Websites exist to be visited, but visits can mean different things for different sites.
For media sites, for example, traffic can be a source of income from advertisements. For ecommerce retailers, traffic translates to direct sales.
Some sites might not be selling anything, or they might be selling a brand where just having eyeballs on your content is enough to count as a win.
No matter what your site is about, traffic = customers.
And in search engine terms, ranking = traffic = customers.
So when your search ranking drops – or your traffic drops – that’s a problem.
Whether you’re a digital marketer, SEO professional, webmaster, or some other stakeholder, it could be your responsibility to investigate the problem and figure out how to get things back on track.
1. You’re Tracking the Wrong Rankings
If your site has been online for many years, your keywords may not be relevant today. Think about your own search behavior and compare that to the keywords that show up in your Search Console data.
Do you use industry or niche terminology that might not align with what your potential customers know?
Many people will search different variations of the same question and still be unable to find an answer or solution to their problem.
Engineers at Google have improved their natural language comprehension ability a lot. Today, people can type in more natural language to find results. It’s easier to rank for those things if you keep your content in plain language, too.
The search engines also picked up on this phenomenon in recent years. Rather than relying on just a few keywords, they are ranking websites based on complete sentences and other elements of more natural language.
Look at your keywords and keyword phrases. If you are using old or generic keywords, you’re tracking the wrong rankings and need to update your strategy.
2. Lost Links
Another reason your search ranking and traffic might have dropped is that you’ve lost links.
Check your site for lost links over the last 90 days using a tool (e.g., Majestic, Ahrefs, CognitiveSEO).
If you’ve lost a lot of links, this might be the reason for your drop in rankings.
There are more questions you should ask about this link loss:
- Is the link drop sitewide?
- Are the lost links located on the same pages of your site where you have seen a drop in rankings?
- Has there been a drop in inbound links to your pages that have lost their ranking?
- Do you see dropped links to pages on your website that link other pages that have lower rankings?
If your inbound links are broken or lost, you’ll need to determine exactly where those links are coming from and why they are broken.
You can then either remove, replace, or retain them.
Each link should be checked individually to determine your next steps:
- If the links were removed intentionally, it could indicate that they were not natural links and could, if they weren’t already, be flagged and penalized by Google. Let these links go.
- Sometimes links break or change during a site update. In these cases, you might have a chance of convincing the site owner to restore them.
- If the internal links were replaced with new links to a different source, you have the option to link to the new source, too.
Remember, you can always replace the old links with new ones that work.
To prevent lost links affecting your rankings in the future, it’s worth the effort to invest in link monitoring software or programs to actively track lost links. This way you can be proactive and take corrective measures before you lose your rankings.
3. Broken Redirects
If you’re launching a new website, migrating to a new server, or do any structural changes to your site, you are likely to see a drop in your rankings unless you have a proper 301 redirect plan in place.
Broken redirects are every SEO professional’s worst nightmare.
When using a 301 redirect, you must make sure that XML sitemaps, canonical tags, and links are also updated.
A 301 redirect is akin to a change of address notice for the web. This notice tells search engines that a page, several pages, or your entire website has been moved. You’re asking that your website visitors be sent to your new address and not your old one.
If done correctly, you won’t lose your rankings, nor will you get penalized for duplicate content because search engines are indexing both your old and new web address.
4. Manual Actions
If you see an abrupt and significant drop in your website rankings, it could indicate that Google is penalizing your site. Manual actions are applied manually rather than as a result of algorithmic updates.
If your site continues to rank on other search engines like Yahoo or Bing, this is an almost sure sign that you are suffering from a Google penalty.
Whether your penalty is manual or automatic, you’ll want to fix the problem and get the penalty removed. The best way to start is to look at notifications from inside your Google Search Console account.
Look for warnings in the messages menu and the Manual Actions section. Here, you’ll find a list of instances where a Google employee has found that certain pages of your website are not in compliance with their guidelines.
You’ll be able to find suggestions and information on how to fix the problems.
5. Algorithm Changes
Google is always looking for ways to improve strategies and results by making algorithm changes. Many sites have been hurt by these changes and suffered from lower site rankings.
To avoid being crippled by Google’s updates, use an effective cross-channel marketing and traffic strategy that includes social media and other marketing channels.
6. Competitor Improvements
It’s possible that you are doing everything right but still lose traffic and see a dip in your rankings. One reason for this might be that your competition is doing a better job.
Keep an eye on your competitors by analyzing and monitoring their social media activity, link building strategies, and content marketing. You can use tools like Wayback Machine or Versionista to see what changes your competitors have made.
You can also use backlink tools to see if they have had an influx of new backlinks; they might be running an SEO campaign of their own.
Once you understand what your competition has done to outrank you, make some of the same changes – only do them better.
7. Simple Technical Issues
Technical SEO is the health measure of the technical foundation of your website. It refers to SEO work that affects how search engines crawl and index your content.
See Most Common Technical SEO Mistakes: How Severe Are They? for some of the most common issues that could affect your website traffic and rankings. Being aware of technical SEO issues helps you take better care of your website and keep your rankings up.
Technical SEO issues are some of the baseline problems that can stop you from ranking.
8. Recent Website Changes & Redesign
If you decide to redesign your website, the last thing you want to do is lose the traffic and rankings you worked so hard to build.
Some specific steps you can take not to hurt but even help your rankings are:
- Ensure that all 301 redirects are mapped out correctly.
- Check the link structure of your inbound links to make sure they are working correctly on your new site.
- Before launching your new website, get some baseline metrics reports such as rank tracker, site audit, traffic, and page URL mapping.
With careful planning and attention to the essential components of your redesign project, you will avoid negatively impacting your SEO and rankings and can even make improvements.
9. Internal Navigation
Your website navigation tells your visitors what and where they will find information on your site.
Try to have a flat, narrow structure of two or at most three levels deep for your internal navigation. If your visitors have to click too many times to find what they are looking for, they are more likely to leave.
It’s possible that search engines will stop crawling content buried deep in your website. This will, in turn, lower your rankings and you will get less traffic to important content areas.
Internal link strategies are not only a part of good search optimization but also integral to your other client retention strategies.
Making your internal links and navigation simple and logical improves client retention and boosts other rank metrics like time-on-site. Using keyword-rich internal links will help search engines quickly determine what your site is about and whether your content is relevant to queries.