How to Diagnose Organic Traffic Losses Using Search Console

Identifying a drop in organic traffic is easy in Google Analytics. What’s not easy is diagnosing the reason – which queries are driving less traffic and why.

Search Console is the only ranking and reporting platform that comes directly from Google. This is the best way to diagnose organic traffic loss.

I will explain in this post.

Search Console steps

1. Identify when you started losing traffic. Select a broad date range in the “Performance” section of Search Console to help you determine when the traffic decline started. Go back as far as you need, even if Search Console only keeps 16 months of data.

Select a date range in the Performance section of Search Console to determine when the traffic decline began.

2. Compare your organic traffic. Go to Performance > Search Results > Date and click “Compare”. Then choose “Custom” to select the date range before your organic traffic drop.

Screenshot of Search Console performance custom date comparison report.

Choose “Custom” to select the date range before your organic traffic drop.

Keep ‘Total Clicks’ and ‘Average Position’ active and hide all other metrics, such as ‘Total Impressions’ and ‘Average CTR’. While these last metrics are helpful, our focus is on traffic and ranking loss.

3. Identify the pages with the biggest losses. Search Console displays traffic drops for specific search queries. But start with a page-by-page view to make the report less cluttered.

Click on the “Pages” tab and sort twice by “Click Difference” to see the biggest loss at the top.

Click on the “Pages” tab and sort twice by “Click Difference” to see the biggest loss at the top.

Don’t pay much attention to the difference in position just yet. The report consists of aggregated data skewed by queries that did not bring in much traffic.

Click on “Export” at the top right to download the report in Excel, Google Sheets or .csv format. This is your list of pages with the highest loss of organic clicks. The list does not include the Click Difference column (easily retrieved via an Excel formula) or your sorting preferences.

An alternative to uploading is to copy-paste your current Search Console view into a spreadsheet.

4. Diagnose each falling page. Using the report above, click through each page and identify the primary search query causing the loss.

Sort the graph by “Queries” and then by “Click Difference”.

Identify drops in search queries, such as:

  • Queries containing an old date, such as “running shoes 2021”.
  • Queries containing concepts that are no longer popular, such as “presidential election 2020”.
  • Queries containing entities (for example, product and company names) that no longer exist.

Next, enable “Total Impressions” from step 2 above. If fewer people are searching for the query, it’s probably not worth prioritizing, even if you’ve lost a position or two.

According to Google, “An impression is counted each time an element appears on the current page, whether or not the element scrolls into view.”

So, if you see a significant drop in impressions while your page maintains the same ranking (e.g. in the top 10 results), it may mean a loss of interest in the query.

Enable “Total impressions”. If fewer people are searching the query, it’s probably not worth prioritizing.

Additionally, a loss of clicks without a ranking drop may indicate a new Google search results feature (such as “People Also Ask” and video carousels) that lowered your organic result on the page. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to revive those clicks.

5. Identify a possible reason for the loss.

  • Outdated content. If you suffer a loss of ranking and clicks, consider updating the page with current information and removing broken links and outdated facts.
  • Fewer internal links. Also consider internal links to a declining page. Posts on digital blogs and magazines are slowly losing their importance, eventually residing only in the archives, several clicks away from the homepage. This results in less link equity to these posts and often explains the loss in rankings.

The solution is to bring up older content. An example is a “Related Posts” plugin with links from new posts to older ones. Promoting the best content from your authors is another good idea.

  • Stronger competitors. If the loss of traffic isn’t due to outdated content or old internal links, study your competitors’ organic search tactics. Monitoring services such as SE Ranking provide a snapshot of search engine results pages for any queries monitored in certain third-party tools.

Otherwise, SpyFu keeps track of the most popular queries and provides search result movement visualizations to see which sites go up while yours goes down.

Restorable?

Not all organic traffic drops are recoverable. Search engine algorithms are constantly changing, prioritizing one signal over others. However, knowing which pages and queries explain the loss will help diagnose it to assign potential remedies.