to stabilize over time.

Then there are the changes related to seasonality, tendential and cyclical oscillations that cause graphs with curves characterized by ups and downs.

Finally, the last graph shows the oscillation of a site reported for technical problems in Search Console and then returned to normal after the correction.

Very trivially, recognizing exactly what is the cause of the collapse of organic traffic is a first step towards solving the problem, as we said in this study to understand the differences between the decreases linked to an algorithmic change and those for manual actions.

The five causes of traffic loss

According to Waisberg, there are five main causes of a drop search traffic:

  • Technical problems. Presence of errors that can prevent Google from scanning, indexing or publishing our pages for users, such as unavailability of the server, recovery of robots.txt files, page not found and more. Such problems can affect the entire site (for example, if your site is inactive) or the entire page (as for a tag noindex put badly, which causes a failure to scan the page by Google and generates a slower drop in traffic).
  • Security issues. When a site is affected by a security threat, Google may alert users before they reach its pages with notices or interstitial pages, which can reduce search traffic.
  • Manual actions. If the site does not comply with Google’s guidelines, some of the pages or the entire domain may be omitted from Google Search results by manual action.
  • Algorithmic changes. Google “always improves the way it evaluates content and updates its algorithm accordingly,” says Waisberg, and core updates and other minor updates can change the performance of some pages in Google Search results. Again, we know that there are various directions on how to respond to Google updates and tips to recover from a post-Google update decline, although the password will always be “patience”.
  • Changes to the search interest. Sometimes, changes in user behavior “alter the demand for certain queries, due to a new trend or seasonality during the year”. Therefore, a site’s traffic may simply decrease due to external influences, due to changes in the search intent identified (and rewarded) by Google.

How to diagnose a traffic drop in Google Search

According to Waisberg, the most efficient way to understand what happened to a site’s traffic is to open its Search Console performance report and look at the main chart.

A graph “is worth a thousand words” and summarizes a lot of information, adds the expert, and also the analysis of the shape of the line will already tell us much about the potential causes of the movement.

In order to perform this analysis, the article suggests 3 indications:

  • Change the date range to include the last 16 months, to analyze the traffic decline in the context and exclude that it is a seasonal decline that occurs each year on holiday holidays or a trend.
  • Compare the drop period with a similar period, comparing the same number of days and preferably the same days of the week, to review exactly what has changed: click on all tabs to find out if the change was only for queries, Urls, countries, devices, or specific search aspects.
  • Separately analyze the different types of search, to understand whether the decrease found occurred in the Web Search, in Google Images, in the Video tab or in the Google News tab.

Studying the context of the site

Digging deep into reports, also using Google Trends or SEO tool like ours in support, can help us understand in which category falls our traffic decline, and in particular to find out if this loss of traffic is part of a broader industry trend or if it is happening only for our pages.

There are two particular aspects to analyze regarding the context of action of our site:

  • Changes in search intent or new product. If there are big changes in what and how people are looking for (we had a recent demonstration with the pandemic), people can start looking for different queries or use their devices for different purposes. Also, if our brand is a specific online e-Commerce, there may be a new competitor product that cannibalizes our search queries.
  • Seasonality. As we know, there are some queries and researches that follow seasonal trends; for example, those related to food, since “people look for diets in January, turkey in November and champagne in December” (at least in the United States) and different sectors have different levels of seasonality.

Analyzing the trends of queries

Waisberg suggests using Google Trends to analyze trends in different sectors, because it provides access to a largely unfiltered sample of actual search requests made to Google; in addition, it is “anonymized, classified and aggregated”allowing Google to show interest in topics from around the world or up to city level.

With this tool, we can check the queries that are driving traffic to our site to see if they have noticeable drops at different times of the year.

The example in the following image shows three types of trend:

analizzare il search interest con Google Trends

  • Turkey has a strong seasonality, with a peak every year in November (Thanksgiving period, of which the turkey is the symbol dish).
  • Chicken shows a certain seasonality, but less marked.
  • Coffee is significantly more stable and “people seem to need it all year round”.

Still within Google Trends we can discover two other interesting insights that could help us with search traffic:

  • To monitor the main queries in our region and compare them with the queries from which we receive traffic, as shown in the Search Console performance report. If there are no queries in the traffic, check if the site has content on that topic and verify that they are scanned and indexed.
  • To check the queries related to important topics, which could bring up increasing related queries and help us properly prepare the site, for example by adding related content.