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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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

Country

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.

Conclusion

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 »