Viewers arrive at your website in all sorts of different ways. Some are enticed by a paid advertisement, some click on a link on another website, and some type the URL directly into their address bar. But today we’re focusing on the viewers who arrive at your site through a search engine. They type their query into the search bar of a search engine like Google, view the results, and click on a link to your website. These viewers make up a segment of traffic known as organic search traffic. When your organic search traffic suddenly drops, you might wonder what’s up. Well now, for the first time, Google has illustrated what various forms of organic search traffic drops look like. Using these sketches, you can diagnose the problem and create a plan of attack.
Visualizing a Drop in Organic Search Traffic
Have you taken a good look at the four sketched lines above? Daniel Waisberg, a Search Advocate at Google, created these visualizations. Although there are only four sketches, they depict several different examples of drops in organic search . . .
Site-Wide Technical Issues, Security Issues, and Manual Actions
Technical issues prevent Google from crawling, indexing, or serving your pages to readers. Examples include a server going down, an error with robots.txt, etc. Sometimes a technical issue will impact your entire site, which can be a big blow to your organic traffic.
When Google believes that your site has been threatened by a security issue, it may alert readers before they land on the site. These warnings or interstitial pages, designed to protect the readers, will likely decrease your organic traffic.
Google wants you to play by the rules. If your site doesn’t comply with the search engine’s guidelines, Google may penalize your entire site or specific pages by omitting them from search results using a manual action.
Visualization: Site-wide technical issues, security issues, and manual actions result in a massive drop in organic traffic, as depicted in the top-left picture.
Seasonal Change in Search Traffic
Sometimes a change in search traffic is a natural result of trends in user behavior. For example, if you run a shop selling children’s toys, you will likely notice an upsurge around Christmastime as consumers start shopping for presents. Or if you run a hockey-themed bar, you may find that your website’s traffic surges during hockey season. These changes in traffic are not caused by your website but instead reflect external influences that impact its traffic.
Visualization: With seasonal fluctuations, organic traffic ebbs and flows throughout the year, as depicted in the top-right picture.
Page-Level Technical Issue or Algorithmic Changes
As we mentioned above, technical issues prevent Google from crawling, indexing, or serving your pages to readers. Sometimes a technical issue will affect just one page of your site – for example, if you misplace a noindex tag.
Google is always striving to improve its procedures, which is why the search engine updates its algorithm so frequently. Whether it conducts a full core update or smaller changes, these algorithmic updates can impact how your webpages perform. For this reason, it’s important to stay on top of Google updates.
Visualization: Page-level technical issues and algorithmic issues produce a slower decline in traffic and typically level off over time, as depicted in the bottom-left picture.
Reporting Glitch in Search Console
Sometimes an organic search traffic drop is due to nothing but a reporting glitch in Google Search Console. When the glitch is resolved, the traffic returns to normal.
Visualization: Reporting glitches produce a big dip in traffic that soon bounces back to its previous position, as depicted in the bottom-right picture.
How to Fix These Organic Search Issues
After describing these issues and providing a visual aid, Waisberg explained how you can address these types of drops to improve your organic traffic.
Generally, you’ll need to start by diagnosing the issue. Open your Search Console Performance report main chart and look at the line it depicts. Does it match any of the visualizations above? It might be helpful to extend the date range to 16 months, compare your current drop period to a similar period, or analyze different types of search separately (web search vs. images vs. video, etc.). In addition, you should consider whether the drop reflects an external factor, such as seasonality, a new product, or a splashy new competitor.
When you’re ready to solve the issue, check out Google’s Advanced Guide to Search Console.
Although not earth-shattering news, this may have been the first time that Google provided visualizations of various types of organic search traffic drops. Using the examples, you may be able to diagnose a drop in your own search traffic and fix any pertinent issues.
If you’re hoping to build a beautiful, effective website that will rank on Google, contact 417 Marketing for help. Our team of knowledgeable, creative, and passionate professionals specializes in SEO, web design and maintenance, and Google Ads, and we have successfully completed over 700 websites since our inception in 2010. Contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.