Why is my website traffic falling in Google Analytics?

Have you noticed your website traffic falling over the past few years? If you use Google Analytics, you may be seeing a decline in traffic. This might not be a genuine decline. We explore the reasons for this in our article.
26 Apr, 2022

Why is my website traffic dropping?

One of the main success indicators for any website is the number of visitors who reach it. Many website owners consider this the most important measurement of website success. We wouldn’t go that far, as we think engagement and conversions are more important. Total traffic is still an important metric, though, and can be an indicator of overall website health. For example :

  • If your website has been down for any period of time, you’ll see a flatline in your website analytics.
  • If your site is being targetted by spammers or bots (automated robots, some legitimate and some not), you may well see an unusually steep, short-term, spike up in traffic.
  • If you modify your site structure or content, it is useful to see whether the changes have had a positive impact.

So, it is worth tracking your visits and checking in regularly to see whether this particular marketing channel is working for you.

Google Analytics is the most common tool for tracking website visits. It’s free, and relatively easy to install. According to builtwith.com, over 50% of the top 1 million websites use Google Analytics.

What should you do if you see your website traffic falling?

In this article we are going to explore the different reasons why analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, might be showing less traffic than before. We’ll identify some reasons why the decline in traffic might not be real, and others where the fall is genuine, and therefore significant for your business.

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Reasons your Google Analytics traffic might fall

 

1. Tracking code is not properly installed

When you use Google Analytics, you’ll need to insert a script (a piece of javascript code containing your unique tracking id) into your website. This sits in your html and fires every time your page loads. Your web developer or host will be able to help install the code or, if you use a CMS such as WordPress, you can find plugins that allow you to insert your tracking code. The plugin will then insert your script into the right place.

The Problems with tracking code installation

There are many ways that your Google Analytics tracking code (or Google Tag Manager script, if that’s what you are using) can be incorrectly installed. For example, the GA script needs to be placed in your html <head> section, and the GTM script needs to be placed partly in the <head> section, and partly in the <body> section. Any deviation from this can result in your tag(s) not firing.

Caching solutions can sometimes mess with your tracking scripts too. For example, if you are choosing to defer the execution of scripts until the visitor interacts with your page (e.g. by scrolling), then this might cause some visits to be lost.

The tracking code can only execute on pages where it is installed. Check that your tracking code is installed on ALL of your website pages. This is easier to achieve with CMS systems, such as WordPress, but on ‘hand-crafted’ websites, it can be easy to omit the script when adding new pages.

Solution – These problems can be fixed by you and / or your web developer.

2. Tracking code is getting blocked

Your tracking code may be correctly installed, but might still not get fired under certain circumstances.

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More and more internet users are choosing to use browsers (such as ‘Brave’ and ‘DuckDuckGo’), which block tracking scripts.

Solution – How do you analyze traffic drops? Depending on your audience, as much as 50%-60% of visits to your website may be going untracked. There is nothing you can do about this! I decided to go and take a look at our own traffic, for the month of March 2022. Google Search Console showed 47% more organic search visitors than Google Analytics. I then went back to February 2021 and did the same exercise. Back then, Google Search Console reported only 11% more organic search traffic than Google Analytics. So it looks like the gap between reported and actual traffic is getting wider.

Also, if you are using a tracking solution that drops cookies on visitor computers (such as Universal Analytics), you may find that a lot of those visitors opt-out of being tracked – why would you ever opt-in to being tracked, given the choice? If implemented correctly, your tracking script shouldn’t be fired for those visitors who don’t opt-in.

Solution – You may be able to fix this problem by opting for a tracking solution that doesn’t use cookies. Ask your web developer about this.

3. Your web page is ranking well, but not being clicked

The way that search engines have presented results pages has changed a lot over the past few years. Many more searches now result in the searchers question being answered without them having to click through to your website.

The various types of rich snippets seen at the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) means that Google often delivers the answer in the snippet. Searchers can, of course, click through to find out more, but such snippets offering definitions, answers, descriptions, tables and lists very often give the searcher the result they want without needing to go further.

As well as satisfying a query without it resulting in a click, these rich results also push the traditional (and still much-coveted) organic search results further down the screen. We often see examples where a website ranks as high as position 3 in the organic search results, but the user still needs to scroll down the page to see it.

So, your site may still rank as well, or better, than it did a few years ago, but you no longer get the clicks!

If you take a look at the image below, which is a screenshot of a Google search result page, you’ll see that the top organic result appears just before the bottom of the screen. This is on a large screen, and there aren’t any ads displayed at the top (which would push the organic results down even further). Smaller screens would certainly require the searcher to scroll to view the organic results.

These additional rich results have proliferated over the past few years, meaning it has become harder and harder to rank in a traditional way.

Solution – These problems can be tough to fix. Google’s stated aim is to provide the best possible answer to user queries, so rich results are here to stay. If you are in a niche that doesn’t see to many rich results, then that’s fine. Otherwise, you could explore ways of getting your website into those results – take a look at structured data and rich results.

Google SERP with rich result examples

3.1 Don’t forget voice activated search

Virtual assistants use voice technology to increasingly deliver results straight from search engines. Again, the searcher has their query satisfied by your content without them actually clicking through to your website. Although this can still be good for you (e.g. improves brand recognition), it is arguably nowhere near as good as getting the visitor onto your website.

4. Spambot traffic may have artificially raised your earlier traffic

Spambot, or other irregular, traffic can artificially inflate your Google Analytics traffic, especially traffic that is reported as ‘Direct’ in Google Analytics. Check with your web hosts to see whether they have implemented any protection / firewall software that is stopping bot or other traffic getting through to your site now. This will generally be a good thing to do, but will mean that your website will be seeing less traffic now. Just means that your visitor count may have been exaggerated previously!

Solution – Although you can add filters to your Google analytics views to omit some bot traffic, there will always be new ones cropping up – think of it like the traditional whac-a-mole game! – and it won’t remove your historic traffic from this source.

5. Have you changed, or removed, content? Seeing a traffic drop after redesign?

Why did your traffic drop after redesign?

Changing your website content can have a big impact on your search traffic.

Be careful when editing existing pages and posts, in case you weaken the content for search terms that you are already ranking for. This is especially true for those pages which get a lot of search traffic, particularly if that traffic is for relevant search terms. If you want to work on the content of those pages, try to understand what it is about the page that is attracting the search traffic in the first place, and make sure you don’t mess that content up!

If you delete content, don’t forget that links to that content will still exist externally. Certainly, search engines would have the content in their index, and so could still be trying to send traffic to you after the page has been deleted. Other websites may also be backlinking to your (now removed) content. So, you’ll need to make sure that you are redirecting this traffic to a valid page, otherwise your visitors will be landing on the ubiquitous 404 (not found) page

Solution – Make sure that you apply correct permanent redirections when you remove pages, or your urls change. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your website developer. You could also try documenting your page changes as you go, and then checking to see if your traffic drops afterwards. Google analytics offers a useful way of annotating website changes. By doing this, you can see at a glance how your content changes have affected your traffic.

6. Is your content falling out of fashion?

The popularity of certain search terms rises and falls over time. That’s a given. Your Google Analytics traffic might have been higher some time ago due to something that was more trendy back then. If fewer people are searching for that term today, then no matter how well you rank, your traffic will still decline.

Solution – Use a tool like Google Search Console to see how the search volume (impressions) has changed over time for the search terms that deliver most of your traffic. Compare that to your clicks for those same keywords.

7. Has an algorithm change damaged your ranking?

This is a pretty big one!

According to Search Engine Journal, there are now thousands of algorithm changes made by Google every year. Many of those will be minor, and many will affect search results in other countries and languages, but many are also likely to affect your own site ranking for certain search terms.

If nothing else has changed on your website, and you suffer a sudden drop off in organic search traffic, the chances are you have been hit by an algorithm change. 

All algorithm changes are aimed at delivering a better choice of search result for searchers. So, the main thing to remember, to reduce the chances of being hit by an algorithm update, is to focus on providing unique, accurate, insightful content, which loads fast, is easy to find, and attracts inbound links from other reputable sites. Most certainly, don’t use questionable tactics (e.g. keyword stuffing, buying links, plagiarism etc.).

Solution – if you are hit by an algorithm change, try to find out what the change was focusing on, and then adjust your content accordingly. Bear in mind, though, that many algorithm changes are subsequently reversed when Google realise that the change hasn’t had the effect they had hoped. So it’s worth waiting a week or two to see if your traffic comes back again.

Summary

At the end of the day, it’s conversions that really matter. If you have 1,000 irrelevant visitors a day, none of them will convert, sign up to your newsletter, share your content, buy your product or engage your services. All they will do is consume bandwidth, which may slow things down for genuine visitors, and use more server power (which isn’t great for the environment).

So, make sure your website is super relevant for your target audience. This is more important than ever now, as you are likely to get less traffic – so you need to make sure you are bang on for those that do reach you.

If you can find ways to get your content picked up for those rich snippet slots, then that’s a good plan too. Some WordPress plugins, such as Rank Math, can help guide you towards building the right content, with correct schema, to boost your chances. We have been using this plugin for some time, and can certainly help out if you wanted to switch to this from something like Yoast or All-In-One SEO.

 

How do I fix my website traffic?

We’d love to help improve your traffic!

So, drop us a line in the contact form at the bottom of this page or find out more about our SEO plans.

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