Updated: Mar 2
Whether you're a content marketer or website owner, chances are you've seen sharp traffic fluctuations from time to time. You've likely gotten a good enough feel for your traffic's ebbs and flows that you know what's natural or not. In turn, you may sometimes see your organic traffic suddenly drop, seemingly unnaturally, and be understandably alarmed. Fortunately, there are multiple usual suspects behind it, and many underlying causes are easy to fix. Still, it's imperative that you get to the bottom of such issues quickly to ensure minimal losses and swift recovery.
With that in mind, let us explore said usual suspects one by one. In no particular order, the following 5 practices may deserve your consideration.
#1 Contextualize the drop
A crucial, preferably first, analytical step is to contextualize the drop. That is to say, your organic traffic doesn't suddenly drop in a vacuum. Rather, it may be related to various factors that may either remedy themselves or require your appropriate intervention.
Market traffic trends
For one, the issue may not be on your end specifically. It might simply be a general market traffic trend that's affecting your website, along with others in your niche. Thus, you may use such analytics tools as SEMRush's Market Explorer, Ahrefs, or Moz to compare your market's overall traffic trends with your domain's. If your traffic follows your market's general trend, it may be a natural drop – albeit sharp enough to alert you.
Similarly, it may be that you're losing organic traffic due to no fault of your own. Rather, it may be you're losing traffic to your competitors. In this case, the issue is typically one of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). To deduce this, use any competitor analysis tools available, or consult digital marketing agencies to conduct competitor analyses. Examine such factors as keyword research, and compare your month-to-month traffic with that of your peers.
Finally, another contextual element is seasonal traffic. Comparing traffic month-to-month may hint at a pressing, immediate loss of traffic, but it may simply be a self-correcting seasonal drop. Renowned marketer Neil Patel describes this perspective as "zooming out", and it may indeed set your mind at ease. Here, you may use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and any third-party analytics tools at your disposal to deduce this.
#2 Examine your website’s SEO foundations
Then, you may take your time to deeply examine your website as regards SEO. A well-structured website is by no means immune to organic traffic drops, but it certainly is much less prone to them. In this regard, whether you're examining your current website or building a new one, consider such factors as the following.
URL structure; subdomains and subdirectories
Here, you may initially examine your URL structure. Your initial choice of using a subdomain or a subdirectory will weigh in on your organic traffic, and switching it up may account for cases when your organic traffic suddenly drops.
In brief, a subdomain looks like blog.example.com. In contrast, a subdirectory, or subfolder, looks like example.com/blog. Google's John Mueller explains both in-depth in the video, "subdomain or subfolder, which is better for SEO?"
As he notes, both are "fine" for SEO. There are, of course, SEO merits to both, depending on your specific website of choice. Regardless, what matters in this context is consistency; in Mueller's words, "picking a setup that you can keep for longer" matters, because "changes to a site's URL structure tend to take a bit of time to settle down in Sear
XML and HTML sitemaps
Similarly, both XML and HTML sitemaps are crucial to organic traffic. The latter enable search engine crawlers to index your pages faster and prevent orphaned pages, while the latter ease human visitors' navigation.
Thus, a malformed or incomplete XML sitemap may account for sudden drops of organic traffic; it may simply be that Google isn't indexing your new pages swiftly enough. Conversely, a lack of proper, or any, HTML sitemaps may be deterring existing visitors. In turn, reduced engagement metrics may be lowering your SEO score, impacting your search engine visibility, and reducing your traffic.
#3 Audit your internal links and backlinks
Looking both within and outside of your website, you may then begin auditing your links. Both internal links and backlinks are the proverbial backbone of SEO, and oversights on both may account for cases when organic traffic suddenly drops.
First, as highlighted above, your site structure is crucial to a pleasant User Experience (UX). Here, you may examine your internal links under a few different scopes: