Diagnosing Traffic Drops During a Crisis: Was It You, Google, or the Whole World?

Posted by Dr-Pete

We want to fix things and believe we’re in control. When your room is replenishing with irrigate, you grab a barrel. If there’s a hole in your roof, the bucket might help. If your submerge is overflowing, the barrel is agitating you from the real problem. If the river is overflowing, that distraction could be deadly.

When traffic is falling, it’s easy to panic and focus on what you can control. Traffic isn’t really a nice-to-have — it settles food on the table and the ceiling over your principal that keeps the water out. In the haste is resolved, though, we often don’t make the time to validate the problem we’re solving. Fixing the wrong question is at best a waste of time and coin, but at the worst could increase the crisis.

In any crisis, and extremely a global one, the first question you need to ask is: is it only me, or is it the whole world? The refute won’t magically solve your problems, but it can hinder you from spawning costly mistakes and start you on the path to a solution. Let’s start with a fundamental question 😛 TAGEND (1) Did your congestion truly plunge?

My “fundamental” question might sound like a stupid question, especially given the wide impact of the COVID-1 9 pandemic, but it’s important to remember that traffic fluctuates all the time — there are weekends and seasonality and plateau, age-old regression to the mean. What goes up must come down, and as much as we’d like it is correct, business is not perpetually up and to the right.Using Google Analytics, let’s consider some routes we can validate a traffic droop. Here’s four weeks of GA data( March 1-28) for a site which was seriously impacted by COVID-1 9 😛 TAGEND

Given the known timeline of COVID-1 9( the WHO declared it a pandemic on March 11 ), the issue is as clean a picture of a traffic drop in the presence of a known movement as you’re going to get. Most places are far messier. Even now, we’ve got the impact of weekends and day-to-day fluctuations. One rapid path to get a cleaner view is to summarize the data by week( make sure your date-range shields full weeks, or this data will be skewed ).

The trend is much clearer now. In a two week period, this site lost more than half of its traffic. I’m restricting the timeline for clarity, but as we muster more data, we can validate the trend pretty easily. The graph above deals all traffic informants. From an SEO perspective, let’s add in a traffic segment for Google traffic 😛 TAGEND

This graph is just eight data points, but it tells us a lot. First, we can clearly see the trend. Second, we can see that the trend is almost identical for both Google traffic and overall commerce. Third, we can see that this site is very dependent on Google for traffic. Don’t underestimate what you can learn from small data, if it’s the privilege data.

This isn’t meant to be a GA primer, but let’s look at one last-place question: Is this traffic drop seasonal? Typically, your own industry experience and thought would come into play, but one speedy acces to recognize this is to compare year-over-year traffic. One observe: coincide your full weeks so that you’re treating the same amount of weekdays vs weekends. In this case, I’ve altered the 2019 wander to the four full weeks of March 3-30 …

This isn’t the easiest graph to read, and I probably wouldn’t positioned it in a report to a client, but you can see from the green and purple wrinkles that both overall traffic and Google traffic for this place was pretty flat last year during March. This really does seem to be an unusual statu. Even if we knew nothing about the context and COVID-1 9, we could tell from just a few minutes of analysis that something serious is going on here.

(1b) Did your ranks fell?

As a probe purveyor, and given that we’ve clearly quantified a Google traffic decline, the next question is whether this discontinue were attributed to a loss of rankings( we’ll get to other explanations in a few moments ). In Moz Pro, one quick-witted room to assess overall weekly exploration visibility is to use either the main view under “Rankings” or go to the “Competition” tab. I like the competitive notion, because you can quickly see if any mutates affected your broader industry …

I’ve streamlined this view a little bit( and removed the site’s and competitors’ figures for privacy rationalizations ), but the basic story is clear — neither the site in question nor its opponents seemed to have any drop in visibility during March.

For a richer panorama, go back to the “Rankings” tab and adopt “Rankings”( instead of “Search Visibility”) from the drop-down. You’ll determine a graph that appears something like this …

This visualization takes some getting be applicable to, but it contains a asset of information. The prohibits represent total grading keywords/ utterances, and the pigment blocks register you the grading array( interpret the tale ). Now we can see that overall higher-rankings have been relatively stable, with even some small-time amplifications in the #1-3 bucket.

If your detail is connected to Google Analytics, you can also overlay traffic during the same period, which is shown by the dark gray line. Dual-scale diagrams can get tricky, but this visualization actually makes it clear that there’s a incongruity between the traffic drop for this site and their hunting rankings.

(2) Did Google do something ?!

Usually, when we ask[ request/ shout/ sobbing] this question, we necessitate “Did Google do something to the algorithm to utter my life sad? ” We can debate about whether Google is trying to prepare your life shameful at another time( preferably, when the bars re-open ), but the core question is valid. Did Google change the algorithmic rules in a way that’s negatively affecting your place?

For large-scale algorithm informs, you can check our own Google Algorithm History page. For smaller/ daily updates, you can check our MozCast experiment project. While having a gut-check against major changes can be very useful, the cluttered truth is that Google standings are a real-time phenomenon that’s changing minute-by-minute. In 2018 alone, Google reported 3,234 “improvements” to search.

Keep in recollection that all Google algorithm tracking implements are based, to some degree, on waverings in standings. In our pattern scenario, we’re not checking grading alters. Let’s pretend, though, that we have seen a traffic lowering with a corresponding ranking throw, and we’re trying to determine if it’s really us or if something changed with Google.

Here’s a graph of MozCast data from my analysis of the January 2020 Core Update …

In this case, we’ve got a pretty clear three-day period of ranking fluctuations. If our traffic lowered over this period, it’s not absolute proof that an algorithm modernize shall be responsible, but it’s a solid, informed guess and a useful starting point.

Let’s look at the two weeks around when COVID-1 9 was declared a world pandemic …

I’ve hindered the same scale and 30 -day average reference( from a relatively quiet season the beginning of this year ). Note that algorithmic work( i.e. ranking flux) is mode up compared to the period before and after the January Core Update. One epoch( March 18) doesn’t even fit on the proportions of the original graph and came in at 104 degF on MozCast.

What does all of this planned? It’s probable that Google is changing the algorithm rapidly to address the broader changes in the world, but I strongly suspect that the world itself is impacting this flux. Sites are changing rapidly, contributing and removing makes and material, information generators have dramatically shifted their coverage, and some transactions are closing perfectly. On top of that, we’re seeing an exceptional transformation in searcher and consumer behavior.

Algorithm flux can be a useful answer to the question “Is it simply me, or is it Google? ” during normal times, but all that it’s telling us right now is that the world has turned upside-down. While that’s an accurate analysi, it’s not particularly helpful. If you’d like to hear more about the impact of COVID-1 9 on Google standings, check out “SEOs talk COVID-1 9 hunting disruption” from Barry Schwartz with myself, Marie Haynes, Olga Andrienko, and Mordy Oberstein.

If traffic has thrown, but positions haven’t, it’s likewise probable that the behavior of searchers has changed. We are able to obtain some insights into this by squandering Google Search Console. Here’s the diagram of total clinks for our sample website from March 1-28( commensurate with the GA data) …

As expected, total clicks on Google solutions show roughly the same trend as Google organic traffic in GA. Total sounds are a function of two variables, though:( 1) exploration impress, and( 2) click-through rate( CTR ). Let’s look at those individually. Here’s the diagram of total impress for these periods …

Now we’re getting somewhere — there’s an overall drop in marks. This isn’t just about the instance locate, but searcher behavior before they even look or click on that site. People are scouring less for the quotations that drive congestion to our sample area. Lastly, let’s look at CTR …

CTR has also descent, even a bit steeper than impressions. This is a bit harder to interpret. Knowing what we know, it’s likely that people are clicking little because of overall paucity in the best interests. This is consistent with the COVID-1 9 scenario. People are less likely to be looking for the service this site offers. On the other hand, it could be that something about the site or the competitive landscape has changed that’s driving down CTR.

If you witness a CTR drop without a corresponding intuition remove, recollect recent changes to the site, peculiarly alterations that could affect what’s displayed in search results( including your TITLE calls and META descriptions ). In such cases, though, it’s reasonable to assume that we’re looking at an overall drop in demand.

(3) Has the world gone mad?

Spoiler alert: yes, yes it has.

The Google Search Console data above has already suggested that we’re seeing a shift in the wider world and searcher action, but if you want to get outside of your own data, you can explore the world a bit with Google Direction. For example, here’s a Google Trends search for “movie tickets” for March 1-28 …

Not amazingly, searcher interest in movie tickets declined aggressively after the COVID-1 9 outbreak. People who aren’t going to movies aren’t going to be searching for showtimes and ticket prices. Google Vogue data can be spotty in the long-tail, and we can’t inevitably attribute a trend to an episode, but non-brand trends are a good supporting data point for whether your traffic lowering is isolated to your site or is impacting your broader industry.

One final tip — everything discussed in this post can also be used to explore a traffic increase. Even during COVID-1 9, traffic has gone up for countless the issues and places. For example, here’s the Google Trends data for “how to cut hair” from the same March 1-28 reporting period …

Whether or not curve your own hair is a good idea, beings are certainly establishing more interest in the topic( I acknowledge I’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos myself ). We don’t frequently dive late into traffic increases — it’s too easy to exactly sit back and make the ascribe. I think this is a big mistake. Understanding whether a traffic increase was conducted in accordance with converts you met or broader grocery switches can help you understand what you’ve done right so that you can replicate that success.

The big picture is everything

Over the last few years, I’ve heard more people say things like “I don’t care about traffic, I care about changeovers! ” or “I don’t care about Google higher-rankings, as long as I’m getting commerce! ” Our gradual move toward bottom-of-funnel metrics obliges impression — we’re all trying to make a living. Taken to extreme, though, we lose value datum. Focusing on conversions is certainly better than focusing on “hits” a la 1998, but no single metric tells the whole story.

Let’s say that the only thing you track is precedes. Contributes are where the money is. Sales are up, makes are up, day are good. Great. Inevitably, catastrophe strikes( even if it’s a minor catastrophe ), and your makes decline. What do you do? You’ve cut off your ability to read anything but the final chapter of the fib. You know how it culminates, but you don’t know how you got there. Without understanding the route from causes back to tours back to ranks back to intuitions, you’re not going to see the whole story, and you’re not going to know where things went wrong.

Even when times are good, this approach is short-sighted. Sales-focused culture appoints a tendency to celebrate the makes and not ask too many questions. If traffic is going up, why is it going up? What content or keywords are driving that traffic? What industry trends are driving that traffic? If you can answer those questions, you can replicate success. If you can’t, then you’re going to have to start from scratch as soon as the celebration ends( and the celebration always dissolves ).

It may be cold comfort to know that your part industry or the whole world is suffering with you, but I hope that this process at least impedes you from fastening the wrong things and making costly mistakes. Ideally, this process can help you uncover areas that may be trending upward or at least help you focus your time and money on what’s working.

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