Diagnosing traffic decline: coming out on top of big Google updates 

If you’ve seen some fluctuations in your website traffic, you’re not alone.

In March, Google rolled out a large update and a number of changes to the way it ranks websites.

In some ways, this isn’t news: Google is constantly working to improve its algorithms. However, every now and then the search engine giant rolls out bigger “core” updates like the one that recently went live. And March was one of the big ones.

So what was new about this particular update? 

  1. It targeted websites with high volumes of low-quality, AI-generated content
  2. It targeted websites that use spammy SEO practices

Some websites have had their organic traffic completely wiped out due to this update – they can still be accessed, but they disappeared from search overnight. 

Hopefully, you’ve not experienced anything catastrophic like this.

But if you have seen a decline in your website traffic, here’s how to evaluate whether the recent updates could be affecting your content – and what to do about it.

Where to look for declining traffic

Google Analytics or a dashboard like Looker can provide you a quick overview of where your traffic stands. This should help alert you to any major drops that you need to take quick action on.

Google Search Console or more advanced filters in Google Analytics can provide you more granular data, which is what we use to dig into the details.

Google Search Console is one of the best tools for collecting and analyzing SEO data for your websites. 

Looking for extreme drops

When looking at your website traffic, extreme drops in traffic are one of the big red flags. This might signal that you’ve been affected by a Google update, or (more positively) it could simply indicate that something is off with your tracking.

Sudden drop to zero: you probably have an analytics issue

Recently, the traffic of one of my client’s websites suddenly dropped down to zero. To me, this was a sign of  analytics issue rather than impact from an update.

Sure enough, when we looked into it, we saw that was simply an issue with the code on the website. 

This is actually not the worst scenario, as it’s usually an easy fix — but you do want to jump on it right away. The problem is that you aren’t collecting website data, and you won’t be able to get this data back later.

If Google Analytics or another tracking tool shows that your traffic has suddenly gone all the way down to zero and stays there, you likely have traffic on your website, but your tracking tool isn’t reporting it. This is something you want to address right away so that you can have accurate website data.

Sudden drop in traffic or alerts from Google Search Console: you might have a bigger issue

A more serious scenario is if you have an extreme drop in traffic, but there’s not an easy tracking answer.

Maybe your site has been completely de-indexed from search … or maybe you’ve gotten a “manual action” warning from Google.

This could be due to using high volumes of low-quality/ mediocre AI content, or it could be due to some dubious tactics your SEO team is using (intentionally or not).

You’ll probably notice the impact of this quickly, but here’s what you should double-check:

Getting completely de-indexed (not good!)

If your site has suddenly been de-indexed, this probably means Google has targeted your website in these latest updates. 

The quick test is to type “site:yourdomain.com” into Google’s search bar and see what comes up. 

If you see many pages from your site, your site should still be appearing in search results.

If you see zero results, your site may have been de-indexed by Google. Call an expert!

Manual action

If Google has flagged your website, you may receive a notification that you’ve been violating its policies. This is called a “manual action” and you can find it in Google Search Console. 

It’s very important to take manual actions seriously and to address them right away.

The tricky thing about manual actions is that sometimes Google tells you what the issue is, but sometimes they don’t. Either way, you’ll want an SEO expert to help you address the issue.

This is what a manual action looks like in Google Search Console. 

Sudden extreme drop in traffic 

It’s normal for traffic to fluctuate from month to month. But if you’re noticing a major drop in your organic search traffic (say, 30% or more), you’ll want to call in an expert to investigate further. 

Before working with Blue Griffin, a client noticed an extreme drop in search traffic. We diagnosed the issue, and have since helped the client more than double their web traffic through SEO and quality content.

Even if you notice a smaller decline, an SEO expert will help you make an action plan to get your site back on track, and grow over time.

Next, evaluate your content publication schedule

If you do notice a small to modest decline in traffic, consider whether you’ve kept your publication schedule consistent. 

Did you publish the same volume of content in March as in previous months? And did you distribute it as much as you did in previous months (i.e. sending the content out on your email newsletter and publishing it on LinkedIn)?

If the answer is no, then that could be the source of your problem, more so than updates on Google’s side.

If your content has been consistent but you still noticed a traffic decline, then keep digging. 

Signs to re-evaluate or refresh your content

If you’ve kept your content schedule consistent but you still notice a small to modest traffic decline, then you may have experienced mild impacts of the Google update. 

There are a few things you can do.

  • Look for patterns: what do declining pages have in common?
  • Look for traffic decline on specific pages: it may be time to update or improve the page if it hasn’t been updated recently
  • Overall, consider your content quality: if the content doesn’t genuinely help your audience, it’s probably time to update or retire the page

An SEO content specialist can help you refresh and improve the quality of your content.

What to work on: next steps 

If you see any of the red flags we discussed on your site, get in touch with an SEO specialist right away. Blue Griffin can help you with this — in one recent case, we turned around a website with declining traffic and they’ve 4Xed their traffic over the past year.

But if you’ve come out of the algorithm changes without much damage, there are still action steps you can take to keep moving forward. First, keep an eye on traffic fluctuations to stay on top of algorithms. Next, prioritize publishing quality, authoritative content that’s “helpful” to your audience. 

Don’t forget to keep your content publication schedule moving — your content only works when you publish it! And finally, keep your relevant content refreshed and up-to-date.

This is easier said than done, of course, and most businesses need help with their SEO and content publication. 

If you need help with any of these points, get in touch with Blue Griffin to discuss your content marketing and SEO needs.

Rebekah Mays

Rebekah Mays

Rebekah Mays is an SEO content specialist and content marketer with over 7 years of experience. She helps Blue Griffin’s clients build SEO strategies and implement content that drives traffic and leads for a thriving business.