Has there been a shift in your site’s organic performance that’s got your wheels spinning? Did rankings inexplicably drop from Page 1? Are conversions slowing to a crawl? Is the three-month traffic bleed suddenly alarmingly apparent? As Google’s algorithms become less announced and more nebulous, it can be easy to allow paranoia and chaos to take hold. But remain calm! We’ve all been there.
Seeing a decline in your performance isn’t ideal, but diagnosing the cause will help to inform a stronger strategy for the future and turn you into a seasoned SEO strategist in the process. So, allow me to figuratively hand you a detective hat and magnifying glass and step through our Decline Analysis Checklist. Together, we can identify the issue and set you up for a successful Performance Decline Action Plan.
The Decline Analysis Checklist
Before we point fingers at an algorithm update, review the following to narrow down the suspect list and identify potential culprits for the shift in your organic traffic performance.
- Confirm the decline is valid. I’m looking at my analytics views correctly, removed filters and adjusted date ranges that might be skewing data.
- Identify the pages being impacted. Understand if this decline is rippling throughout the site or can be attributed to one section or category.
- Check for scheduled site updates. Double-check with the development or client team that there weren’t any redirects or migrations that they forgot to mention.
Check Google Search Console for any major indexing errors in the following reports:
- Performance (Clicks, Impressions, CTR & Position)
- Coverage (404s, 503s, Excluded pages)
- Mobile Usability
If everything looks OK in Search Console, check the rest of the items below:
- Run a PageSpeed Test. Make sure your site isn’t getting bogged down
- Check for algorithm or other industry-wide updates. Check for both SEO & PPC updates.
- Review the SERPs. Look for any new rollouts of featured snippets, competitors, local listings, paid ads or newsworthy updates that could affect visibility down.
- Check for seasonal trends. Look at potential season shifts comparing the current year to the previous 2 or 3.
- Review channel impact. Is the decline just for organic traffic or is there a similar impact across paid, direct or referral traffic? Review for any cross-channel milestones or campaign changes that could impact organic performance.
- Review tracking. Check-in on tags or any major changes that could have caused breaks in tracking.
- Check for spam or hacks. Look for suspicious traffic or potential security breaches
- Check your backlinks. Review for spammy backlinks or a sudden decline in links.
- Check Google Trends. Run your brand name or most impacted terms to see if there has been a decline in interest or any new trends on the rise.
- Go through your conversion funnel. Check if there are any bugs or issues preventing goal completions that would be causing users to abandon carts or leave the page.
The Decline Analysis Toolbox
Keep the following tools in your arsenal for collecting evidence and monitoring for changes before, during and after you start your analysis.
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Adobe Analytics
- Google Data Studio
- Google Adwords, Acquisio, SEMRush and Archive.org
- SEMRush, GetSTAT, Conductor, Ahrefs
Site Changes & Link Alerts:
- Google Alerts
- Wayback Machine/Archive.org
Once you’ve run through this checklist and leveraged these tools to inform your research, you should have a much clearer understanding of the culprit(s) that may hinder performance. Sometimes it’s cut and dry, like an accidental block in your robots.txt file or an accidental 301 redirect. If that’s the case, make sure you annotate the issue that was identified across your tracking platforms and when it was successfully resolved. You’ll thank yourself later!
But if this checklist only revealed more questions or a complicated diagnosis, stay with us and check out our next post on how to Create a Performance-Based Action Plan.
Bonus Pro-Tip: Getting in Front of Declines
You can trim down the time you spend running through the checklist if you’re able to eliminate issues early on. Check out these pro-tips on staying on top of performance and changes in your industry:
- Set up Google Alerts for your brand + your top 5 competitors
- Set up custom alerts in Google Analytics to receive notifications for sudden drops in traffic
- Register your top priority pages on VisualPing to receive email notifications for page changes. **Add your competitor’s top pages to monitor for new content or features