The amount of organic traffic coming to a website is an important measurement of SEO success, but several factors can mean fluctuations – or even decreases – while rankings are stable.
- Four Ads at the Top
In the last year, Google has removed text ads from the side of their search engine results pages (SERPs) and placed up to four at the top. For many competitive queries, this means less visibility. In many cases, the #1 organic position is now below the fold! That dramatic shift in position means fewer clicks. According to a 2014 study, these are the percentage of clicks a listing can expect in each of Google’s top 5 positions:
1 – 29%
2 – 15%
3 – 11%
4 – 7%
5 – 5%
The dynamics change considerably when more ads push a number 2 position down to where it might receive 7% or 5% of the clicks! For many competitive keywords we are tracking, this is the most dramatic shift we’ve seen for organic traffic. It is also possible to “cannibalize” your organic traffic with PPC where your site was already at the top. So be careful out there, and check your most important SERPs.
- Search Volume has Decreased
Another reason organic traffic can decrease is due to trends or seasonal fluctuations. Many businesses do have seasons, and Year-over-Year traffic is the better measurement. And don’t forget to check https://trends.google.com/ for trends in the queries your visitors might be using.
- Organic Traffic Counted as Direct Traffic
There are a few ways that organic traffic can show up as direct traffic. If it’s a mystery as to why organic traffic is decreasing, check direct traffic in Google Analytics. Where direct traffic is soaring, Google Analytics may not be seeing the true source (aka referrer) of the traffic. There may be a couple of reasons:
We’ve seen many strange redirects over the years, enough that this is worth mentioning. Referrer information can be removed when redirects are done via programming languages, or even in a chain of redirects that cross to HTTPS and back.
– Certain browsers block information
There have been periods in which Safari blocked referrer information. On sites with heavy IOS traffic, the effect is easier to spot. But for many sites, this can be a difficult blip to locate.
- Decreased Number of Pages or Products
For eCommerce sites that have dropped product lines for business reasons, eventually, a loss of organic traffic for those keywords will be seen. Pages that are redirecting or missing will eventually drop from Google’s index – and organic traffic can suffer. However, if you are trimming low-quality pages, that is certainly worth the short-term decrease in your traffic! Quality is still king, and Google can see if a page is being visited, shared or linked to. So don’t stop pruning your site.
These four situations explain the cases we’ve found where rankings might stay the same (or even improve) with no commensurate increase in organic traffic numbers. Be sure to check this list next time you find yourself wondering,”Where did all of the Organic traffic go?”
Google analytics has become a great source of data about visitors to your website – assuming your configuration is correct. Sometimes configuration issues inadvertently block your view of what is really happening. Common issues can include…
1. Not having your analytics snippet in the correct place.
There are many legacy variations of the analytics snippets. In addition, what was the correct installation a couple of years ago may have dramatically changed, depending on if you have an asynchronous snippet, etc. We still run into snippets calling for urchin.js for their Google Analytics, which are quite a few years old. The best place – currently – to have your analytics code is inside the <head> tag, and right before it ends with the </head> tag. This will prevent interference with other scripts, which we have seen mess with bounce rates, conversion tracking, ROI, sleep schedules, general happiness, and more
Your filters could have been created years ago and for long forgotten purposes. In Google Analytics, check your Admin area (under view, on the right halfway down) to see if you are filtering traffic. Look at the filters – do you know who created them and why they are present? Some have complicated REGEX rules and it can be difficult to decipher. Everyone should have at least one profile with no filters. We usually name this profile with RAW in the name. This system allows anyone to easily see if a filter has “gone rogue” and is filtering out good traffic.
There are also these problems with getting good data, and you did not even cause them:
1. Incomplete data / views
Most businesses are using the free version of Google Analytics, and sometimes experience “sampling” in important reports.
Sampling in Google Analytics (or in any analytics software) refers to the practice of selecting a subset of data from your traffic and reporting on the trends detected in that sample set. Sampling is widely used in statistical analysis because analyzing a subset of data gives similar results to an analysis of a complete data set, while returning these results to you more quickly due to reduced processing time.
In Analytics, sampling can occur in your reports, during your data collection, or in both place.
(Image of sampling)
2. Organic keywords
Years back, Google Analytics allowed you to see the query typed in by visitors. It was so powerful! It allowed you to see quite a bit of information about your prospects – perhaps too much. It has now become standard that search engines, browsers, and analytics itself is restricting this information. If you are new to analytics, you probably have not missed what you do not have. However, if you have been doing this a while, take a second to reflect on what was lost. We are right there with you. Hmph.
3. Referral spam, organic keyword spam, language spam
In addition to losing out on good data, there is often too much noise in otherwise good data. Using fake browsers – bots that can run analytics code, all sorts of things are being inserted into your analytics. Some of the offenders might put
– “Vitally was here” in the list of languages your visitors use
– or make it look like visitors are coming in droves from some site you’ve never heard of (which is either selling SEO or hosting malware).
Spam is analytics has become a major nuisance and we constantly have to deal with it while compiling reports. We see the same offenders across multiple accounts, and create a custom analytics segment to filter them from reports.
Want to try our segment? Click this link and scrub your own view of your account:
(There are other great segments on the Internet too, but we have customized this one for our clients.)
“Mobile is exploding,” said every headline for the last decade. Google is all about traffic and mobile is both largest segment of traffic, as well as the fastest growing!
Google’s search results will be based on the mobile versions of web pages, including the results that are shown to desktop users. This is even if your prospects are primarily using desktop (if you are in manufacturing and a few other industries), desktop drives most of your actual conversions, or maybe you just like the look of your desktop site better.
Up to now, Google has been indexing web pages as desktop browsers see them. With the new ‘mobile first’ approach, Google will start indexing web pages as mobile phones see them. The rankings will be calculated based on the mobile results.
Google says there will be minimal rankings changes, but this is a pretty major announcement. It is likely that mobile-friendly sites will see minimal ranking changes, but mobile unfriendly sites are likely to see an increasing loss of visibility. Looking at your website’s rankings in Google’s mobile search results gives an indicator of whether your site is vulnerable to losing traffic and here are some important tips to make sure:
1. Check your mobile rankings, check your risk
Looking at your website’s rankings in Google’s mobile search results gives an indicator of whether your site is vulnerable to losing traffic. It’s only an indicator, however: Google is basing mobile rankings to some extent on crawls of the Desktop version of your site. So better keep reading…
2. Be accessible
Some sites hide content behind popups / interstitials. Google is specifically planning on penalizing intrusive popups on January 10, 2017. If you have an email subscription popup or survey layer, you may be penalized. And we all experience frustration with those ads that come up when we are trying to read a news article. Some vendors, such as Ometrics have been on top of this since the day of Google’s announcement! Make sure all of your vendors are.
If you have a separate mobile site, make sure it is crawlable and be sure to register it in Google Search Console! Old best practices – blocking the duplicate content on a mobile version of your site – could potentially kill your traffic.
3. Be responsive
Responsive mobile design allows for the best (compromise of) user experience across the many mobile, tablet and desktop displays. It adapts the page, and allows a single URL for mobile and desktop versions of the site. If you haven’t changed to responsive mobile design, ask us for a list of great web designers.
4. Be fast
Speed on mobile is quite important. Research has shown that 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Wireless internet connections are usually not nearly as fast as wired connections that desktop users experience. Optimizing image file sizes and resolutions hasn’t been this important since the days of the modem.
5. Don’t mess up AMP
Staying ahead of the curve takes advantage of the greatest opportunities: Being the first among your competitors to implement mobile-friendly, mobile responsive, schema and AMP creates traffic. The period in which your site is in Google’s favor – and competitors are playing catch-up – can mean serious revenue.
With these 5 tips, you will be ahead of the pack (for a short while). As Google implements more changes, search is likely to keep changing at a breakneck pace. Watch your indexing, ranking, traffic and conversion to keep ahead of the curve.
Oh and PS: Bing will still use Desktop crawling to determine mobile rankings.