Digital Publishing Platforms Top Stories
4 mins read

Publishers, what do you do when ​​search traffic drops? Google answers

Most drops in organic search traffic can be reversed: Google

Publishers’ organic search traffic from Google keeps fluctuating over time—even without major changes in terms of content—for a variety of reasons. 

It may be because of a core update (like the one Google rolled out this month), or the various algo tweaks the search giant makes regularly (there have been 7 algorithm updates in the last 5 weeks), or maybe… even because of a site’s appearance

A drop in organic search traffic can happen for several reasons, and most of them can be reversed. But it may not be straightforward to understand what exactly happened to your site.

Daniel Waisberg, Search Advocate at Google

Google has now shared the main causes for drops in search traffic, tips for analyzing what is affecting the flow, and what the next steps should be.

To help publishers get an idea of what is affecting the traffic, Google’s Daniel Waisberg has sketched a few examples of drops and what they could potentially mean:

According to Mountain View, these are the five main causes for drops in search traffic:

  1. Technical issues: Errors that can prevent Google from crawling, indexing, or serving your pages to users – for example server availability, robots.txt fetching, page not found, and others. Note that the issues can be site-wide (for example, your website is down) or page-wide (for example, a misplaced noindex tag, which would depend on Google crawling the page, meaning there would be a slower drop in traffic).
  2. Security issues: If your site is affected by a security threat, Google may alert users before they reach your site with warnings or interstitial pages, which may decrease Search traffic.
  3. Manual Actions: If your site does not comply with Google’s guidelines, some of your pages or the entire site may be omitted from Google Search results through a Manual Action.
  4. Algorithmic changes: Google is always improving how it assesses content and updating its algorithm accordingly; core updates and other smaller updates may change how some pages perform in Google Search results. To keep track of future updates, subscribe to our Google Search News YouTube series or follow us on Twitter.
  5. Search interest disruption: Sometimes changes in user behavior will change the demand for certain queries, either as a result of a new trend, or seasonality throughout the year. This means your traffic may drop simply as a result of external influences.

In the analysis on​​ Google Search Central, Daniel describes how to use the Performance report to start debugging the search traffic drop.

Here’s a training video showing how to use the Performance report:

Publishers can also use Google Trends to help understand whether the drop is a wider trend or if it’s happening just for their site. 

These changes, Google says,  can be caused by two main factors:

  • A search interest disruption or a new product. If there are major changes in what and how people search (for example, a pandemic), people may start searching for different queries, or using their devices for different purposes. In addition, if you sell a specific brand online, there might be a new competing product cannibalizing your search queries.
  • Seasonality. For example, the rhythm of food website shows that food related queries are very seasonal: people search for diets in January, turkey in November, and champagne in December. Different industries have different levels of seasonality.

Publishers can check the queries that are driving traffic to their website(s) to see if they have clear drops in different times of the year. 

For example, you can see three types of trends below:

  1. Turkey has a strong seasonality, peaking every year in November.
  2. Chicken shows some seasonality, but less accentuated.
  3. Coffee is significantly more stable; it looks like people need it throughout the year.

In Google Trends, there are some other interesting insights that might help publishers with their organic traffic. Here’s what the search giant suggests:

  • Check top queries in your region and compare them to the queries that you’re getting traffic from, as shown in Search Console’s Performance report. If there are queries missing from your traffic, check if you have content on that subject and make sure it’s being crawled and indexed.
  • Check queries that are related to important topics. This might surface rising related queries and help you prepare your site for them, for example by adding related content.

This appears to be the first time the company has illustrated how these factors can impact the flow of site visitors, helping publishers better understand what to expect from various search-related issues, how their organic traffic may be impacted, and what to do next.

For more information, go through Google’s full analysis.

To further diagnose ranking and impression drops for your site, here’s another helpful resource provided by Google: Why did my site traffic drop?