Sudden traffic drop? Strategic diagnosis with 3 simple questions!

dont-panic-buttonThis week I received an email from a client that discovered their website traffic suddenly plunged. Their Google Analytics visitors dropped by more than 50% in August and the situation never self-corrected. My first response was: DON’T PANIC! Since the issue was only 60 days old, I knew that we could identify the problem and suggest an appropriate solution.

I used a simple strategy (3 questions) to diagnose the situation:

  1. Has anyone changed/modified the Google Analytics tracking code? These kind of sudden changes are typically due to a configuration change. The client reported that their developers inadvertently reused the tracker code from the blog on their corporate website. Since this error was corrected in the end of August, I first investigated this potential cause. I applied a custom advanced segment to exclude visits from blog pages but the sudden downward shift was still present. This meant that the problem was unrelated to a tracking code change.
  2. Looking 60 days prior to and after the change, what sources referred traffic to the site? Oftentimes, traffic will fade away when an ad campaign ends so I looked at the Acquisition > All Referrals section of Google Analytics. The report showed that the majority of traffic was direct, yet the remaining referral sources didn’t dramatically shift from one source or site to another. This meant that I was potentially getting closer!
  3. Looking 60 days prior to and after the change, what content received the most traffic on the site? An alternate reason for a shift is that an important page is removed or modified. I looked at the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report and discovered that a careers page dropped from the top 3 position to the bottom 20 position. This change occurred right around the time of the sudden traffic drop. Since a careers section typically draws 30%+ of the visitors to a corporate site, I contacted the client about this change and they explained that their recruiter recently left the company. They added that she was instrumental in referring potential candidates to the site. BINGO!

sudden-traffic-drop-google-analytics

Key Takeaway:

  • When it comes to analytics, there’s no substitute for formulating a strategy and then digging into the data. Insights are rarely immediately apparent!
  • The best approach to this kind of analysis is the scientific method: develop an assumption, analyze the data, and determine if the data supports or disproves your thinking.
  • Don’t be afraid to be wrong. You may not get the answer that you were hoping for the first time!

What other factors could contribute to a traffic drop? What reports do you review to understand the cause of a traffic drop?

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