Our 3-Step Plan to Revive a Website that's Losing Traffic

Aaron Marco Arias
Last edited on Jun 21, 2024

Do you get teary-eyed every time you enter your Google Search Console dashboard? In this post, we’ll share our 10-step plan to recover from a sudden drop in traffic.

Every website’s different, and if we had to write a guide that applies to every website on earth, we’d spend the next year on the project. And by the time we were done, the whole thing would be useless.

So our best option is to maximize this post’s value by reducing its scope. And we’ll do so through an imaginary example. 

But first, let’s cover the basics: What are the most likely causes for a severe organic traffic drop?

Why Your Website Experienced a Drop in Traffic

Most commonly, website traffic drops due to:

  • Outdated content losing competitiveness
  • Broken links that hurt your website's UX and prevent users from finding relevant content
  • Site speed issues that prevent users from sticking around
  • Lost backlinks that lower your website's perceived authority
  • Failure to meet standards set by the latest Google algorithm updates
  • Poorly implemented localization
  • Low-quality, AI-generated content
  • A poorly implemented website redesign

Let's dive a bit deeper.

Outdated content

Most often, a drop in traffic isn't a homogenous, site-wide traffic drop, but the result of formerly powerful content pieces & collections losing their positioning. These pieces were driving such a lion's share of your total traffic, that a relatively small loss in competitiveness gave origin to a downward spiral to the bottom of the search results.

If one of your most successful content pieces hasn't been updated in a long time, expect it to lose its positioning on the SERPs (search engine results pages). The reason is quite simple: A piece that has outdated information and fails to target new user queries will frustrate users. This will be reflected in how they interact with the content. In short, users will see that your content isn’t good enough, go back to the SERPs, and move on to a competitor’s website. 

If left outdated, even powerful content will become vulnerable to up-and-comers. Owing most of your traffic to a 2018 pillar post? It may be time to give it a refresh.

Broken links

Value continuum graphic

Wondering how to take users from their first visit to conversion, using content? Check out our guide to the Value Continuum.

Internal links are key to an enjoyable and productive content discovery experience. There's nothing more satisfying for a user than being able to go down a rabbit hole away from their pain point and close to your solution.

With that in mind, imagine the frustration that broken links create. And, depending on where you're trying to take your user, a broken link could make you lose a lead.

Site speed

According to Google/SOASTA Research, the probability of a user bouncing increases 32% as page time goes from 1 to 3 seconds.

Think with Google stat: The probability of bounce increases 32% as page load time goes from 1 second to 3 secs

When a user bounces, they're letting search engines know that your website doesn't contain what they're looking for. And an irrelevant website can't rank high.

Consequently, poor page speed can be destructive to your search engine rankings.

It's also worth mentioning that mobile users are particularly impacted by poor page speed. And, considering that most internet traffic now comes from mobile devices, your non-mobile-friendly website is probably preventing you from accessing a larger audience.

Lost backlinks

Have you been buying backlinks from questionable vendors? Has your biggest link-building partner shut down their website?

Just like an increase in backlinks can improve your positioning, a decrease in backlinks can hurt it. So, a change in your website's backlink profile could be another factor behind your lost traffic.

Google core updates

If you haven't mastered modern SEO fundamentals yet, Google algorithm updates may hurt your positioning significantly.

And if you've built your positioning on link-buying and AI-generated content, a traffic drop is bound to happen.

For instance, late last year, we audited a website that experienced a significant drop in traffic after Google's September and October algorithm updates. The reason? These updates were meant to de-incentivize AI-generated content, and this website had thousands of AI-generated pSEO pages.

At this point, it's worth clarifying that:

  • Different algorithm updates come with different degrees of volatility. You can visualize them through SEMRush's SERP volatility sensor.
  • If you're preserving your content quality and implementing a sustainable, white-hat SEO strategy, algorithm updates are unlikely to cause a significant drop in organic traffic.

Poorly implemented localization

Localization is the process of adapting a website to the linguistic, regulatory, cultural, functional, and commercial requirements of different cultures.

A properly conducted localization process can expand your international outreach significantly, and be a net positive to your brand. However, a poorly implemented localization process will have the exact opposite effect, frustrating both local and international users.

Signs of a poorly implemented localization include:

  • A disrupted, hard-to-grasp site architecture
  • Lack of canonical tags/canonical tag mismanagement
  • Having content in different languages, combined on the same page

AI-generated & low-quality content

Publishing hundreds (or thousands) of AI-generated pages will probably increase your organic traffic. At least, for a little while. We've yet to see a website that increased its organic traffic through at-scale AI content and maintained it mid-term.

At the end of the day, content quality is what matters most. So, thousands of new pages will signal to search engines that your website's active and worth looking into. But, as your questionable content quality pushes users away, search engines will catch up and deboost you.

So, if you've experienced a sudden rise in positioning, and are now suffering from a sudden drop, ChatGPT is probably to blame.

A poorly implemented website redesign

This one's actually a catch-all section for the many technical SEO mishaps that can take place during a website redesign. The truth is that, if your website never met certain minimal technical SEO standards, your drop in traffic wouldn't have been so serious: You never would have garnered enough organic traffic to begin with.

A website without meta descriptions, without a sitemap, and with very poor internal linking never gets too far when it comes to organic growth. So, if you're suddenly detecting lost meta tags, a poor URL structure, and severe crawl errors, your latest website redesign is probably to blame.

Revive Your Website with Us

We've already covered the most common causes of organic traffic drops. But, how can you climb back to the top of the search results?

In this section, we'll use an imaginary example to explain how we'd revive your website, step-by-step.

Let's get started with our hypothetical case.

The brief

Aimagine (terrible name, but let's move forward), is an imaginary startup that develops a tool to create AI images at scale. Their target audience consists of marketing & design teams.

Most of their content is about digital marketing at large. They provide tips on everything from how to run an active social media presence to how to create mobile-friendly websites.

Despite consistent SEO efforts, Aimagine's organic traffic has been dropping consistently for the past few months. The potential trigger? A website redesign.

The solution? Reaching out to our team for an SEO audit & strategy.

First things first: Let's rule out the obvious

When auditing a website that's losing traffic, the first step is usually to perform a series of automated audits to detect quick fixes and find any obvious technical SEO or site structure blunders.

Usually, we rely on a combination of tools, ranging from PageSpeedInsights to SEMrush & Ahrefs.

With these audits (plus a bit of source code reading), we usually rule out the obvious. This would include:

  • Missing or duplicate title tags
  • Missing or duplicate meta descriptions
  • Broken internal or external links
  • Unoptimized URL structures
  • Slow page loading speed
  • Missing alt tags for images
  • Poor performance on mobile devices & responsivity issues
  • Missing or incorrect canonical tags
  • Poorly implemented redirects (302 instead of 301, redirect chains)
  • Duplicate content issues
  • Missing or poorly structured XML sitemap
  • Insecure pages (using HTTP instead of HTTPS)
  • Poorly implemented robots.txt file
  • Missing or incorrect hreflang tags (poorly performed localization)
  • Overlapping, conflicting, or misplaced indexing directives
  • Content rendering issues

Once we've got a clear picture of whether any of these technical issues exist, we move forward to a qualitative analysis.

For the sake of simplicity, let's say that our imaginary site had some missing alt tags and a couple of internal and external broken links, but nothing that could justify its abrupt traffic drop. So, we'll compile some actionable tasks (fixing broken links, writing image alt tags, etc.) - but that shouldn't be it.

The content experience

Bart Simpson 'Say the line!' meme where the line is 'content is king'

We're tired of saying it, but it bears repeating: Content quality is extremely important. You won't get too far without good content. And most traffic drops are directly related to content quality.

So, after covering our technical bases, we move forward to analyzing content quality. This analysis usually requires:

  • Reading the website's top content
  • Reading the website's at-risk and low-ranking content
  • Checking out pSEO collections and other content types that may require special attention
  • Detecting patterns
  • Analyzing whether the content reading experience is high-quality

Let's say that in our hypothetical case, a pattern is hard to find. The top posts and the posts that lost positioning have similar lengths. Keyword use isn't abusive. Internal links are properly placed. The content seems to check all the right boxes.

So, why is it losing its positioning? Our natural next step is to take a look at the content that Aimagine is losing against. Is there a difference?

Maybe there is. Maybe our client's content is lengthy - but a bit dense and hard to consume, so users just leave before reading. And maybe their competitors' material includes interactive content and is far more scannable. Or maybe the top competitor has a better backlink profile.

Usually, organic traffic drops are multicausal. Maybe a content revamp is overdue. Maybe the top competitor has simply gotten powerful links from high-authority domains and rose that wave to the top of the search rankings.

Every website is different. And at this stage, we'll do a detail-oriented analysis to get to the bottom of what caused the traffic drop.

This hypothetical website may be suffering from a common case of too much content, spread too thinly across different topics. 

Usually, this wide nest translated into three major problems:

  • Lack of topical authority
  • A content discovery experience that feels irrelevant and doesn’t build a path towards conversion
  • An abundance of TOFU content, but few product-centric, BOFU pieces

And the underlying cause is a lack of a real, commercially-focused content strategy.

Generic, TOFU content coming from websites with no deep topical authority can climb up to the top of the SERPs. But it’s vulnerable to Google algorithm changes, and more authoritative competitors. In our hypothetical case, the real solution will be to give the website a conversion-focused content strategy with a narrow focus on top use cases. 

A checklist

Once we've diagnosed the cause of the traffic loss, we'll create an optimization checklist. This checklist will be fully customized. But most often, it will include:

In cases of severe content strategy issues, we’ll include a step-by-step guide to redefining the website’s content strategy.

Sounds Like a Plan? 

Liked our process? It may be exactly what you need to revive your website.

Let's increase your website's traffic - and, while we're at it: Let's turn your website into a lead generation engine.

Get started today, get our SEO strategy & audit package.

Get in touch today, have a full Content Operation running in under 3 weeks.