Google analytics

How to analyze a sudden drop in traffic

How to analyze a sudden drop in traffic

It’s Monday morning and you open up your Google Analytics stats. Then there it is, something you don’t wish to see at the beginning of the week: a sudden drop in traffic. And not just a small decline in traffic, no this is a significant drop. Panic strikes, time for action! First, take a couple of deep breaths and grab a piece of (digital) paper and write down the things you should check. This post will help you with trying to find what caused that drop.

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1. Look at ‘the drop’ in Google Analytics

After you’ve taken your deep breath, check how ‘bad’ the traffic drop is. Sometimes a drop can look sharp because you’ve set the wrong date range. For example, you’ve included today and the day isn’t over. Or you’re looking at an hourly report.

Hourly report in Google Analytics

It’s also possible that you’ve included a weekend in your date range.

Weekend date range in Google Analytics

What I’m trying to illustrate is that you can get skewed graphs because of the date range you’ve chosen. No website has a consistent amount of traffic; it goes up and down. It’s key that you put the drop into perspective. Take a broader date range that you can divide by seven, or compare date ranges.

One of the things worth exploring is to compare the date range with last years date range. Did you have a similar drop in % last year? Then it might be that you have an off-season around the same time each year.

Compare dates in Google Analytics

Is the amount of traffic recovering? Then there might’ve been a temporarily issue with your site. Still worth exploring, but less frightening than an actual drop.

2. Check with IT

If the drop is massive and quite unnatural, my first instinct would be that a technical issue has occurred. Someone from IT can tell you if something happened to the website. Perhaps the site experienced downtime, or they’ve used a new template or did a migration. Check if there’s been a change that could’ve influenced the Google Analytics tracking code.

Use Chrome extensions like Google Tag Assistant, Ghostery and/or Google Analytics Debugger to check whether there’s nothing wrong with the tracking code. And don’t forget to look at your Google Search Console stats, do you see a lot of crawl errors or a drop in the number of indexed pages? And check the search analytics stats while you’re there.

3. Zoom in on your traffic sources

You’ve established that there is a significant traffic drop and it’s not caused by a technical error or an unlucky chosen date range, it’s time to look further. You need to check if you’re getting less traffic from one or more of your traffic sources. The acquisition tab in Google Analytics gives more insight into what drives people to your website.

Drop in traffic source in Google Analytics

First, have a look at the Channels you’ve got and plot rows of each channel, you can plot six channels at a time:

Plot rows in Google Analytics

It’ll show you a specified graph with a graph line for each channel you’ve plotted. That way you can identify which channel caused the drop. Once identified, you can specify even further by clicking on the Channel or by narrowing down the Source and Medium of that Channel in the Source/Medium tab.

If you see a decline in organic traffic, you might have an SEO issue on your hands, like a Google Penalty. If so, sprint to your Google Search Console account to check if you’ve got a message from Google. Also, if you see less traffic coming from social media channels, check whether you’re still active on these channels. A decline in Direct traffic could indicate things like a new competitor showing up, or some pages don’t work anymore.

4. Analyze the audience tab

If the traffic sources aren’t giving you the answer you’re searching for, it’s time to look at your audience tab.

Audience Overview in Google Analytics

New vs. returning

Starting with the New vs. returning, you can find this under the Behavior item in Google Analytics. When you’re seeing a decline in new visitors, you need to work on your visibility. Invest more in SEO, social media and content SEO to drive more new visitors to your site.

Seeing fewer visitors return to your site? Take a firm look at your site’s health. Do you have a proper site structure and is it user-friendly? Are you providing the best user experience? Do you meet your visitor’s expectations? Do your pages work and is your site fast enough?


Don’t forget there can be causes of a traffic drop in which you don’t have control. Like for example, the holidays, hurricanes, power outages, unstable political climate and so on. By looking at countries, you can identify if a specific country has a significant drop in traffic. Then you can check the news and find out if something has happened in that country. You can also do this check on a regional level or a city level.

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When you identified there’s a significant drop in traffic in your Google Analytics, follow these steps to identify what might’ve caused it. If it’s not a technical issue, you can’t see a drop from one of your traffic sources and your audience stayed pretty much the same; then it’s time to ask around. The cause won’t be that obvious, so you need to get a full view of everything that happened on your site and in your marketing efforts. That’s probably where the answer lies. Good luck!

Read more: ‘Understanding bounce rate in Google Analytics’ »

17 Responses to How to analyze a sudden drop in traffic

  1. Jonathan Sanders
    By Jonathan Sanders on 2 January, 2018

    Way to go. Simple but powerful steps to nail down this terrible scenarios. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ogbe Emmanuel
    By Ogbe Emmanuel on 1 January, 2018

    I have been looking for how to get to know the real cause of an unnatural drop in traffic. Now i just got everything that i need to know. Thanks Yoast

  3. Gracious Store
    By Gracious Store on 27 December, 2017

    Very informative on how to analyze the traffic data so as to find the cause of significant drop in the number of traffic to a site.

  4. Ahad Arzi
    By Ahad Arzi on 26 December, 2017

    Good Stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  5. nexvan
    By nexvan on 26 December, 2017

    Thank you very much for giving me this great post

  6. Toudjidoum
    By Toudjidoum on 24 December, 2017

    My drop is maybe a tehnical problem in relate with the two big feasts which is pointing at the horizon.
    That can give an occasion to busy for that.
    I hope that thank to our experienced technicians like you know this difficulty technique everytihng must work into order.

  7. Marian Zielinski
    By Marian Zielinski on 22 December, 2017

    Great solution. As little as possible drops in 2018 :))))

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 28 December, 2017

      That’s a great New Year’s resolution, Marian ;)

      • Md Alfaaz
        By Md Alfaaz on 30 December, 2017

        Wow! Amazing content. This article is very helpful. Before now I was not knowing a way to analyze sudden drop in traffic. But from now I know. Thank you so much.

        • Annelieke van den Berg
          By Annelieke van den Berg on 2 January, 2018

          Thank you!

  8. koemsiely
    By koemsiely on 22 December, 2017

    Yes, sure. I notice that Google just updated algorithm, many websites are affected and my website also penalized.

  9. Godwin Akpan
    By Godwin Akpan on 22 December, 2017

    You are vary right…sometime site always drop

    By on 21 December, 2017

    Well i see that YOAST SEO is the best thing that happen to any blogger on earth and i urge that you guys should keep it up with the good works you are doing and i am also believing with their tips i would be able to get my traffic back again thank once again

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 28 December, 2017

      Thanks! And we will keep it up for sure.

  11. Vivek Parmar
    By Vivek Parmar on 21 December, 2017

    Hi Annelieke!

    Thank you so much for sharing valuable tips with us. It’s a request can you let me know what would be the reason of traffic drop when we redesign the website or changing the theme of the blog?

    • Annelieke van den Berg
      By Annelieke van den Berg on 2 January, 2018

      Hi Vivek!
      No problem at all!
      When you redesign or change a theme and you notice a traffic drop, the cause is probably technical. I’ve seen client sites that did a migration and/or redesign where the entire website was set to ‘noindex’ so Google couldn’t crawl that site. So I’d first check if there’s the correct Google Analytics tracking ID on all pages of your website. Visit the real-time dashboard in Google Analytics to check if you can see visitors that are online now. If Google Analytics is working correctly, you might have an SEO issue on your hands.

  12. Digember
    By Digember on 21 December, 2017

    Yes, you are right. Every day, there’s a fluctuation in traffic with little drop or increase. But, someday my google traffic jumps high and then comes to like it was behaving previously.

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