It’s a webmaster’s worst nightmare: logging in to analytics and seeing a steep decrease in organic traffic. What caused it? Will the decrease in traffic remain? What can be done to regain the traffic?
The first step is to identify the potential causes of the decrease, so you can understand and attempt to fix the problem.
Here are 18 questions to ask yourself to help restore search traffic:
Let’s start by investigating potential issues with the content on your site. Here are a few content-related issues that might be causing a Panda penalty or a dampening of your rankings:
1. Do you have too much duplicate content?
The Google “Panda” update began penalizing sites with duplicate content. In order to address certain keywords, you might have two existing pages with similar content but different titles- such as “Preparing for Snow” and “Snow Driveway Removal Tips.” This tactic is now more likely to hurt than help your SEO. This can be rectified by deleting the repetitive page and having it redirect to the existing one.
2. Do you have a large percentage of pages with thin content?
Thin content refers to pages or articles on your website that don’t contain a lot of actual information. A typical measurement of thin content is if the page has less than 300 words or the text to html ratio is too low. You might have encountered this kind of content on a “content farm”.
The page sounded useful, but when you clicked on it did not provide an answer to your question. So you quickly clicked away to look elsewhere. Panda has forced webmasters to focus on QUALITY, not quantity.
3. Are you using canonicals properly?
This ties backs in with the duplicate content issue. When you establish a canonical URL, you are informing the search engine which version of the URL to consider the “true version” of the page.
This means various similar links, such as perhaps a previous version of the page someone else has linked to, will credit the canonical one, instead of counting against you as trying to create duplicate content.
You want other people to mention your website and link back to you. This means not only reaching their network organically, but a chance of a boost in SEO. However, the wrong kind of links will do damage to your ranking.
4. Do you have too many sitewide links?
A sitewide link is a link that appears on all or most pages of a website – commonly found in a footer or a sidebar. This might seem like a good thing initially because it means the number of links is higher. Perhaps you requested this in a partnership deal with another company.
However, Google evaluates links for relevancy- if it sees your link on a page that does not relate to you at all, your ranking could be hurt.
5. Do you have too many links with keywords as anchor text?
Using the ranking filter Penguin, Google penalizes for over-optimizing keywords in anchor text. Your anchor text should be natural and focused on using the hyperlink as a citation, not a way to unnaturally inflate rankings.
Let’s say you sell calendars. A blogger writes about your calendar and links to you using the text “and in the January Calendar you can see…” This is a positive, relevant link. But if you use your money keyword in anchor text, such as “buy calendars”, this can lead to a penalty. Instead of keywords, you could ask for a hyperlink simply mentioning your website name, as that is always a genuine representation.
6. Do you have too many inbound links from low quality sites?
A low quality site is one that does meet search engine guidelines. For example, if the site has duplicate content or spam advertisements it will be considered low quality.
A link from one of these sites will not boost your ranking- in fact it will do the opposite. If a low quality site is linking to yours, consider asking them to remove the link or even disavowing it as explained below.
7. Have you been link spammed by competitors?
It is unfortunately possible a competitor could attempt to hurt your ranking by breaking some of these guidelines and linking to your website in spammy ways such as buying links in your name on low quality sites.
To some degree this is inevitable, and happens to many major websites, as spammers will take advantage of a big-name company in their spam messages. It’s essential to monitor your backlinks and disavow these links as soon as they show up in your link profile.
8. Are you using paid links or advertorials?
From 2000-2007 it was normal and accepted to pay people to link to your website. These kind of paid links are now a violation of Google’s guidelines.
They do not want people cheating the system and want their rankings to be based on organic factors. Simply don’t purchase links; it’s just not worth it to risk acquiring a penalty.
9. Have you truly uncovered all your backlinks, or are there hidden links?
You always want to be aware who is linking to you and for what reason – to make sure it is not spam or otherwise irrelevant in a way which could hurt SEO.
Unfortunately, not all backlinks are easily visible. There may be links that are not showing up in your backlinks on Google Search Console or on Ahrefs. Do some detective work using tools like Scrapebox to avoid low quality inbound links to your site.
10. Have you disavowed negative links?
If there are low quality links pointing to your sites, or sites using keywords in anchor text, then disavow them using Google’s disavow tool in the Google Search Console.
Make sure you are disavowing the domain, not the page, where relevant. Be careful of domains you disavow as you may end up hurting your rankings if you disavow links that are helping to improve your visibility.
Problems Users Could be Experiencing On your Website
Google’s primary interest is to deliver the best possible results to their users, therefore user experience is an important factor to consider for search rankings. If users have issues with navigating your website, they are more likely to leave and Google is going to notice. They want to direct people to websites that are easy to use and highly relevant and informational.
11. Is your site too slow to load?
A user is more likely to stay on a website that loads quickly. They want to get the information they need about a product, and in the example of an Ecommerce site, they may grow frustrated at the process.
Too many ads, widgets, images can slow down a page, especially if you are not using a high quality web host. Cleaning up your page and keeping the theme simple can create a faster experience for your user.
12. Are you using redirects correctly?
Using the wrong type of redirect could lead to a loss of “link juice” aka the power and trust the link holds. A 301 redirect is for a permanently moved page and transfer over the SEO authority of the original page.
302 is used for pages that are moved temporarily and should be used sparingly. The Link Redirect Trace extension can help you identify and fix bad redirects.
13. Has your website been hacked?
No one wants to go to a site that could be a security risk to them or contains malicious content. Time is of the essence if your website has been hacked.
Wordfence reported that while only 45% of sites reported a loss of traffic from a hack that was not flagged, 77% of sites that had been flagged by Google as dangerous/hacked lost web traffic. You want to restore a site as quickly as possible to avoid these flags. Having a backup version of your site will save you here.
14. Does your website have an incredibly high bounce rate?
Bounce rate refers to people who leave your website before spending a “significant” amount of time on it. This is because a low amount of visit time implies your website does not have quality content or was not actually what the user was looking for based on the keyword they searched. To restore traffic, make sure your site is easy to navigate and encourages users to stay by urging them on to the next step.
15. Is your website responsive or accessible on mobile?
The user experience for a consumer on your mobile website is going to be different than on a computer. Google knows this and will prioritize sites that have optimized mobile versions that are easy to read and navigate on a phone.
Remember that speed, safety, and quality are all in play once again. Don’t assume just because it’s the mobile version you should not spend time optimizing it for SEO.
16. Do you have too many 404 errors?
404 errors appear when a page or file is not found. You’re losing traffic and potential rankings when users click on pages that are no longer available. Identify 404 pages and find the most relevant page to send them to, and use a 301 redirect instead.
Here are a few other SEO problems to be on the lookout for when using Google Webmaster Tools.
17. Is your Google SERP’s CTR too low?
Yow want people who click on your website to be genuinely interested in your content and hopefully your product. This is why a low click through rate could be hurting your rankings.
If your page shows up in the SERP’s but users aren’t interested in clicking, you are giving Google a signal of irrelevance. Optimize your meta title and description to draw in the clicks, like you would on Google Adwords. Improving your SERP CTR can help dramatically increase your rankings.
18. Have you received any notifications from Google?
Pay attention to those messages on Google Webmaster – they could be warning you of a potential SEO issue. You can get these messages forwarded to your email address so that you never miss a problem.
Alerts include sudden spikes or losses in specific search queries, server or page errors users are receiving, and “critical messages” such as if your website or server is down entirely.
Go through these Q&A’s to identify if you may be losing traffic unaware of potential issues that might be affecting your rankings, and traffic.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.