Diagnosing a traffic drop? Just breathe!

30-second summary:

  • A traffic drop doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong – in most cases, it is natural
  • All sites have experienced a decline in traffic throughout their lifetime, which can be explained by seasonality, loss of PPC budget, and many other factors.
  • When it comes to organic search traffic decline, it is often caused by stale content, the emergence of new competitors, or the loss of backlinks.
  • To diagnose a traffic drop, identify which traffic source is declining, and find which pages have lost traffic.
  • It is essential to avoid hasty decisions and explore whether you lost any positions and which pages replaced yours.
  • Try to evaluate why this shift has happened and how you may fix it

Have you ever checked your analytics and seen a sudden or gradual decline in organic traffic? Who hasn’t? If there’s one common tt about any marketing stWell of us have often dealt with organic traffic decrease. Any website out there has seen traffic dips, often even regularly.

How do you deal with organic traffic decline when you see something like this in your Google Analytics?

Here are four well-defined steps to take when diagnosing a traffic drop:

Step 1: Check which traffic source was effected

This is obvious, but too many people automatically assume that Google’s organic traffic has dropped.

So ensure it hasn’t been PPC traffic that has exhausted your budget. This happens more than you think!

So assuming it is organic traffic, let’s go on checking:

traffic drop

Step 2: Which page has dropped?

To find out which pages dropped quickly, navigate to your Google Analytics account Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels. Click “Organic” there, and in the date range, check “Compare to,” and in the drop-down, select “Previous period”:

Now scroll down and click the “Landing pages” tab to see all your pages and how this week’s traffic compares to the previous week—no need to scroll a lot here. If you see a traffic dip, chances are your higher-ranking page or pages were affected. So look at the top of the list. Most importantly, if all your pages took a hit, that’s a good reason to worry. This may indicate a site is affected by a recent Google Update or even a penalty (the latter is much less common today). This article lists a few good ways to research whether there was an update and how to evaluate whether you may have been affected. A more common scenario is that you will see some pages dropping. Others will remain intact or even start gaining in traffic. This is a good indicator you shouldn’t be worried about any possible action from Google. Most pages go up and down search engine result pages all the time. Now, you grab the list of declining URLs and research them further.

Step 3: Was there any impact on rankings?

It is not rare: We see a gradual decline in traffic without any noticeable impact on rankings. This was very common in 2020 when search patterns shifted dramatically. And this can still be the case for seasonal questions (think “costumes,” “ski gear”, “swimsuits,” etc.) Two possible reasons can explain this: le don’t search for that query that much anymore.

  • Search engine result pages have added a new search element that steals attention and clicks.

So how do you diagnose if your rankings drop?

This question is harder to answer these days. If you are monitoring your rankings, an obvious step is to check there. Google’s Search Console is another platform to diagnose the ranking drop quickly, not easy to drop. The tool is a little behind in showing data. Still, if you give it some time, you can analyze your rankings, thereby using the “Compare” tab within the “Performance” section of the reports: Once you choose your date range, scroll down to your data and filter it by the “Position difference” column. Mind that all you need to note here is lost or declined first-page ranking because your second-page orders wouldn’t have driven traffic to lose anyway. So again, breathe.

Instead, you can filter Search Console data by “Previous positions” to see, for example, lost #1 rankings:

Another – probably more brilliant – way to diagnose hit queries is to judge by traffic. The search console shows the number of clicks each question sends and compares it to what it used to send. If Google is not the only search engine you are concerned about, using Finteza, you can spot search queries that are sending less traffic than they used to:

Finteza’s default search keyword report consolidates data from all search engines you appear in. You do need it running for some time to accumulate this data. It is easy to integrate. Finteza is paid (costs $25 per 100,000 unique users a month) but is the only web analytics solution offering reliable keyword data. I suggest using all of the above (and more) methods to understand better what is going with your organic traffic. Again, with search personalization and localization, it is very hard to know where you are gaining (or losing) from, so combining data from multiple sources is the key.

Step 4: Identify why these rankings dropped

Here comes another tedious part of our analysis. More often than not, your rankings may fluctuate or drop due to Google finding a better page to rank. This may happen because:

  • Your query deserves freshness, and there is a fresher page that was boosted on top of yours. You’d have gotten used to fluctuations by now if this is the case.
  • Your competitor created a better page that has better backlinks.
  • You have lost some important backlinks, which has led to losing some equity.

Your position monitoring solution may indicate which page has overcome you in SERPs. Most rank monitoring platforms coa me with a “SERP tracking” feature that regularly grabs a snapshot of your important SERPs.

You can monitor your target SERP movements for you, for example:

For high-search-volume queries, SpyFu keeps a record of key SERP movements:

Use link monitoring tools to make it easy to spot your lost backlinks that may have accounted for declined positions. They keep a record of when exactly each link was lost, making it easy for you to evaluate if this may have impacted your rankings and organic traffic: When you know which page is replacing you in search results, try to find why. There can be an array of reasons, including the most common ones (as well as a combination of such):


Keeping your traffic in control is beyond your powers. You can keep an eye on it (building a dashboard would make it easier and more conconsistentnd create a well-set routine for analyzing a possible dip. When you see organic traffic decline or drop, it doesn’t usually mean that your site is under any filter or penalty (which is most often assumed). In most cases, this is a perfectly natural ongoing SERP fluctuation. Stay calm and carefully analyze what has changed (and why). Don’t rush to take any action or fix anything until you check various data sources and take time to develop a strategic plan. And most importantly: Breathe!

Tyson Houlding
I’m a lifestyle blogger with a passion for writing, photography, and exploring new places. I started this blog when I was 18 years old to share what I was learning about the world with family and friends. I’ve since grown into a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer with a growing audience. I hope you find inspiration and motivation while reading through my work!