eCommerce is a big arena. The online retail competition is intense and managing an eCommerce business is in itself a tedious task. There are so many scenarios and things that an eCommerce business owner must keep in mind just to ensure that his business is not just functioning well but is also providing a positive ROI. An eCommerce store’s health is pivoted on the traffic it receives and if traffic is affected, one will have a lot to worry about.
There are many reasons why a store’s traffic may drop or experience a sudden plunge. A traffic drop might be a major one and/ or a gradual drop that can happen over a period of weeks or even months. Website migration related changes result in consistent traffic drop. We’ve covered these points one by one based on our hands-on experience with Ecommerce Clients.
In this post, we’ll list some of the factors we believe lead to a drop in traffic. To classify them better we have categorized these features into : Evident and Evasive. Needless to say that the second category of the not so obvious/ evasive reasons is challenging to hunt down and enlist. However, the task is not so impossible and can be easily tackled with a little patience and some precision.
a) Evident factors of a drop in traffic are those that are fully known to a website owner. These factors are least likely to surprise you and they are most probably the result of a technical anomaly or some budget mismanagement or constraint. These reasons are pretty much self-evident and are easily identifiable the minute there is a significant fall in traffic.
- Google Algorithm Update or Penalty: An update by Google may hit your website due to a recent Algorithmic update. For e.g. your website can be penalized due to some manual action or spam backlinks. Make sure to follow ethical SEO Guidelines to avoid such unexpected penalties. It is important to know that recovery from a Google penalty that has affected traffic may take weeks, sometimes months, and in some very rare cases even years.
- Noindex Tag on the Website: This is the most common coding mistake. Your Developer added Noindex tag on the meta header. Make sure to check your website for such avoidable errors that can impede traffic to the website. We tackled a similar problem a while back with a WooCommerce site. The client’s previous development company had turned on the Noindex, Nofollow tag for a lot of pages and forgot to turn it off. This erased all the pages from Google SERPs and traffic to its pages was nearly zero!
- Google Analytics setup: Sometimes the Google Analytics code is not placed or visible on all pages. If you see a drop in traffic in Google Analytics, you can double check your page code and cross check this with the stats obtained from Search Analytics. If Search Console is reporting Impressions/Clicks but Google Analytics Organic Traffic shows a different story and the discrepancy between the two is significantly high, then this means that there is something wrong with the Google Analytics setup. GA code should be present on all pages on the <head> section. You can also use GTM code to manage this more efficiently.
- Robots.txt file: The robots.txt file could be used to manage crawl budget effectively and control bot behavior to a major extent. But adding one wrong instruction can result in a huge loss of organic traffic. You might end up blocking a whole category, folder or even the entire website in a worst case scenario. For eg. a Robots.txt instruction User-agent: * Disallow: / can block the entire website. Make sure that you didn’t block this by mistake in first place.
- Website/Domain Migration: Traffic can also drop if you migrated your website to a different platform or a domain recently. According to different case studies, a website may witness upto 60% fall in traffic due to website migration. Make sure that you have followed the recommended SEO procedure during this transition and are not suffering the brunt of avoidable oversights. Make sure you check all those 301 Redirects, Code Changes, and Canonical tags. There are many variables that influence a successful website migration.
- Canonical Tags: Canonical tags are one of the most important SEO tags. They prevent duplicate content issues by informing the search engine about the preferred version of web pages that needs to be indexed. In case you observe a drop in traffic, make sure you thoroughly check on your canonical tags and implement them correctly. In many cases, Webmasters can point to the wrong canonical versions which can be detrimental to the traffic. Canonical tags, if implemented correctly can be of great help and can keep the onsite content duplication issues at bay while ensuring that a drop in traffic is handled well too.
- Search Console and Bing Webmaster Notifications: Google has been very active from the last few years and uses this tool to communicate with the Webmasters. Daily evaluate your Search Console and Bing Webmaster to observe data or any new messages so that you remain on top of data and other notifications. Make sure that you have not entered the website URL under the Remove URLs section. Google can remove the website or a specific page for 90 days (temporarily).
- Domain Name/Hosting renewal issues: Your Hosting/Domain Name company sends a domain name renewal request close to the renewal period. Every website has to renew its domain name attribution just like any other subscription to a service. Make sure you renew your domain name or the hosting provider to avoid a sudden shutdown of your website! Add this to your to-do list and renew your plan before the date of renewal arrives.
b)Evasive faactors: The reasons listed above are not only easily detectable but also redeemable to a large extent. The list of reasons that fall under the evasive category are a bit trickier.
These are the factors that are difficult to catch or control. Consider this, if you are entering a lean period for your eCommerce store, there will be a slight decline in traffic reaching your store but because seasonal trends are beyond the control of the store owners, we cannot do much. Similarly, increasing competition in an industry is another factor that we’ll have to be conscious of without the expectations of overriding its influence immediately. Like these, there are other factors that we need to closely monitor so as to minimize the damage they are likely to cause.
So Let’s begin:
- HTTPS Platform: For an Ecommerce Store, HTTPS has become a critical SEO factor. It is also significant for users. Google has warned webmasters against using HTTP. These warning messages can be seen in the Search Console. So, if your Google Analytics is showing a decrease in traffic or conversions, the absence of HTTPs could be the reason behind this. Starting Oct 2017, Google Chrome will trigger warning messages for HTTP websites that may process any forms on their site. Similarly, if you have migrated to an HTTPs platform recently but couldn’t incorporate all important migration requirements such as the SSL Certificate Validation, 301 Redirects and Canonicalization etc. that could also result in a decline in traffic. Make sure to follow proper SEO steps during HTTPs migration. To ensure that your HTTPS migration is smooth and without incidence, go through our complete guide to HTTPs migration list.
- Products Inventory: This one is a little tricky and difficult to measure. 80% of pages on an eCommerce store are product pages. Discontinuation of a bestseller or a high traffic product can majorly affect traffic. We observed in most of the cases, Webmasters or site owners choose to disable/delete discontinued product pages which results in a 404 error. Now imagine if this product was a source of high traffic for the website, it would not only cause a drop in traffic but also severely impact the conversion rate. A good way to manage discontinued products is to 301 redirect them to the closest matching Category/Sub-Category page. This preserves the SEO value of those particular pages to a large extent and provides a better experience to visitors landing from Google or other referral links. Below are the list of steps that an Ecommerce Store can follow to manage discontinued products for a Magento Store. After receiving notification from the Vendor/Manufacturer that a particular product has been discontinued, make sure:
- The product is set “discontinued” to “Yes”
- The “Short Description” is changed to “This product has been discontinued by the manufacturer and is no longer available for sale.”
- The product is removed from all the categories
- The visibility of the product is changed to “Search”.
- Retain the meta tags for discontinued products.
- Remove the product from Amazon/eBay/PLA.
- Remove any product relationship associations.
- If the page is still sending positive signals to Google/providing a positive SEO benefit, the page should be left alone and be re-evaluated in 2 months.
- If the page is no longer sending positive signals to Google or is harming SEO, the page will be 301’d to another relevant page. The new page should be the closest matching Category or a Sub-Category page.
- Change the visibility of all 301’d products to “Not Visible Individually”.
So the next time you notice an unexplained drop in traffic or revenue, scrutinize the traffic on the product pages and see if you observe an anomaly.
- Investment in more than one Marketing Channel: A wise strategy is to allocate your budget to all traffic-generating channels such as Organic, Paid, Referral, Social, Email Marketing etc. In Ecommerce, traffic may show a downward trend if any of these marketing channel is not performing as anticipated. For e.g. if you reduce the budget of your Paid Campaigns to half, you may see a monumental decrease in Direct traffic. It is important to review the marketing budget spent from time to time (recommended: monthly basis). It is also a wise step to disable/pause Paid campaigns if the website is down or under maintenance mode. Do not forget to check the performance in the Google Analytics Marketing channels to get an even better idea of the traffic. You can even set email alerts for traffic limits on different channels performance.
- Website Pagespeed: If it takes more than 3 seconds to load, no one is likely to stick around. No matter how good your website design is and what crazy discounts you might be offering! Big ecommerce giants like Amazon, Zappos invest insane amount of funds to make sure their sites load up fast. A decent pagespeed is important for all kinds of websites but for Ecommerce business it is indispensable! Pagespeed has a direct relation with Coding and Server Management. There are tons of articles and case studies about how an optimal pagespeed makes a huge difference to the performance of a website. Tools such as Google Pagespeed tool, Pingdom, and several others help identify areas that require improvement. Even Google Analytics reports pagespeed stats.
If you have introduced a new section on the website, made some changes in the code etc. these can cause pagespeed issues. Make sure to test Pagespeed with every major coding change going live on a website. Along with this, one should also think of improving website load time. In Ecommerce, it is quite easy to execute. You just need to improve page load speed of the home page, a single category page, and a single product page. Since the product page template is usually same for all products, any tweak made in one will be reflected sitewide.
- Mobile Friendly and Usability issues: Traffic from mobile devices is increasing at an exceptionally high rate.Google too is expected to make the Mobile First index live by 2018. This means that you need to take care of all mobile-friendly aspects such as responsiveness, mobile UI, UX etc. After the HTTPS switch, being mobile ready is the next major thing in Ecommerce you should be prepared for. If your website’s mobile interface is different from the desktop version then you need to pay attention to this discrepancy and sort it immediately. A website with bad bounce rate, low Average time, and low revenue could be a result of issues with mobile usability. One can simply check this using a traffic analysis tool. Google Analytics provides mobile traffic stats which are reliable and necessary to sustain the performance of your website on a mobile device. It is recommended that you make a separate Filter for Mobile Traffic and regularly keep tabs on it. Website Signup Forms, Checkout Cart, and all other important sections must be Mobile friendly. If your website is still not mobile friendly, then time has come to implement this crucial SEO step for the sake of better usability.
- Seasonal Traffic up and down: Seasonal traffic can make a huge difference to the ROI and the revenue of an online business. An online fashion retailer’s website selling swimwear may witness dramatic traffic drops in winters and equally dramatic increases during summers. This is one of the factors we do not have a direct control over. We can only be prepared when entering into the peak or non-peak traffic season and make sure that the marketing budget (Paid to be more specific) is adjusted accordingly. One of our clients grew his organic traffic by about 30% by just adding seasonal/year based keywords on the website. Also, it is important to note that it is not just about changes in seasons but, weekdays (working days and weekends) can also show upward and downward spirals in traffic. Hence, it is better to compare your traffic with that of the previous year (Year over Year Comparison) for a specific duration.
- Website Backlinks: Google‘s Penguin update which emphasized on the quality of backlinks affected more than 2% search results.. For SEOs, backlinks are an important concern. If you have observed your organic traffic dropping lately, then this could be due to the Google Penguin real time update. Make sure that you have cleansed/disavowed bad quality links. There are several tools available to help you with this. We work with Majestic but Ahrefs is equally good. Google backlinks data from Search Console can also give you top backlinks. But it is restricted to only 1000 domains.
Also, audit your backlinks profile periodically. Try earning high quality backlinks using competitive analysis and publishing value rich content to attract backlinks. Your content will act as a magnet for high authority websites/blogs/forums. Do not engage in any unethical link activities that can cause organic traffic loss and that too permanent. Another scenario is if you have accidently disavowed good backlinks in Search Console. The Google disavow tool is powerful and one needs to be cautious with it.
- Checkout Page is dysfunctional: The checkout page is a key component of an online store. If you witness a drop in revenue and a low trend in returning visitors, one reason could be that there are Checkout page issues. Make sure that your Checkout Cart has SSL Certificate and is working perfectly (100% uptime). Customers should not face any problem placing an order on the website. If you observe a drop in traffic, you can check the Checkout page views trend. Customer support message is another method where you will be notified immediately if a customer had trouble placing or completing an order.
- Blogging: Most eCommerce Stores own a Blog to announce updates about products, deals, and discounts. Blogging is great way to engage with your customers and increase brand loyalty. Blogging, if done right helps increase both traffic and conversion. If you observe a drop in traffic, it could also be related to sporadic blogging. Blogging should be frequent, consistent, and of high quality which is user oriented. Moz has written a great blog post about the frequency of Blogging and choosing blog topics (link here). Ecommerce Blogs are usually set up on WordPress which everyone seems to be familiar with these days. Make sure that Blog URLs are not blocked by the Robots.txt file or carry the Noindex tag. You can review your monthly Blogging performance and create a content strategy for your brand/ products. Check your Blog traffic on a weekly basis and set alerts too.
- Product page Reviews: Product page reviews (user generated content) populate product pages in the right way. The content influx generated by reviews results in better rankings and conversions. Make sure that your product reviews are optimized to match SEO guidelines so as to reap complete benefits.. Embed product reviews and have canonical tag pointing to Parent Product page. A lot of the Ecommerce Stores use 3rd party Review system. If you notice a sudden drop in traffic or revenue of product pages, it is quite possible that it could be due to missing reviews. A glitch in product reviews display, even if temporary, can make hundreds or thousands of reviews disappear in an instant. It is recommended to host reviews using the platform that the store is built on. This will give you full control over reviews. If possible, avoid using 3rd party reviews and make sure that products are getting user reviews. If the traffic on your product pages is declining, it could very well be the result of less/low number of users reviews. Amazon.com has been able to outperform many Ecommerce players because of the prolific number of reviews it garners.
- Rich Snippets not configured properly: Rich snippets stand out among the SERPs, and hence are crucial for eCommerce stores. They can result in better click-through rate (upto 30%) for an Ecommerce Store. To rank for Rich Snippets is not easy and requires a store to qualify for many parameters. Also, if you had tried but received a Search Console message about Google manual spam action for Rich snippets, you will see organic traffic drop. Make sure that your rich snippets for store have been implemented correctly. There is a Google penalty (manual action) for spam against Rich Snippets. You can test your Rich Snippets using the Google official tool here – https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/
- Sudden Spike in Server/Crawl Errors: Search Console and a few other paid tools give great insights on the website’s health vis-a-vis crawl errors. Website Server migration could result in a sudden spike in the server errors in a website. If you are noticing a fall in traffic or a low average time check crawl errors section in the Search Console, you want to contact your Server team to resolve these errors immediately and re-submit the sitemap for a quick re-indexing. Although, crawl errors should not harm the rankings yet they can impede an organic increase in traffic.
- Identify Drop in Traffic using Segments – by Device, by Geolocation, by Country, by Landing Page, by Channel, by Visitor Type (New vs Returning). This requires you to analyze your traffic analysis tool – say Google Analytics. You want to filter you data based on a few important metrics like Device, Geolocation, Landing Pages, Traffic Channel, and Visitor type. By applying these conditions, you can check if there’s a specific area where a downfall in traffic is reported.
- By Device – Website might not be performing well for mobile visitors. The device filter will segregate traffic data based on different device types – Desktop, Mobile, Tablet etc. From here on you can further dig deeper into different Device types to find out the reasons behind the drop in traffic.
- By Region – Sometimes, a marketing campaign might not perform well in a particular country. This is a very common factor that hinders growth in SEO/Organic traffic. For e.g. a business in Google.co.in may perform well but not in European countries. By applying, geographical filters you can sort the traffic based on country, state or city. This will help you analyze the actual reasons behind slow or falling traffic in a particular geo location. You can take this one step further by also applying a City filter.
- By Landing Page – Landing Page is a great source for tracking traffic. This is one of our favorite hacks too! Landing pages are the primary/key factors attracting traffic. A deletion of a few pages may cause a drop in traffic drop. You can check the landing page data daily, weekly, or even monthly. An easy way to find the reason behind the change in traffic is to simply compare these landing pages and look for unexpected trends.
- By Channel – Channel is the most common factor that decides daily traffic trend. A recent Email Campaign may boost overall traffic but as time passes, it contributes less to positive gains in traffic and eventually becomes a negligible source of traffic generation. It is important to know the performance of all marketing channels. For more advanced tracking, you can set up Google Analytics alerts to check performance decline of specific channels.
- By Visitor Type – There are 2 type of visitors i.e. New and Returning and as a webmaster, you should have knowledge about all kinds of visitors coming to your store. Many online businesses focus and invest in returning visitors. This shows the brand/website’s love for the users who show their loyalty to the brand. Blogging, News, Special Offers, Remarketing, and Newsletters are known channels to invest in order to increase the number of returning visitors to your store.
These are some of the factors that can reveal the truth behind unanticipated drops in traffic. However, there can be multiple areas subject to modifications and user interactions which may also influence traffic. These include website redesign, the addition of new sections, products inventory, negative reviews about Website/Brand, Paid Marketing budget, holidays, global events etc. There will be some things that you can control and others which would be beyond your power. So make sure that you perfect all things that are in your control and aim for a foolproof monitoring of the traffic on your website.
Let us know if you think there is an important point we missed out on. We would be happy to add it to this list. Looking forward to your comments.