One question we get quite often in our website reviews is whether we can help people recover from the drop they noticed in their rankings or traffic. A lot of the times, this is a legitimate drop and people were actually in a bit of trouble. However, more often than not there wasn’t anything wrong with either the traffic or the rankings.
So today I’ll be explaining where you should and should not be looking when checking whether your site is doing well or not.
My traffic dropped!
We’ve seen quite a few clients who claimed to see a drop in their traffic. On investigation, we could not find any such drop anywhere. When checking your traffic, there’s only one place you need to go: Google Analytics. I don’t really trust any other tool to give me the right analytics or data.
However, Google Analytics isn’t that straightforward, so let me tell you where to look, when looking for a drop due to bad SEO. When looking at overall traffic related to SEO, this is the most important place you need to check (read this post for a more info on SEO in Google Analytics); the Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels section:
This will give you a line chart of your site’s total traffic as well as a complete overview of this traffic divided into different “channels”. A channel is basically a couple of sources (where your visitors come from) grouped into one. So any traffic from either Bing, Google, Yahoo, Yandex or any other search engine will be combined in the channel “Organic Search”. Any traffic from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. will be combined in the channel “Social”.
Do you see a drop in the line chart this metric gives you? If not, you’re probably doing fine. If you are, don’t panic just yet. There are a few things you can do to make sure this drop is actually related to SEO.
Google Analytics gives you the ability to see just the traffic from search engines. There are two ways of doing this. The first is probably the easiest: you just click “Organic Search” in the list:
You’ll now get a line chart and statistics from just this channel. This can be useful, but it also makes it impossible to compare the traffic from this channel with traffic from other channels. So my personal preference is to select the checkbox before the traffic channel I want to view and then click that “Plot Rows” button at the top. This will give you a second line in the line chart, like this:
So the blue line is the total traffic, and the orange line is the traffic from search engines. As you can see, there are some spikes in our total traffic that have nothing to do with our traffic from search engines. So they don’t have anything to do with SEO efforts on our part. These spikes actually came from newsletters and social media.
And it works the same way the other way around: you might have a drop in traffic that has nothing to do with your SEO efforts. Something could’ve gone wrong in your social media, or maybe your newsletter wound up in everyone’s spam folder. So always check for the source of the drop, before blaming it on bad SEO.
Check the right timeframe and period
As you can see in the above screenshot, the graph is set to one point per day and covers a timeframe of about 1,5 month. This is fine if your traffic is steady. However, if your business (and thus your traffic) is more seasonal, this might not be the best timeframe. Put it up to a year or half a year so you can see if your traffic is actually lower than usual around that time.
Also, if your timeframe includes the current month, day or week, please be aware that the last point in your line graph will always be lower. You see the same thing happening in the last screenshot; the last point drops off. This is not because our traffic dropped, this is simply because the last point is today, and today is still not finished and will accumulate a lot more traffic. The same thing goes for weeks and months.
My ranking dropped!
This one is a bit harder to check, unfortunately. The thing is, Google has personalized search. So what shows up for you when you search a specific keyword won’t show up for me. The results are based on your personal browsing behavior and a lot more which I won’t go into here.
We’ve had clients stating they were already ranking #1 for everything they wanted. This can actually happen if you google yourself a lot and only click through to your own site. Long story short, it’s pretty hard to use Google to find out how your rankings are doing. Of course, using Google in a private browser session can give you some indication. In fact, most tools aren’t much more than that; an indication.
A lot of people still cling to the idea of Google PageRank. However, this doesn’t mean anything. Google has deprecated the entire thing as far back as 2009. Google always tried to encourage people to look at other metrics such as Google Analytics. These simply give you far more insight into how your site’s doing.
So simply put: a drop or rise in Google PageRank doesn’t mean your rankings have dropped or risen. It doesn’t really mean anything.
At Yoast, we’re not fan of ranking trackers which give you a very general idea of how your ranking is doing. It doesn’t matter what number website you are in the world compared to all other websites, it matters how you’re doing in your field of work.
Another issue these trackers have is they track all your rankings. This won’t be an issue for everyone, but for us it means that our rankings fluctuate a lot. The cause for this is that we rank well for the term “Google Analytics”. These rankings tend to fluctuate quite a bit and there’s a lot of searching going on for these terms. So every time we drop or rise a bit, the rankings in these trackers shoot up or down as well, even though the users weren’t looking for us.
These tools can give a general indication, but should not be used as anything other than that.
Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is one of the tools that I would recommend using to check how your site’s doing. We explained GWT in detail a few weeks ago, but I’ll just quickly show you where to find the most important metrics:
The Search Queries section shows you how many impressions your site has had and how many clicks resulted from those impressions. An impression is every time your website shows up in the search results the user is looking at. If either of these metrics is going down, you’ll know something is up. Obviously play with the timeframe here as well, so you know for sure it’s not a temporary drop.
Next is the Index Status section:
This metric will show you how many pages are actually indexed in Google. This is obviously an important metric as well, so a steady or rising line is what you’re looking for. If this line is dropping (without you having disallowed pages, for example), this is definitely something to look into.
When you want to check your site’s SEO yourself, I recommend only paying attention to Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Other tools are fine for giving a general idea or indication, but nothing more than that. Be sure to check the things I’ve told you to check so you know for sure it’s an SEO problem. Of course, you could also order a Website Review and have us analyze your website for you ;)
Do you think I’ve missed anything here? Or do you just have some more questions? Let me know in the comments!