We, at Gravity Internet Marketing, address this issue pretty frequently. We are all, for the most part, at the whim of giant search engine players like Google. And for most, the reasons behind SEO success and failure are mostly a mystery. Don’t punish yourself, most people don’t know much about SEO, why would you? It’s an arcane and pretty complicated discipline that is in a high state of change.
As an SEO veteran, I have learned SEO through study, peer-reviewed articles, trial and error, and most of all, experience. It’s my job to not only grow organic traffic but also, often, to triage situations wherein a website is in obvious decline from an organic traffic standpoint. And, while I don’t expect to turn readers into full-fledged SEO experts, I do want to arm you with a little more information so you can:
- Possibly fix it yourself
- Have more information to select the right SEO consultant to fix issues
- Avoid common errors that can hurt your organic results
- Possibly arm you with information that will help your SEO results
- Give you something to discuss at your next work meeting or dinner party (depending on guests!)
In this blog post, I will address the six main issues I look for when conducting an audit in situations wherein the website in question is losing organic traffic.
1. The biggie – Google launched an algorithm update. For the layperson (and even for many SEO consultants), this usually happens without notice. Don’t feel bad about that, only the initiated are paying attention to such details. Google is constantly updating its search engine algorithm (think of a formula that determines rank and other factors). These updates can be large or small. Some are so large that they fundamentally disrupt the landscape of search for millions of pages, some are minor and mostly go unnoticed. If you are losing organic search traffic, search for recent algorithm updates – read carefully and decide whether the update in question applies to your website, including its subject matter and recommended fixes.
Example: last year there was an update called “medic” and it affected sites that Google understands to be in the business of selling products or information that are medically related. It specifically went after websites that purport to be subject matter authorities but which lacked “citation authority.” What this means is that claims are being made with no backing as to where the information came from. Since Google doesn’t want people getting hurt with bogus, or thin medical information, they created this update. The fix, in this case, was to clearly show where the information in question came from. This usually came in the form of clear bios with a picture and educational provenance (and more).
2. New website. It’s pretty common for business owners to switch to a new website and there are numerous reasons why. The “why” is not critical, it’s the execution of the switch from the old site to new that can cause big problems. At least two huge problems can occur when switching:
- The website did not receive proper 301 redirects for the existing URLs. I’ll explain. When a new website is developed, it is common for people to switch CMS systems (think WordPress, Kajabi, Magento, etc.). What often happens during the course of website development is that minor changes occur to the existing URLs. Here’s an example:
- In this case, this minor change to the URL for this page is seen as a brand new page to the search engines unless you tell them it’s not. This is done in the source code of the page. A 301 permanent redirect (HTML code) tells the search engines that the new URL is actually a continuation of the old URL and whatever page authority, inbound links, etc, are transferred to the new URL. This avoids the search engines thinking this is a brand new page, and a brand new page will almost never rank well. If 301s are not part of website development for an entire website, it’s as if you are launching an entirely new website and the search engines handle it as an unknown, tanking rank and traffic = death to traffic!
3. As a subset to #2, new websites even with the proper redirects in place can still suffer ranking and traffic loss. Here are some top reasons:
- Content changes. A significant change in content from old to new. If you had robust content on the old version but, for some reason don’t in the new version, you can suffer traffic declines.
- Page load speed. If you switched to a platform that, for one reason or another, is slower to load than your old platform, you can suffer traffic declines. Google, like people, hates slow loading websites. There are tools to check – search for page load speed tester to check your site and talk to your developer.
4. Spammy inbound links. Maybe you hired an SEO consultant to help your business, and maybe that SEO consultant did some link development for your website. This can go very wrong. If that SEO consultant doesn’t know the cardinal rules of “what not to do” she/he can get you penalized. Link development is mostly a dangerous business and should largely be avoided. An experienced SEO consultant would never put you at risk and would explain what can and can’t be done in this modern age of sophisticated search engines.
5. Bad mobile experience. Most modern CMS platforms include responsive versions for mobile use. But not all do. Mobile usage of websites has grown tremendously over the last few years, in many cases it is the dominant platform for search (your usage stats are available in Google Analytics). If your website doesn’t work and work at a level commensurate with expectations, your organic traffic can really suffer! You can use a mobile emulator to see how your site looks on any mobile device.
6. Major change in competition. Did new competitors enter into your keyword space? Did Amazon (or similar major brand) suddenly decide to start carrying what you offer? Either or both can seriously impact your traffic. If the scenario is the former, there are things you can do to possibly get your traffic back: new website, better content, better SEO, content marketing (promoted blogs), better U/X, use of site stickiness tools like live chat, pop-ups, better promotions, better service, etc. In short, you need to become a better online retailer (or at least on par) than your competitor(s). If it’s Amazon, or similar, this is a totally different scenario. These major brands have killed tens of thousands of online and brick and mortar retailers. That doesn’t mean you have no options. My advice is still the same as above but, I highly recommend you talk to an internet marketing professional to discuss the full breadth of options and strategies!
There you have it. These are some of the main things I look for when hunting down the cause(s) and fix(es) for declines in organic traffic. There are more, and your problems could be a combination of the above factors but, these will serve as an 80/20 for the bulk of situations.
We hope this helps, and if you have any follow up questions we offer free consultations to address any number of website, traffic, conversion or BI issues you might be having. We have the experience and expertise to handle any situation.
David Brooks is an acknowledged SEO expert, with 15 years of hands-on experience. He has held corporate SEO Manager positions and is the Founder of Gravity Internet Marketing, a top-rated Portland digital agency. David has helped almost 100 websites grow their organic traffic and has successfully audited and fixed dozens of situations where clients are experiencing traffic declines. Call or email for a free consultation!