stop sign

How to Conduct an Organic Traffic Loss Analysis for Google

One of the primary reasons clients seek out our SEO services is because in some shape or fashion their Google organic traffic dropped.

In this article, we’ll discuss how us SEO specialists analyze Google organic traffic drops. When—and only when—you understand the cause of your traffic drop can you create a remediation plan.

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Identify the type of organic traffic drop you’re experiencing.

Before you try and find the source of the issue, you need to understand if there’s even an issue worth addressing at all. This step will also help you understand how to go about conducting your traffic loss analysis.

To do so, open your Google Search Console. Navigate to the ‘Performance, Search Results’ report. Finally, switch the date range to 16-months.

With the 16-month view open, you can identify the type of organic traffic drop you may be experiencing.

According to Google, there are four primary types of traffic loss:

  • Seasonal

  • Reporting Glitch

  • Technical Issue (Site-Level)/Manual Action

  • Technical Issue (Page-Level)/Algorithm Change/Disruption/Other

Let’s discuss each in detail:

Seasonal

seasonal traffic loss

A seasonal traffic loss means that at predictable times in the year your traffic will ebb and flow.

For example, an eCommerce store selling custom Christmas ornaments will see significant traffic drops in Spring and Summer. The website will then likely pick up traffic in Fall and Winter, leading up to the holiday.

Seasonal traffic losses do not require a recovery strategy.

A seasonal traffic loss will have gains and losses at recurring points of the year.

Reporting Glitch

reporting glitch

A loss in traffic due to a reporting glitch means there was an error on Google’s end for unidentifiable reasons. These types of losses are very easy to identify because you’ll see a sharp, unexplainable loss in impressions overnight with a full recovery a day or two later.

While reporting glitches are frustrating, there is nothing to be done on the web owner’s part.

Technical Issue (Site-Level)/Manual Action

technical seo causes drop in traffic

Technical issues on the site-level, as well as manual actions, are identifiable as a drastic and sustained drop in impressions overnight.

Technical issues are directly related to security and manual actions. If you notice your traffic plummet overnight, immediately navigate to the Technical & Manual Actions reports within Google Search Console. Remediate any issues listed to begin your traffic recovery.

Technical Issue (Page-Level)/Algorithm Change/Disruption/Other

change in algorithm and traffic loss

Finally, all other traffic losses fall into the ‘other’ category. This is the largest bucket of traffic losses and will be the focus of this article.

This type of traffic loss is identifiable as a decline in impressions and clicks over a period of time. The decline may be sharp or gradual, however it won’t be overnight. You’ll need to do additional research to figure out what is causing the decline.

Step 2: Create a Comparison Report

If you’ve ruled out seasonality, reporting glitches, technical issues, and manual actions, it’s time to move on to Step 2: Create a Comparison Report.

Essentially, you want to compare your period of loss to a similar period of time to see what’s faltering. We recommend using at least 28-day reporting periods.

IMPORTANT: Both reporting periods must be the same amount of days. This means you often need to add or remove one day when comparing a month with 29 or 30 days to another month with 31 days.

Let’s say you want to know why you’ve lost significant traffic in March when compared to April.

Go to Google Search Console’s Performance Report, Search Results.

In the Date Range field, switch to Compare.

Select Custom and choose March 1–28 vs February 1–28. Click Apply. Et voila! You now have your comparison report.

how to compare data in search console

It’s worth noting, your comparison periods don’t need to be back-to-back months. You may wish to do a year-over-year report. Or you may even want to compare an overperforming period to an underperforming period.

You can even do the inverse and compare an underperforming period to an overperforming period to try and understand what is going well.

However you set up your comparison period is fine, so long as the number of days are equal.

Step 3: Compare Every Metric Against Every Dimension: Web

With your comparison periods selected, you now want to compare your four metrics against your five primary dimensions.

Your four metrics are:

  • Total Clicks

  • Total Impressions

  • Average CTR

  • Average Position

Your five primary dimensions are

  • Queries

  • Pages

  • Countries

  • Devices

  • Search Appearance

Let’s use Clicks and Pages as an example.

First, select Total Clicks as the metric you want to review and select Queries as the dimension. Click on ‘Clicks Difference’ on the right-hand side to sort from the greatest losses to the greatest gains. See screenshot.

google search console dashboard

From this view, we can quickly identify that we’ve lost 30 clicks from the search query “pedestal search”. Now that I know I’ve lost 30 clicks on this search query, I can click the query to find out which pages I specifically lost it on.

You’ll need to do this for every combination possible, marking down the greatest losses and combination sets. The work is extremely tedious, but it’s the only affective way to understand where the losses are coming from and how to set up your remediation plan.

Step 4: Compare Every Metric Against Every Dimension: Image, Video, Discover, & News

After reviewing all of your metrics and dimensions for ‘Web’ searches (AKA standard SERP results), you’ll need to follow the same process for image and video results. See image.

select search type on google search console

Finally, if your website is performing on Discover or Google News, these reports will be available to you under Performance in the left-hand menu. You’ll want to review all of the dimensions and metrics within these two reports as well.

Step 5: Rule out Consumer Trends With Google Trends

The final step you need to take before you create your remediation plan is to rule out consumer search trends that may have impacted your traffic loss. For example, have world events such as covid-19 changed what and/or the way people are searching within your space?

Google Trends is an entire topic unto itself. However, it’s very important to keep in mind during a traffic loss analysis because changes in user behaviour often require pivots in your SEO strategy. If people stop searching ‘mobile phones’ and instead begin using ‘smartphones’, mobile phone manufacturers may need to adjust their copy to reflect this consumer search trend.

Step 6: Create Your Remediation Plan

At this point in your Google organic traffic loss analysis, you should have an excellent idea of which metrics are experiencing the greatest losses within which dimensions. You should also know if its normal searches, image searches, or video searches that are causing the issue. You may even have identified the loss is happening on Google, Google News, or Google Discover specifically.

With all of the data and insight infront of you, the final step is to create a targeted remediation plan.

We won’t get into specifics here, but you should have a clear list of pages and queries you need to improve. With that in hand, you should go to the page and ask yourself, what could be improved to win back the traffic? Your remediations will be dictated by your analysis. For example, if your average position for a specific search query hasn’t changed, however, the CTR has, you likely need to adjust your CTR variables. For example, we know Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions are the two most important variables that affect CTR and adjusting these could improve this metric.

There are countless tactics you could use to win back your lost traffic. You need to use the data from your analysis and your own knowledge to figure out what the best plan of action is moving forward. If you don’t have much knowledge in this area, you may need to speak to an expert advisor, such as an SEO agency.

Tips to Create an Actionable Remediation Plan

Creating a good remediation plan is a topic for another day. However, here’s some high-level tips you can use when creating yours.

  1. Be specific: What queries have you lost traffic on and for which pages? Do not use vague reference points, like ‘we need to improve the CTR across the site’. This is too broad and you won’t be able to make meaningful changes.

  2. Know the plan: What solution do you believe will help you achieve your goal? For example, if CTR is the issue, perhaps trying out new meta titles and descriptions is the best plan.

  3. Have targets: How much of an improvement do you want to achieve and within what timeframe? For example, ‘I want to increase impressions for X search term by 10% in 3 months.’

  4. Create a Follow-Up Timeline: How long will you wait before checking in on the results of your remediation?

  5. Pivot as Necessary: Resolving traffic loss almost never comes down to one or two simple tricks. If you’re not hitting your remediation targets, you need to be prepared to pivot and try other strategies. Don’t see this step as a failure. See it as part of the process.

Work With an SEO Agency to Resolve Your Traffic Loss

Listen, SEO is hard. The algorithms are complex and the tactics that could potentially improve your performance are substantial. If you don’t know your Core Web Vitals from you Page Experience Scores, it’s best to leave the analysis to a professional. Enter SEO agencies.

SEO agencies like Pedestal Search have the experience, authority, and insider knowledge to help captain your search engine performance. We know what all the best practices are, how to implement trending strategies, and even, worst-come-to-worst, how to conduct a comprehensive traffic loss analysis.

If you want to make real headway into organic search, an SEO agency is likely your best bet. Contact us today for a free consultation. We’ll help you build and execute a results-driven SEO strategy.

Carl Hiehn Senior Account Strategist at Pedestal Search

Carl Hiehn

Senior Account Strategist

With over seven years of digital marketing experience, Carl leads Pedestal's Account Strategist team. He holds a degree in professional writing from York University and a certificate in digital marketing from the University of Toronto. Before narrowing in on SEO at Pedestal, Carl worked as a content writer, social media manager, and digital ads manager in the travel & tourism industry. He has worked at internationally lauded companies such as Intrepid Travel and Outward Bound Canada, as well as boutique businesses such as Out Adventures.