It can be startling to login to your analytics or stats program and see a decrease in traffic. The first thought might OH NO, what happened? Why is everyone leaving?
But sometimes, that reduction in traffic isn’t bad. And sometimes it’s good. But just like with most things in the world, context is everything. One of the first things I tell anyone when we start working on search engine optimization or ad campaigns is that more traffic isn’t always the goal. Getting 1000 visitors doesn’t mean anything if none of those people are your customers. What’s important is to have the right traffic.
When you login into Google Analytics, you have a lot of options for your stats and one of those is the basic overview of how many people are coming to your site everyday. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of what’s going on, and sometimes you have to dig deeper to see what’s really going on.
Our own example
Take a look at this screenshot from our own Google analytics account. See that drastic dropoff?
If you saw that without context, you would think that was really bad. But in reality, what happened was that we were getting hundreds of visits a day on a very old blog post. Zero percent of those hits resulted in business for us. The bounce rate for that blog post was around 98%. The people who were landing on our site because of that post weren’t interested in new websites or any of our services. So, I took that post down, redirected the URL, and asked Google to remove it from the search results.
That’s somewhat controversial in the website world. Plenty of people think that all traffic is good, but I disagree. Having that traffic skewed our conversion rates and our click through rates, and didn’t give us a realistic view of what was happening on our site.
For people who have seasonal businesses, traffic tends to go down at the same time every year, but if you are only looking at your traffic from month to month, you might get startled when that annual dip happens. Take a look at this first screenshot.
You might see that drastic drop in your analytics and panic, wondering what happened. But if you compare the traffic to the year before, you see this. (Orange line is the previous year’s traffic at the same time.)
What really happened was that traffic was actually up 20% over the previous year, and this was a normal, seasonal decline for this business. It’s important to always look at the bigger picture.
Traffic declines after unusual peaks
Have you ever logged into your analytics and see something like this?
Sometimes you’ll get an unusual or even an expected spike in traffic. Say you went on a podcast, got an unexpected mention in the news, or ran a really popular special. That will skew your analytics for that day/week/month. And if you weren’t really paying attention to it, you might not notice the spike right away, but notice that your current month’s traffic is down from the month where you had the spike.
If you have an event or something that increases your traffic with an unusual peak, expect that you are going to see it come back down afterward. While it would be nice if getting a media mention or other publicity kept our traffic up at those levels forever, that’s not realistic.
Reduction in Analytics Spam
Let me say for a minute how much I hate analytics spam. What is analytics spam (also known as referral spam), you may ask? It’s when a fake user hits your site, shows up as an interaction, but it’s really a bot that is hitting your site as a “referral” from another site, in the hope that you will follow the link and they can get traffic to their site as a result. Take a look at this example.
This one is pretty obviously a bot, but there are tons of different types of URLs you might see as referral spam. I’ve seen instances where there are mention buttons, sharing, SEO, VPNs, comments, etc. If you see an unusually large number of visits coming from the same weird link, chances are it’s referral spam.
If you set up your analytics to filter out the referral spam, your traffic will go down. But that’s actually a good thing, even though it results in less traffic.
You can learn more about referral spam and how to remove it at this blog post at SEJ.
The moral of this story is that not all traffic drops are bad. Context is important. If you can’t tell immediately why your traffic has dropped, it’s important to go deep and investigate before you jump to conclusions. Look at other changes as well. Has the bounce rate improved or gotten worse? What about the time on site? Number of page views? Number of inquiries or sales? There are many metrics to use when understanding your site’s performance, and a visual drop in traffic is just one.
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