Why Sudden Search Traffic Drops Happen & How to Get It Back to Normal Again

A sudden drop in search traffic means only one thing: there’s something wrong with your website. If you don’t get down to the root cause of the drop and fix it, you’ll continue to lose visitors and the potential revenues they could have brought to your business.

While a sudden traffic drop may feel like it came out of nowhere, we have found that in most cases, their causes are known.

In this article, we walk through all the common causes of a sudden drop in a site’s search traffic. Beyond that, we also outline specific strategies you can use to future-proof your site so this won’t happen again.

Would you like us to take a look at your site to see what happened? We are a search agency experienced with diagnosing sudden traffic drops. Get our service to help fix your problem here.

Why sudden traffic drops happen – common reasons

A sudden drop in search traffic is most commonly caused by two things:

  • Technical changes you’ve done on your site, or
  • Google algorithm updates

Let’s take a look at what each of these mean.

The first one is pretty broad, but basically refers to changes you or someone in your team made on your website that have suddenly made your entire site or specific pages on your site inaccessible to search engine crawlers.

What changes could trigger such catastrophic change? In our work with clients, we found these to be the most common changes

  • Changes to URLs that were not re-directed
  • De-indexing pages
  • Removing sitemaps
  • Bulk changes to meta tags

It could be one change, or a combination of changes. Finding out the exact causes usually call for a technical audit to be done first with a tool like ScreamingFrog or Sitebulb. These tools mimic search crawler activity and flag issues with your site. Ideally, you would have a reference point from an audit done prior to the sudden traffic drop to compare with, but if not, you’ll have to make do with a new one.

Once you find out what exactly went wrong with your site, you can create a plan to fix those issues immediately. The specific fixes depends on the error, and the audit tools will usually have a basic guide to walk you through the fixes required. After you’ve fixed the problems, it will usually take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to see an improvement. However, I would caution that this fix be done as quickly as possible, as recovery might not be possible without a lot more effort if the problem has been left for too long.

Now, the second reason: Google algorithm updates. Although Google isn’t the only search engine around, in most countries, it’s usually the one most people use. So this is why we focus on Google in this discussion.

As the name suggests, these are updates Google periodically rolls out to make sure that people who search on its engine find exactly what they are looking for, or as close to it as possible. There are thousands of tiny updates Google does every year, and a few major ones.

The minor ones aren’t usually a cause of concern, it’s the major ones that we keep our eyes peeled for. They’re called Core Updates. Changes brought about by Core Updates cause a huge shift in traffic to some sites because they include a significant change in how Google values sites.

When a website experiences a sudden drop in traffic after a Google algorithm update, it means the site poorly meets the requirements of the new algorithm. In other words, according to Google, your site, or pages on your site aren’t the best ones to display for the search queries you’re trying to rank for.

How do you know if your site’s sudden traffic drop was due to a Google algorithm update? The easiest way to find out is by checking the rankings for keywords you rank for. You can do this by Googling for the keywords and see where you appear, or if you use a rank tracker software, you’ll be able to see the changes in your daily report.

For example, you were previously ranked #4, but now your site is nowhere to be found on the first page of the search results. If you see a similar pattern across a large number of keywords, it’s very likely that your site has been hit by a Google algorithm update.

Now, the fix. Traffic drops brought about by Google algorithm updates have no quick fixes. They usually require an audit of your website, checked against the requirements of Google’s latest update. Fixing the issue calls for re-strategising, and potentially a website revamp. These can take some months to complete, and then you will need to wait up to a few more months, up to a year, for the site’s traffic to pick up again.

Strategies for preventing this in the future

To make sure this doesn’t happen again, you’ll need to build in processes into your website management to protect it against sudden traffic drops. We will attack this from both a technical and algorithm update standpoint so you have the best coverage possible.

1. Schedule regular technical audits

Running periodical audits on your site has a two-fold impact on keeping your site safe from sudden traffic drops. First, it helps flag technical issues as they arise, catching them before they snowball into permanent problems.

Second, they help you create snapshots of your site’s technical health, creating useful reference points for comparison when new issues show up. With these snapshots, you’ll be able to build a rich view of the changes to your site, and pinpoint where things went wrong.

It’s pretty easy to schedule technical audits with tools like ScreamingFrog or Sitebulb. All you need to do is set it once inside the scheduler and it will run in the background based on your preferred frequency.

How frequently should you set the audit to run? A good rule of thumb is to adjust your audit frequency to match that of your deployment since deployments are when new changes are likely to take place. For example, if you deploy once a week, the best time to run the audit would be right after the deployment is complete.

2. Document changes to your site and keep team mates accountable

A change to your meta tags, text on one of your PDPs, or an image placement shift on your homepage can have an impact on the search visibility of your site. Often times, when you are working in a team, it’s hard to find out what changes were made and who made them. When there isn’t an issue to your site, this process feels fine.

However, in cases where there is a sudden traffic drop, not having proper documentation of changes made and accountable team members can mean a lot of wasted time trying to find out exactly what went wrong.

Have a centralised location on a cloud drive or project management tool accessible by relevant team members where these changes are documented. While we can agree that setting this up and getting your team onboard can be tedious and time-consuming at first, it’ll be worth it when you see a marked reduction in the time required to diagnose sudden traffic drops later.

3. Track keywords

Tracking keywords will help you flag abnormalities in rank movements as they happen. You don’t have to track every keyword your site is ranking for, but you need to track the ones that bring in the most qualified leads.

For example, if you are a roofting company in Singapore, some keywords you’d want to track are:

  • roofing company near me
  • roofing company in singapore
  • best roofing company in singapore

We recommend tracking keywords on a daily basis using tools like Accuranker, or SerpWatch. Set up an email notification so you get updates on your keyword movements in your inbox every day.

4. Craft the best content to serve your ideal visitors

This is the last point in the list, but it’s arguably the most important one. When there’s a lot of content online, you’ll need to put in that extra effort to make your content stand out.

“Standing out” in this context means your page best answers a search query. For example, if you are mattress seller in Malaysia, your potential customers are likely to search the term “best mattress brand malaysia”.

The better you can show why you are the best mattress brand in Malaysia, the more likely you’ll rank for the term. To achieve this, you might talk about:

  • What materials you use, and what makes it better than what the competition is using
  • How comfortable is your mattress?
  • Is it cooler to sleep on? Why?
  • What makes your mattress different from traditionally made ones? What technology are you integrating into your manufacturing process to achieve that?

There’s a lot more you can include, and we go into much more depth with our clients, but the idea is to answer all the potential questions, or objections a customer might have, and blow them away by going above and beyond their expectations.

With the mindset of wanting to match the search intent of your ideal visitors, it’s unlikely for you to fall out of favour with Google’s algorithm updates, as that is what they are trying to achieve with their search engine as well.

Let us help you future-proof your site from sudden traffic drops

We are agency comprised of SEO consultants who can help you build a strategy to not only prevent a sudden traffic drop from happening again, but also create more a strategy to attract more qualified visitors.

Would you like us to take a look at your site to see what happened? Get our service to help fix your problem here.

Lu Wee is the lead SEO consultant at LWDigital.co. With 8 years of consulting and agency experience behind her, she is on the pulse of SEO and how it impacts businesses in the Southeast Asia region.

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