Help! My Google traffic just tanked – what do I do?
I may get paid commission for purchases made after clicking a link in this post.
Freaking out right now because your Google traffic has just taken a nosedive?? Take a deep calming breath and then read my step-by-step guide on exactly what to do if your Google traffic suddenly drops.
We’ve all been there, right… You are having a great day, then you just think… hmm I’ll just check my Google Analytics for today, so you flip open the Google Analytics app on your phone to take a quick peep and suddenly your stomach plummets to somewhere round your knees – your Google traffic has just tanked…
Hands up if you know exactly what I mean?
If your Google Traffic has suddenly dropped, here’s what you need to do…
The first step is to take a deep breath and try not to panic. I know you are probably feeling totally freaked out and a bit sick in the stomach, but right now focusing on diagnosing and fixing the problem (if there is one) is a much better use of your time and energy… whatever you do, don’t do anything rash or you may make the problem worse!
It’s also worth remembering that there are LOTS of different explanations for a sudden traffic drop… Yes, if could be an algorithm change, but it could be something else entirely. (I cover lots of possibilities in this article.)
And bear in mind too that, even if it is an algorithm change, it’s quite common for Google to release an algorithm update one day… and release another one a few days later which puts your traffic right back to where it was before the first algorithm update.
Google are constantly tweaking their algorithm to make it better. If they test something out and it doesn’t improve the experience for their end user and/or it has unintended negative consequences, of course they are going to fix it!
So take a deep calming breath and instead get to work figuring out exactly what has happened…
Was it definitely Google?
The first thing to do when you see your traffic take a sudden nosedive, is check your Google Analytics… What exactly has dropped? Was it definitely Google? A sudden drop in traffic is not always Google related.
First, head to Google Analytics >> Acquisition >> All Traffic >> Channels. Next, click into each traffic source to see where the drop in traffic is coming from. This will help you work out if the traffic dip is coming from Google…or somewhere else entirely. It could easily be a Pinterest or Facebook change that has caused your traffic to tank.
All posts? Or just a few?
The next question to ask is, which posts have been affected? This time head to Google Analytics >> Behaviour >> Site Content >> All Pages and start clicking on your content. Is the traffic drop caused by just a few posts or does it seem to be affecting all of them?
A very common reason for a sudden traffic drop is when a site is dependent on one blog post for a big chunk of traffic… It only takes one person to write a better blog post on that subject, which pushes your post down in the rankings, and BOOM! Your Google traffic tumbles. But actually it’s not an algorithm change or a major problem with your site… it’s just one person, wrote one blog post, that pushed your most popular post down in the rankings.
Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that being dependent on just one post is a very precarious place to be… But at least now you know and can work to fix the problem. To stop this happening again, work hard on your keyword research and write lots of great content that really answers those search queries well – better than anyone else! Over time this will build up your stock of popular posts and make your situation less precarious.
However, if your traffic drop seems to be a widespread problem across all your content, you may need to do a bit more digging…
Is it seasonal?
Another big reason for a sudden drop in Google traffic is seasonal trends. Many niches have seasonal trends: for example, I always get more traffic to my food blog in December than January. And I get a lovely Easter peak, but then a sudden drop after Easter.
If you have just experienced a sudden drop in traffic, zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture… what happened to your Google traffic this time last year? Can you see a similar trend? It could simply be that a drop in traffic in your niche is totally normal at this time of year.
If this is the case, to some extent, you’ll just have to learn to live with it (people are always going to be more interested in gardening in the spring/summer than in the depths of winter, for example – sorry!)
That said, it is certainly worth looking at what you can do to minimise the seasonal effect. For example, if you have a do gardening blog, could you write a series of blog posts on things gardeners can still be doing over winter? Or if you have a food blog that sees a dip in traffic immediately after Christmas, could you create some more healthy recipes to target the increased interest in healthy eating in January?
And if this is your first year blogging and you don’t have any historical data, try popping into some blogging groups on Facebook and asking bloggers in your niche what the usual seasonal trends are. Sometimes it’s obvious… but not always, so it’s well worth asking!
Is it sunny? (And other random one off events)
One thing I have noticed over the years on my food blog is that I get less traffic on hot, sunny days compared to cold, miserable ones. And there are many other similar trends that, if you pay attention to your Google Analytics, you’ll soon learn to anticipate.
For example, I know I’ll always see a dip in traffic on the afternoon and evening of Halloween… There’s nearly always a dip in traffic when school children are on holiday. And sometimes big news events can cause a big dip in traffic as everyone is glued to the TV, rather than googling recipes!
So another thing to think about, if your Google traffic suddenly tanks, is whether anything unusual is happening ‘out there’ in the real world. If so, just sit it out and it should come right again.
Is your Google Analytics tracking code set up OK?
Of course, it is entirely possible that you aren’t actually experiencing a drop in traffic at all, it’s just a problem with the reporting of that traffic. So, when you see an otherwise unexplained dip in traffic, it’s well worth double checking your Google Analytics tracking code is still working. This is something you’ll especially want to consider if you’ve done some big work on your blog recently, such as installing a new theme, having a site audit or changing hosts.
First, figure out where your Google tracking code actually is (this post will help) and then double check it all looks OK. You can also check Google Analytics >> Real Time >> Overview to make sure Google is picking up real time traffic.
Is your site speed optimization plugin messing with your Google Analytics tracking?
Another thing to check is your site speed optimization plugin. With the advent of page experience / core web vitals, bloggers are getting more and more savvy about site speed and doing everything they can to improve their scores in Google Page Speed Insights.
One common thing to do is to install and configure a site speed optimization plugin, like WP Rocket. But sometimes these plugins can actually interfere with your Google Analytics data tracking and cause it to look like you’ve experienced a drop in Google traffic, when really you haven’t.
This actually happened to me when I first installed WP Rocket*. Luckily the lovely folks at WP Rocket have a help doc on this very subject and I was able to fix the problem.
So, if you have recently installed a site speed optimization plugin, and subsequently noticed a drop in traffic, this is certainly something worth investigating…
Have you been hit with a Google penalty?
Of course, another reason why some bloggers experience a drop in traffic is because they have been hit with a big fat Google penalty. Google issues manual penalties to websites whose actions violate their Webmaster Guidelines.
There are lots of reasons why you might get a Google penalty, but the most common ones are:
- Spammy content
- Content scraping
- Hidden text
- Keyword stuffing
- Thin / very low quality content
- Unnatural links to your site (Buying links)
- Unnatural links from your site (Selling links)
- Evidence of excessive link exchanges
- Dangerous content
- Misleading content
Google are keen to stop people from artificially ‘gaming’ the search results and so use penalties to demote or delist sites seen to be engaging in Black Hat SEO techniques… so if you’ve been doing anything slightly dodgy, then this could be the reason for the sudden drop.
To find out if you have a Google penalty, go to Google Search Console >> Security and Manual Actions >> Manual Actions.
This article explains what to do if you have been slapped with a Google penalty >>> The complete list of Google penalties and how to recover
Have you been hit by a Google algorithm update?
Of course, one of the most common reasons for a sudden drop in traffic is because you’ve been hit by a Google algorithm update. The first thing to do is to check out the SEO news and/or blogging Facebook groups (such as the Productive Blogging Community) and try to find out whether there has been a significant algorithm update, recently and what others are saying about it.
Google don’t always announce their algorithm updates and, in fact, they are constantly updating and tweaking their algorithms to improve them, so sometimes it can be kind of hard to tell what’s going on, but over the few days and weeks after a big Google update, a pattern starts to form and it begins to become clear what Google were targeting with the latest one.
Google updates are frustrating, but it’s worth bearing in mind what Google is actually doing in their updates as this will help you not only fix what needs to be fixed to get your traffic back, but understand Google’s direction of travel so you can get out ahead and avoid getting hit by the next one!
So what exactly is Google trying to do?
In simple terms, Google is trying to make things better for their users. Their users are people who are searching for stuff on Google. Google is constantly striving to ensure that the result which appears at the top of the search results is in fact the best answer to the searcher’s question. Knowing this helps you understand what Google cares about and so what kinds of things are likely to be affected by future updates.
So… what does Google care about, right now?
Google cares about a lot of things, but these are some of the big ones that feature time and time again in Google’s algorithm updates:
- E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)
- High quality content that actually answers the searcher’s question
- UX (User eXperience)
- Site Speed / Core Web Vitals
- Mobile friendliness
- Stopping people gaming the search results with underhand ‘black hat’ techniques
If you focus on getting these things right, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of getting hit by an algorithm update.
READ MORE >>> How to avoid getting hit by a Google algorithm update
Did you take the eye off the ball?
If your traffic drop is more a slow steady decline, rather than a sudden drop then this could be the culprit. The web does not stand still. Other bloggers do not stand still. Many, many bloggers have wised up to the fact that they need to improve their site speed and site structure, write better content, do more keyword research and update / improve old content. If you have done nothing while other bloggers have been busy working on their SEO and writing new blog posts, then this is the most likely culprit for your drop in traffic.
Sadly blogging is not a set it and forget it thing… it’s more like a treadmill… if you are not constantly going forwards, you’ll gradually slip back as other bloggers start beating you in the search engine rankings and pushing your content down.
Now this doesn’t mean you need to be constantly working on your blog. Once you’ve put the initial work in, you can run a very successful blog working just a few days a month. But if you want Google to continue to send you good traffic, you need to put some effort into it… and make sure your efforts are concentrated on the right things.
The first thing I’d advise you to do, if you haven’t already, is to do an SEO course to properly up your SEO game… or, if you can’t stretch to a course right now, at least do a DIY SEO Audit on your blog to pinpoint the issues you need to work on, then do the work to fix your SEO issues.
And then, going forward, you will need to keep producing fresh content, keep old posts up to date and do regular SEO maintenance jobs, such as checking for broken links and making site speed improvements.
Are you relying too heavily on Google?
Google updates are a fact of life, and while working on your SEO and doing regular maintenance will help to reduce the likelihood of getting hit by an algorithm update (or just simply being passed by others who are doing more than you!), relying too heavily on Google for all your traffic is a precarious place to be.
In order to future proof your blog and become less reliant on Google, you want to start converting that flow of casual readers Google sends you into regular readers and fans.
Now you might think the best way to do that is via social media… but the sad fact is, social media traffic is just as dependent on algorithms as Google… and social media algorithms are much more random, volatile and unpredictable than Google’s algorithm…
No, what you want to do is convert your Google traffic into reliable repeat traffic that is not subject to the whims of any algorithms… and the best way to do that is to get people on your email list. Someone can love your stuff and follow you on every social media platform going, yet never see a single social media post from you, thanks to the vagaries of social media algorithms. But if you can persuade them to hand over their email address, you can pop into their inbox every single week… and through regular email updates and nurture sequences, you can transform that casual visitor into a regular reader and raving fan!
And the more traffic you can convert into email list subscribers, the less reliant you are on Google traffic… and so the more insulated you are from the effects of future Google updates.
READ MORE >>> A beginner’s guide to email marketing for bloggers + free challenge
READ MORE >>> How to use email marketing to boost your SEO
Over to you…
Have you bounced back from a big drop in Google traffic? If so, what did you do to fix it? Let us know in the comments below!
- How to avoid getting hit by a Google algorithm update
- 17 SEO mistakes to avoid
- A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers
- How to future-proof your blog
- SEO Jumpstart Success Stories
Don’t miss a thing!
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Or why not subscribe to Productive Blogging and get blogging and productivity tips straight to your inbox every week?