There are various reasons for a drop in traffic to your site, from your marketing activity, to technical issues, to even just changes in the market. However, sometimes you can spend hours delving into your Analytics and still be none the wiser as to why your organic traffic is dropping.
Occasionally you might just be the victim of a drop in search demand, but if identifying this is difficult, then proving it can be even trickier. Buckle up, folks.
How do I know if it’s search demand?
If you haven’t already, check which channels have dropped, and if it’s search, then carry on reading!
Even within search, there are several explanations for a drop in traffic. The SERPs in your sector may be becoming more competitive, or the apparent ‘drop’ year-on-year may actually be the result of a spike previously.
Other things to think about include whether particular pages are being adversely impacted, whether your engagement stats have changed at all, and what your competitors are doing.
Timings are also important. If your traffic suddenly drops off a cliff one day, then it’s much more likely to be an issue with your site, than a fall in search demand.
How to check
One of the biggest indications can be seen in Search Console:
If you’re seeing a drop in organic impressions (the purple line), without a drop in positions (the orange line), that’s a sign that it might just be lower demand.
The problem with this: As I warned you earlier, this investigation isn’t without its caveats. The problem with the view above is that we’re working with averages, and averages can be notoriously misleading. We could be down on average for five important keywords, but up considerably for one less important keyword, bringing our average position to a consistent level. However, it’s still a very useful checkpoint in your investigation.
Tools like Google Trends and keyword research tools are also very useful for seeing the popularity of search terms over time.
Google Trends allows you to track a graph view of searches for any given term over different periods of time, e.g. the past 24 hours, right back to the last five years.
Keyword research tools will give you the amount of searches per month and a percentage increase or decrease.
The screenshot above shows the popularity of the term ‘SEO’ over the past four years.
The problem with this: it only looks at specific terms, not ‘terms including’ like Search Console does. While Google Trends is showing that ‘SEO’ is on the decline, it’s feasible that phrases including the word ‘SEO’ are increasing – perhaps because ‘SEO’ on its own indicates that someone may be looking for a definition or brief overview, and by late 2023 it’s been around long enough that most searches for it now are more advanced.
What else should you consider?
Common sense – we’re currently in a cost of living crisis, and if your product or service is non-essential and your audience is one that’s been hard hit, then common sense would dictate that search demand might be lower. This coupled with a drop in organic impressions but consistent SERPs, perhaps complemented by some data from Google Trends, would probably be enough to make me fairly confident that demand has just taken a little bit of a hit.
Population growth – while this isn’t going to have a huge impact, if you’re looking back as far as five years ago, and seeing a very small increase, be mindful that the population itself is growing.
What are people doing instead?
If there’s no obvious reason for a decline in search demand, such as above, but you’re convinced there are fewer searches taking place, then it’s time to find out either what people are searching instead, or where they’re searching instead.
The screenshots below show a decline in searches for ‘SEO agency’ and a rise in ‘Digital PR agency’. Obviously there is a difference between the two, but a lot of the time people searching for and enquiring about the two are looking for the same thing. They want to improve visibility and gain links to help their performance in the search engines. It’s important to know what language your potential audience is currently using. If the demand has slowed on one search term, it may well have picked up for something else.
It’s also very possible that people are still using the search term that you’ve lost traffic for, they’re just not using Google for it. Search is wider than just Google, and certain industries are seeing platforms like TikTok becoming increasingly important from a search perspective (but that’s a blog for another day!)
If you’re having the opposite problem and have some unexplained spikes in traffic, give this a read instead.