5. Analyze which keyword phrases have had a significant decrease in visitors. Now that you’ve filtered out the brand traffic, you should be able to see the keyword phrases that are bringing you the most traffic. If you have lots, you may want to view 100 phrases at a time rather than the default of just 10. Are there lots of keyword phrases that seem to bring far fewer visitors over the last few months as compared to last year at the same time? You may also notice some that are bringing significantly more visitors.
6. Do a quick Google search for the phrases. If you’re not seeing any pages from your site on the first page in Google, it may or may not be a clue (given the fact that everybody sees different search results) but it is definitely a cause to investigate further. If a page from your site does show up fairly high in the líst, it could just be that fewer people are searching for that phrase now as compared to before. Or it could be that your listing isn’t quite what the searcher is looking for based on your title and descriptive snippet. There might also be other results for the keyword phrase that have images or video embedded whereas yours doesn’t. Or there might be local map results showing up that make your result less appealing
7. Review the landing page for the keyword phrase that lost traffic. Is there any obvious reason why it’s not bringing in as many visitors as it used to? Does it even exist anymore? Did it change substantially at some point during the year? Did it get buried deeper into the site architecture for some reason? Is the content duplicated from other pages within your site or contained on other websites? Were there links pointing to it at some point that no longer are? Does the copy read naturally, or are there a few extra instances of the keyword phrase than really makes sense to a person?
8. Review your long-tail traffic. Since the end of April and early May 2010 a few large sites lost a substantial amount of traffic for keyword phrases that brought small numbers of visitors individually, but in aggregate they made up a lot of website traffic. You’ll want to filter your keywords to those that have only a few visitors (even just 1) and see if there are significantly fewer of those than previously. If this is the case, Google has gone on record stating that they’re doing a better job at sending long-tail traffic to more meaningful and relevant pages than they used to. Which means you’ll have to go above and beyond what you’re currently doing if you want to get that long-tail traffic back.
9. Decide if you’re dealing with a search engine penalty. For drastic drops, in the rare cases where it’s not a technical issue, you’re most likely dealing with a penalty. You can check your Google Webmaster Tools account to see if there is a notification of a penalty, but they don’t usually bother to tell you. Still, search engine penalties are much rarer than people think. In fact, most website owners know what they’ve done wrong when they have a search engine penalty. There are some cases, however, where they may have been duped by a less than scrupulous “SEO” company. The penalties I’ve seen seem to occur on sites that have no redeeming value because they have the same products and content that can be found on many other sites (often ones owned by the same company), plus they are deeply entrenched in massive link farms. It’s likely that they are also hosting part of the link farm on their own site in the form of a link directory. If this is what you find, you may be better off to start from scratch rather than trying to salvage the penalized domain.
I hope these steps help you diagnose your loss of traffic. I imagine they will keep you busy for quite some time!
About The Author
Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings and co-founder of SEMNE, has been performing SEO services since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.