How to Assess Traffic Drops in Google Analytics

How to Assess Traffic Drops in Google Analytics

Anna Kowalska

There’s few things worse for the webmaster than logging into Google Analytics and seeing a drop in traffic. It’s a sobering experience which often leads to blind panic. How could this happen? Was it an external factor, or worse, an error on your side?

Either way, the mystery of this sudden decline needs to be uncovered. Fortunately, the very tool which brought this to your attention can offer an explanation. Here’s how to diagnose a dip in traffic using Google Analytics.

Analyse the line graph

Firstly, you’ll want to calm yourself and look at the line graph with a critical eye. It clearly shows a decline, but how sharp is that decline? A few more questions should be asked: has the traffic recovered? Did the traffic only lower for a short period?

Answering these can offer some useful insights. Take for example, a sudden drop in users which doesn’t appear to be recovering. That would most likely be a Google penalty, whereas a gradual dip and then rise could be due to technical issues.

Consider traffic sources

Next you’ll want to look closely at where you’re losing visitors by checking the traffic sources. There are several subcategories to consider. These include ‘Direct’ visitors which arrive at your site by typing in the URL; ‘Organic’ which arrive from a search engine such as Google; ‘Paid’ which have clicked on a banner add or AdWords; ‘Referral’ which implies those from partner sites or affiliates; and finally ‘Social’ who come from Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.

Discovering which of these took the hit can narrow your investigation further. If it’s organic, it could be a Google Penalty. A decline of direct visitors may be due to rival activity – a competitor launching a sale or discount.

Is there a difference with new and returning users?

The ‘New vs Returning’ section can be found under the ‘Audience’ reports section of the ‘Behaviour’ tab. While the previous tip gave you an insight into where users are coming from, this enables you to see who your visitor are. A disparity between new and returning visitors could provide the solution.

A decline in the new users may uncover a problem with the way their accessing your site externally. Possibly keywords are lacking or you have been penalised. On the other hand, a decline in returning users would suggest a poor user experience, meaning they are clicking away. This could be due to 404 errors or technical problems causing slow site speed.

Utilise the compare tool

While it can be shocking to see a radical drop in traffic, is it really that bad? It’s important to look at the bigger picture before damning your efforts or cursing rivals. By using the Google Analytics calendar, you can compare this current performance against other time periods and even cross reference the same point last year.

This is useful as you may uncover a similar drop in traffic during the same month. It’s nothing to worry about, simply a seasonal trend which as the calendar shows, will gradually pick-up again. This can be all that’s needed to give reassurance and banish that dread.