Hosting Tutorial & Guide

How to Diagnose a Sudden Traffic Drop & Make a Recovery

updated on Aug 06, 2015
How to Diagnose a Sudden Traffic Drop & Make a Recovery It is quite hard to increase the amount of quality traffic, but things get much easier when it comes to a traffic drop. Many webmasters have come across the nightmare scenario when waking up one morning finding that more than half of the site traffic has gone. Months' efforts are almost in vain.

If you are in such a situation, you must calm down as soon as possible. There is still a possibility to make a recovery, but before taking any action, you will need to figure out what is wrong with your website with carefulness.

First of all, you have to make sure that there is indeed an abnormal traffic drop. If you have a drop of 50% visits on a single day, it might be because of a weekend or a holiday. You should wait for several days to see whether you are really in a bad luck.

Once you have determined a real traffic drop, follow the tutorial below to have some analyses. The common reasons and tips are also offered.

What Kind of Traffic You Have Lost?

It is important to know whether you are losing traffic from all devices, or just having a decline of the views from mobile devices. To find out the answer, you can log into Google Analytics, select Mobile under Audience from the left sidebar, and compare the period of time during the traffic drop with another normal period. Then you can get a comparison table like below.

Traffic Comparison Table

From the table you can see the percentage of traffic change for all of desktop, mobile and tablet. If all of the figures indicate a large decrease, then your website must have some problems which hurt the traffic. But in the case you only see a decline for mobile devices, you can check your website on smartphone and tablet to see whether it is displayed correctly.

Common Reasons & Solutions for a Traffic Drop

If you are suffering from a constant severe traffic drop, the best solution is to hire or consult a technician to minimize the loss of your business. But if you want to know more about your website and investigate the problem by yourself, below is the checklist with the most common problems you should pay attention to.

You website is suffering a Google penalty due to algorithm updates

The most possible reason for a sudden traffic and ranking decline is Google penalty. No matter you are selling links, placing too many affiliate links or doing any other things with the attempt to trick Google, your website can easily get penalized. Trials like keyword stuffing and utilization of paid inbound links are also regarded to be deceptive as they can influence the search engine results.

Another important issue is the website content. Google now gives increasing importance to the content quality. Those websites with thin, duplicated or low-quality content are losing popularity or even being penalized.

Most Google penalties are caused by the update of Google Panda and Google Penguin. The former algorithm is released to lower the ranks of websites with low-quality content, and the latter is to punish those sites manipulating "bad" links. Moreover, if you practice any Black Hat SEO technique, you may be caught by Google sooner or later.

If the date when the traffic drop begins matches that of the update of any Google algorithm, you are probably under a penalty. We have got a detailed tutorial that can help you diagnose and get rid of a Google penalty.

Also, Google Webmaster Tools is a good helper. When a penalty is imposed, Google sends notifications in the Message section. The notices there tell you what is wrong with your website and what steps you can take to get out of the situation.

Your Website Is Suffering a Google Penalty

Make sure the tracking code is properly embedded

This step is usually ignored, but its importance can never be denied. Being in any of the following situations, there can be a problem for Google Analytics to report the traffic data correctly. What you need to do is to check the code and make sure it's right.
  • You are using a plugin for analytics integration and there is a conflict between the plugin and another.
  • You have made changes to the website code, and during the modification, the tracking code is removed or modified accidentally.
  • You have modified the tracking code on purpose.

Are there significant design changes?

Redesigning a website can have a catastrophic impact on the rankings and traffic, especially when there is no effective redirect strategy. For hierarchical restructuring, the result can be hard to evaluate. The rankings lost in such a change can recover themselves in several months, or they may never come back automatically, all depending on how the new theme is coded and recognized by search engines.

If you have already suffered a loss caused by new design, ask an expert to review your theme to make sure there is no coding issue. You should never use a badly coded theme. Also, be sure that you are using a theme which comes with:
  • An SEO friendly navigation system which is easy to be crawled and indexed.
  • A responsive design which is optimized for viewing experience.

Are There Significant Design Changes

Is there any problem with search engine indexing?

We've seen websites which accidentally disallow the crawl of any search engine. This is an easy way for getting a sudden drop of traffic. To ensure that you are not stuck in this problem, open your robots.txt file to see whether the following line exists:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

If it does, you need to modify the file accordingly to allow the search engines you like to crawl your site. But if it doesn't, there could also be other indexing issues. You should start checking the navigation area, the setup of sitemap .xml file, and make sure that there are no broken internal links.

Check the specific pieces of content

If you run a relatively small website on which more than half of the traffic is brought by two or three web pages, a ranking decrease of any of the pages can cause a significant traffic loss. Maybe the keyword is devalued, or the content of someone else is more favored by Google now.

In the case that your web pages are losing visits due to a ranking drop for their keywords, you can analyze your competitors' content with an SEO service like SEMRush and then naturally practice on-page optimization of your own content based on the analyses. The recovery of rankings can be expected in a short term.

Check the Specific Pieces of Content

Are the inbound links still working?

You may have some backlinks from popular websites or well-ranked pages that bring a large number of visits. If those backlinks are removed or broken suddenly, they can not only lead to an unexpected decrease of traffic, but also harm your rankings because search engines value quality backlinks.

To figure out this issue, you should visit the source of the backlinks to see whether they are still working. In the case they are removed or modified, contact the webmasters to confirm the cause and ask them to recover the links if possible. It is also suggested to keep a close eye on the link building and always try to enhance your link profile.

Check whether your website is hacked

Hacking does not only mean that a hacker messes your website up or takes it down. Sometimes the hacker just redirects your website or some pages to steal the traffic or do something else malicious. You can check this out by entering "" in Google to see whether there is any spam content displayed in the results.

Another possibility is that the hacker puts malware or malicious links on your website, which leads to the result that your website is blocked or even blacklisted by Google. In this situation, you will need to recover your website from hacking first, and then request a review from Google. After passing the review, you can see a gradual recovery of your rankings and traffic.

Check Whether Your Website Is Hacked