When developing a successful search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you’re hoping to cultivate a steady, ongoing, and dependable increase in the amount of organic traffic your website receives. However, when working with a small business marketing budget, it’s not uncommon to reach a point where you plateau and the amount of organic traffic you receive begins to level off. Even more frustrating is when, despite your best efforts, the traffic levels refuse to further increase.
While this type of roadblock is generally only a temporary inconvenience, and a natural part of developing a successful SEO strategy, finding a way forward can be difficult for small business owners without the marketing experience and knowhow to properly diagnose the problem. If you start to notice an active decline in the amount of organic traffic your website receives, don’t immediately panic. A small decrease is no cause for concern, and may be just a natural part of establishing your brand online. However, if the dip lasts more than a few weeks or becomes a significant drop, you’ll need to do a little troubleshooting to determine what exactly is going on.
Here are a few steps you can take to determine a potential cause of your drop in organic traffic.
Check to See if a Manual Penalty Has Been Applied
When searching for a cause behind a drop in your organic search traffic, you might as well start with the biggest and potentially scariest cause of decline – a manual penalty. While extremely rare and highly unlikely, a manual penalty from Google is one of the most identifiable root causes for a loss of organic traffic. If your website is facing this type of penalty, the amount of organic traffic you receive will significantly decline or immediately drop off, and you’ll receive a notification in your Google Search Console discussing the penalization of your website.
If you haven’t received a notification from Google and the decrease in organic traffic is more a steady decline rather than a sudden drop, you’re probably not being penalized. However, if you have received a penalty you need to immediately correct whatever caused your website to receive Google’s ban. Whether from featuring plagiarized or spammy content or using sketchy optimization tactics that run contrary to Google’s best practices, you need to remove or correct the problem or risk being permanently banned from Google’s search results.
Once you’ve taken steps to correct the issues flagged by Google, you can appeal the penalty or wait for it to be lifted the next time your site is indexed.
Determine the Type of Traffic That Has Dropped
If you’re not buried under the weight of a manual penalty, your next step is to focus and identify the primary areas of your traffic loss. While your entire website may be experiencing a cumulative drop in traffic, it’s more likely that you can trace the drop to a number of pages or to specific keyword terms.
Once you identify these areas, you can utilize this information in examining the root cause of your problem. If, for example, there’s one page specifically that has experienced a significant drop in traffic, you can begin to narrow your focus to that page’s competition, content, and links.
Look at the Competition
Next, take a look at your closest competition and how they may have changed over the last few months. This type of frequent reexamination is especially important for small businesses in new industries, tech companies, and any other industry where the landscape of how you do business can flip at a moment’s notice.
To conduct a thorough comparison, look at your search positions for various keywords, and determine where you’ve suffered the greatest drop in rankings. If you have, is there new competition that has emerged to challenge your position for these keywords? Have some of your older competition increased their SEO efforts, focusing on developing better content and more inbound links?
There could be a couple of explanations in these types of scenarios. First, your competition may have started investing more time and resources into developing their own SEO campaign, and now have started to outperform you when it comes to ranking highly for the most important keyword terms? If that’s the case, you need to start focusing on beating the competition directly, or to start focusing on alternative or more highly specific terms that keep you from competing at all.
Second, your drop in performance may be due to your own site having declined for other reasons, thereby allowing the competition to catch back up. Complacency may have led you to focus less on producing the same level of content or you’re not paying as much attention to utilizing the right keywords. Whatever the issue, you’ll have a better idea of what areas you can strengthen by conducting an examination of your performance in two key areas, onsite content and link-building.
Audit Your Link Profile
The quantity and quality of the links on your website has a direct bearing on how well you rank in organic search results. As a result, a sudden and unexpected shift in your link profile could result in a drop in your rankings and a loss of organic traffic. By utilizing a link-profiler like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to analyze the links coming from or to your website, you can determine whether either of the following two trigger points may be to blame for your drop in performance.
First, examine any new links coming from low-quality sources, such as spam blogs or content farms. Have you recently added a link to a new website that upon further examination seems less creditable than it did before? Do the other websites this site links to also appear less creditable than desired?
Linking to a website that features poor quality content can make your website look less trustworthy in the eyes of Google’s search algorithm. If that’s the case, you’ll need to remove those links from your website and contact the webmaster or host to request removing the inbound links to your site. If the website doesn’t take any action, you can request that Google disavow the link.
Next, look to build links to higher-quality websites in order to boost your site authority and link profile.
Audit Your Site Content
Finally, if poor links, the competition, or a manual penalty isn’t the cause of your drop in search traffic, the answer may lie in the quality of your site content. For example, if you’ve recently removed some quality content that scored highly in search traffic, that could decrease the overall value of your website – though it seems unlikely that you’ll will have voluntarily removed high-performing content.
If you’ve recently cut your content budget and have hired less experience writers or lowered your criteria for guest post authors, the quality of the content on your site may have suffered considerably. Conversely, if you publish too much content that nobody is sharing or reading, that too could cause a similar drop in your content scores. The solution here requires staying committed to producing the best content possible for your website. Content marketing is key today for small businesses, and offering second rate content will not help to advance your goals.
Local Fresh Can Help
No quick fix solutions exist when your website suffers a drop in organic traffic. However, there are a number of detailed ones that require you to examine the quality of your content, link profile, and competition to determine where you may have lost some competitive edge. At Local Fresh, our team of small business marketing experts can help identify the areas where your website can enjoy the greatest improvement so that your traffic levels get back to where they belong. Click here to find out more about what Local Fresh can do for you.