A sudden drop in website traffic can be a nightmare to experience. If you don’t know what’s happening, you’re left with only your imagination to fill in the blanks.
Let’s cut to the chase and answer the biggest question first: yes, there’s a chance your traffic will come back without you having to do anything.
But there’s also a strong chance that it will only partially return.
Even if you believe your content quality is better than everyone else, other forces may impact Google’s decision to strip you of rankings.
The most recent “Helpful Content” algorithm update (released September 2023) has led to an eruption of posts on Reddit crying out for help from huge drops in traffic. If you’re one of those folks and are now scouting the web for hints, I can hopefully give you some suggestions on how to turn the ship around.
If, after reading this article, you still feel like you have no idea what’s wrong, then shoot me through a contact form submission, and I’ll do a free audit on your site to see if I can help you figure it out.
Why did my traffic tank?
There are countless reasons you might have experienced a sudden drop in traffic. Some are within your control, and some aren’t. Here are the issues we see most commonly.
Major Google Algorithm Update
This usually happens when your site suddenly loses traffic, and you haven’t changed anything.
Google likes to fiddle with their codebase. It’s a necessary evil, especially with the volume of AI-generated content flooding the web right now.
Since it’s not entirely possible for Google to detect AI-generated content, they’ve recalibrated their algorithm to look for content that’s not useful or unique. A lot fo the time, this describes AI-content…
…However, it also describes a lot of other content across the web.
Your content isn’t that useful
This is a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes your content isn’t as high quality as you think.
If you’ve written on a competitive topic and your post reads the same as everyone else’s, then Google might push you down the rankings.
You’ve done something silly
Have you tried to purchase backlinks, or create a bunch of pages specifically to improve your site’s rankings without considering if it will be a good experience for your users?
Listing your site on spammy directories is a great example of this. Technically you get a backlink, and theoretically, your business gains visibility. But Google doesn’t look kindly on those sites and will penalise you for the association.
Changes to your website’s setup
If your drop in rankings came after you made changes to your website, then you’re probably in luck because these changes can often be remedied.
Here are some examples to stoke your memory if you’re struggling to figure out what changes you’ve made recently:
- Major content changes to articles that were ranking
- Changes to your website’s structure (new pages, navigation, footer)
- Search engine optimisation changes (targeting new keywords, changing the title of an article)
- Technical performance and accessibility changes (new servers, domain hosts, plugins)
This one hurts, but the internet is a competitive place.
If a competing business has turned its attention to your keyword profile, then it may be trying to steal your traffic.
It’s a fairly easy process to do and a common SEO tactic. Simply look up a competitor in Ahrefs, see which pages rank, write the same content with more images, a longer word count, and a few more helpful points, then watch Google redirect traffic.
Seasonality and market conditions
Selling winter jackets during a heat wave? Or maybe your product has been replaced by some new AI tool. Or maybe you’re writing about high-cost things during a recession.
Sometimes your traffic has dropped because people aren’t searching for the things you’re writing on.
What can I do to figure it out?
Some of these reasons are outside of your control. In those situations, the best advice we can give is to monitor your site’s performance and keep an eye on what your competitors are up to.
There are some factors you can control, but you’ll need to be able to keep an eye on them to know if they’re causing a problem. These factors are content changes, website structure changes, SEO changes, and technical performance/accessibility.
If you’re in control of these factors and you’re not seeing a sudden drop in traffic, then you’re in a solid position to bounce back quickly.
In the next section, we’ll go through what you can do to keep an eye on these factors and prevent a sudden drop in traffic.
Preventing a sudden drop in traffic
To prevent a sudden drop in traffic, you need to monitor the factors affecting your website’s performance. We’ve listed the main factors you need to monitor below:
* Quality of your content
* Quality and cleanliness of your website structure
* Your SEO performance
* Your website’s technical performance
* Your website’s accessibility
In this section, we’ll go through each of these factors, explain what they are, and how you can measure them.
First things first, the quality of your content is a critical factor in attracting and retaining visitors. If you’re consistently publishing poorly written or irrelevant articles, your visitors will quickly realise there’s no point in returning.
At a broader level, your content needs to be:
- Well written and easy to understand
- Well structured
- Formatted for easy reading
- Consistent in quality and style
- Relevant to your audience and product or service
If you’re consistently nailing all of these criteria, then chances are your traffic drop isn’t directly caused by your content quality. However, I STRONGLY recommend you ask a handful of people in your network to give an honest opinion on your content quality.
It’s really easy to get swept up in thinking that your writing and research is high quality, especially if you’re comparing yourself to competitors doing a crappy job.
Don’t take it too personally if your quality isn’t amazing. Try to see it as a clear path forward.
You can also use tools to assess the quality of your content. These tools will make recommendations on how to improve your writing. They work with varying degrees of accuracy, so don’t treat them as the be-all.
Surfer allows you to run audits on your content to spot SEO-related issues. Grammarly will help you clean up the wording.
Neither of these tools will tell you if your content is unique and engaging. There might be some neat AI tool that can do this, but I’m not familiar with it. I think the best way to answer this question is simply to ask people in your network who understand what you’re writing on.
The quality and cleanliness of your website’s structure is another critical factor.
The quality of your website’s structure influences how easy it is for search engines to crawl and index your content. It also affects how easy it is for visitors to navigate your website.
Keeping your website’s structure clean and organised is particularly important as your site grows in terms of content and pages.
If your website’s structure is poor, then you could be missing out on valuable organic traffic.
Google Search Console is an excellent tool to monitor the quality and cleanliness of your website’s structure. It will alert you if there are any issues that need resolving, such as 404 pages and server issues.
The structure that’s worked for us, and what I suggest for our clients when we rebuild their website, is to package your site’s content like this:
-Global site theme
---Sub services or products
---Sub services or products
---Sub services or products
----Topical authority building articles
----Topical authority building articles
----Topical authority building articles
--Other “box ticking” pages
The idea is to set your site out like a triangle. The top of the triangle is your broadest theme that relates to everything on your site. The next step down are the main things you do or sell. Then, under that is the more detailed, granular offers. Finally, at the bottom are all the topical articles that prove to visitors that you know your stuff inside and out.
This approach makes it really easy for visitors to find what they need, which is really all Google is asking you to do.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance
SEO performance is how well your website is ranking in search engine results. If your website is performing well, you should be seeing an increase in organic traffic over time.
Monitoring your website’s SEO performance is relatively straightforward. You’re looking to see if there are any technical problems with how you’ve set your site up.
Ahrefs offers a great auditing tool to answer this question. It crawls your site and reports problems like orphaned links (when they’re not linked to from anywhere within your site), broken links, incorrect use of heading tags, and a bunch of other stuff.
Google Search Console also has an excellent report for capturing potential technical SEO issues.
Technical performance is largely determined by how fast your website is loading. If your website is slow to load, then visitors will grow impatient and leave.
Google has defined the standards in it’s “Core Web Vitals (CWV) Assessment”. It looks at a few things like how movement there is across your site when it loads, how quickly visitors can interact with your content, and how long the page takes to load from start to finish.
Slow websites are a significant problem. According to Google, 53% of visitors will leave a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
Technical performance is especially important as more and more visitors are accessing the internet from mobile devices.
Monitoring your website’s technical performance is relatively straightforward. There are several tools you can use to measure your website’s performance, including Google’s PageSpeed Insights and WebPageTest.
Simply plug your URL in and see the results.
What’s not straightforward is fixing your CWV issues. We’ve written extensively on this topic and can summarize our suggestions like this:
- If you’re wedded to WordPress then install a good caching plugin
- If you have the budget to upgrade, then go headless with a static site-generating framework and never worry about CWV again
Dealing with a sudden drop in traffic
If you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, then the first thing you need to do is identify the cause of the problem.
There are several potential causes of a sudden drop in traffic, including:
Identifying the cause of a sudden drop in traffic can be challenging. To make the task easier, you should follow these steps:
- Gather data
- Analyse the data
- Take action
Sounds kind of silly because it’s so simple, but this isn’t a time for implementing mind-opening tactics. You need a clear, easy-to-execute plan to get that traffic back.
Start by gathering as much data as possible. Look across various sources, including:
* Any other SEO tools you have a license for
You can buy a short-term license for some of these tools to get in, find the data you need, and then get out without paying the recurring costs.
P.S. I used to do this with Ahrefs back before Clean Commit had enough cashflow to afford the monthly license. Just make sure you have a plan and enough time to get everything you need.
Analyse the data
Once you have gathered data, you should look for patterns and trends which may help you identify the cause of the problem.
This is a bit vague, but there’s no great one-size-fits-all recipe.
While looking at the numbers, ask yourself these questions:
- What have I done in the past month that could have caused the problem
- Do my changes line up with the traffic drop
- Do my competitor's activities line up with the traffic drop
- Does Google Trends show a dip in my theme’s popularity that lines up with the traffic drop?
- Did I receive any suspect backlinks around the time of the traffic drop?
- Did I install any plugins, make a hosting change, or change my website’s codebase?
If there’s no clear trigger, then you can probably conclude you’ve been slapped by Google’s algo change.
Once you have identified the cause of the problem, you can take action to rectify it. The action you take will depend on the cause of the problem.
If the traffic drop directly resulted from your actions, then undo whatever you did!
- Uninstall your questionable plugins
- Change to a better website host
- Comment out that code that you added
- Disavow those spammy backlinks
If you haven’t changed anything, my best recommendation is to create a plan for pruning and restructuring your content.
Be harsh and review the content on your site that received the most traffic. See if you can edit the articles to be more useful, and do a better job at linking them to other parts of your site.
Try to score 100 on Ahrefs SEO audit.
There are plenty of things you can do if you’re serious about getting your traffic back. Not all of them can be done without developer assistance. If you get stuck, drop me a line to see if we can help.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What are the most common causes of a sudden drop in traffic?
A: The most common causes of a sudden drop in traffic are changes to your website. If you’re struggling to identify what changed, then start here:
- Changes to your content
- Changes to your website’s structure
- Changes to your SEO strategy
- Changes to your website’s technical performance
- Changes to your website’s accessibility
- Changes to your website’s backlink profile
- Changes to your website’s social media presence
- Changes to your website’s advertising strategy
- Changes to your website’s product or service offering
- Changes to your website’s customer base
- Changes to your website’s market
- Changes to your website’s competitors.
Q: How can I prevent a sudden drop in traffic?
A: To prevent a sudden drop in traffic, you need to keep an eye on the factors that affect your website’s performance. These factors include the quality of your content, the quality and cleanliness of your website’s structure, your website’s SEO performance, your website’s technical performance, and your website’s accessibility. You should also monitor your website’s backlink profile, social media presence, and advertising strategy to ensure they are not negatively impacting your website’s performance.
Q: How can I recover from a sudden drop in traffic?
A: To recover from a sudden drop in traffic, you need to identify the cause of the problem and take action to rectify it. This may involve updating your website’s structure, content, SEO strategy, technical performance, accessibility, backlink profile, social media presence, or advertising strategy. You should also monitor your website’s performance to ensure that the changes you have made are having a positive impact.
Q: How long does it take to recover from a sudden drop in traffic?
A: The time it takes to recover from a sudden drop in traffic will depend on the cause of the problem and the action you take to rectify it. In some cases, you may be able to recover quickly by making small changes to your website or content. In other cases, it may take several weeks or months to see a significant improvement in your website’s traffic.
Q: What should I do if I can’t recover from a sudden drop in traffic?
A: If you are unable to recover from a sudden drop in traffic, you may need to seek professional help. A digital marketing agency or SEO consultant can help you identify the cause of the problem and develop a strategy to improve your website’s performance. They can also help you implement the necessary changes and monitor your website’s performance to ensure that they are having a positive impact.
Unfortunately, sometimes there's simply no coming back from a huge ranking drop. You may need to prune a bunch of your content, streamline and start working on new content.
Q: How can I prevent a sudden drop in traffic in the future?
A: To prevent a sudden drop in traffic in the future, you should keep an eye on the factors that affect your website’s performance and make regular updates and improvements to your website and content. You should also monitor changes in your industry and market and stay up to date with the latest trends and best practices in SEO and digital marketing.
A sudden drop in traffic can be a disheartening experience, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. By keeping an eye on the factors that affect your website’s performance and taking prompt action to rectify any issues, you can recover from a sudden drop in traffic and ensure that your website continues to attract visitors and generate leads and sales.
If you have any questions about sudden drops in traffic or need help recovering from one, feel free to reach out to us. We’ve helped dozens of businesses recover from sudden drops and would be happy to help you as well.
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