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?”