What Happened To My Lead?

By Tara Carter

Analytics, Metrics

Understanding Website Traffic Drops

I’m a runner. I’ve worked hard to build up the stamina to run long distance, marathons in fact. If you run like me, then this scenario is all too familiar:

It’s race day. You begin with a goal time in mind based on the course and your recent training. Adrenaline kicks in and you start off with a fast pace. You want to win. Your mind starts waging a war with itself. The reasonable side is telling you to slow down. You know that you can’t sustain such a fast pace. But the other side is trying to convince you that you could magically run substantially faster for the remainder of the race. You maintain that fast pace, ahead of the majority of other runners for another few minutes but inevitably pain sets in as you tire and other runners pull ahead.

Eventually fellow runners start passing you and the average pace you planned on running feels like it’s not enough. Picking up the pace feels too difficult. You trained. You strategized. What happened to your lead?

Seeing dips in your web analytics data is not too different than planning to run the perfect race with lead legs.

Traffic fluctuations are common in websites and apps, often influenced by numerous factors – recurring shifts, market changes, technology updates, news updates included amongst them. Any one of these factors can push another racer ahead of you, despite your well-planned strategy. With many analytic reports and numerous factors potentially influencing traffic, it’s a real puzzle to know where to start a diagnosis. Key is analyzing your data to find the root cause, take action, and put yourself back in the lead.

Step one is understanding what type of traffic decline you are experiencing.

Are you seeing a sudden, sharp decrease or is the decline spread over time, over a few days or perhaps over a few weeks?

Sharp declines lend themselves to technical tracking issues. A recent website update may have blocked your tracking code from firing or perhaps tracking code was mistakenly removed from pages completely. Site enhancements that may involve new scripts being added to your site can potentially interfere with or prevent tracking. In any case, when you see a sudden, sharp decrease in traffic, conducting a site technical audit is the best approach to diagnosing the issue.

If the decrease you’re seeing is more gradual in nature, trended over a few days or weeks, it could be coming from marketing campaigns ending, recurring shifts, organic search changes or even news/culture-driven events.

As a first step, audit all your campaign-driven traffic to make sure all your campaigns are being tracked and you are aware of all start and end dates. Make sure a change in traffic is not just a change in marketing.

Review the Channel reports in your analytics tool to understand the distribution of all of your traffic sources— direct, referral and search. If referral traffic is the segment showing the decline, drill down into the actual referrers and compare data to the prior period to understand who the culprit may be. Unbeknownst to you, pages on your site may be featured in popular posts in discussion boards or forums, drawing considerable traffic for a brief period.

After you have identified the traffic type that’s dropped, consider its value and urgency to your strategy. Is the traffic source important to your digital strategy? Perhaps it’s a discussion board post that is not aligned with your mission. Or possibly it’s a search keyword that does not reflect your image. If specific search keywords are the culprits, review the keywords showing a decline in generating traffic. Are they keywords relevant to your website? If so, identify their common entry pages and ensure the page content is search engine optimized for the identified keywords. Or maybe it’s a search-related trend that has existed over a long period and deserves deep analysis rather than urgent attention. In the end, you should organize your next-step actions that are meaningful to your business presence.

Another component to analyzing declines spread over time is recurrence. Some traffic changes are recurring. For example, for most B2B websites, overall weekend website traffic is lower than that during the workdays.

Compare data from date ranges over longer periods of time to reveal potential patterns. Broaden your date range to 30 day, 60 day 90 day and year-over-year periods in your Channel reports, making markings on your graphs to indicate marketing campaigns, other known influences and site changes.

Analyze, Analyze, Analyze…

Take time and go through the due diligence of analyzing all compiled data. It might take a few days to work out a decreasing trend in search traffic. Ensure that you review data over a long enough period–potentially a year or longer–and consider all site changes.

While these tips aren’t meant to give a complete answer to all traffic woes, they will help direct you on where to start a deeper analysis. Stay in the race and with some helpful analysis and follow-through, you have the potential to pull ahead.