What Are Slow, Gradual Declines In Google Referrals?

Aug 30, 2013 • 8:15 am | comments (28) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

google seoI see a lot of different web sites, with a lot of different problems. From manual actions, to huge drops after a major algorithm update, to hacked sites, to sites that block Google by accident. The ones that always make me wonder are the ones that aren't hit hard one night but rather see a slow but consistent decline in organic traffic from Google.

I am sure you have seen them yourself and I see thread in the Google Webmaster Help forums on this topic all the time.

Here is one chart from a site I reviewed recently, showing only Google organic traffic over time:

Google decline traffic

It makes you wonder, what was the specific thing that hurt this site? It probably was not one algorithm, nor one specific issue. It may have been competitors getting better. It may be that Google trusts this site less and less over time. It may be the specific site has been removing links over time, which is impacting their rankings. Or it may be the site is less relevant to users today than it was before.

Have you seen a lot of cases like this? What would you recommend?

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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08/30/2013 12:30 pm

Consistently building links with exact match anchor text? Competitors doing something fishy? Link campaign doing more harm than good? Difficult to say really, could be a combination of all those factors.

Matt Fielding

08/30/2013 12:37 pm

We see this a lot with sites who have done a lot of spammy SEO previously. As Google deindexes/devalues the site, the links no longer support the rankings they once did and visibility decreases. While it doesn't directly correlate, organic search traffic generally decreases, too.


08/30/2013 01:31 pm

My site's been doing this since last September after previously enjoying increased rankings from Panda (and whatever other algorithms). I do zero link building. I'm thinking it's partly other sites moving up and partly my site needing improvements. The site's design is very old but I'm moving to a responsive design within the next month. It does not look good on a mobile phone. Any new content is indexed almost immediately; I take that as a good sign, at least. :-)

Masched Akil

08/30/2013 03:18 pm

Could it be that there's simply no / not enough fresh, compelling content?


08/30/2013 03:33 pm

That's my vote: freshness is one of the GOOG ranking factors, not only for organic search, but in Adwords and pretty much everything. And it's not merely having new content that matters but new RELEVANT content that continues to evolve.

Paul Tyler

08/30/2013 03:35 pm

Could this (at least partly) be down to how iOS 6 is sending search queries through the secure server since last September)? This means they show up in analytics packages as direct rather than organic search. We've done lots of analysis on this and it can account for a significant amount of traffic in some cases. Certain android versions also have this issue. An older post but very relevant http://www.definemg.com/recover-your-android-4-and-ios-search-traffic/

Joey Altherr

08/30/2013 03:38 pm

I would guess that the site's being pushed farther and farther down the SERPs due to changes in Google's display (product placements, enhanced ads, sitelinks, image carousel, rich snippets, maps, etc.) This has happened to me and the chart looks similar

Matt Fielding

08/30/2013 03:40 pm

Hi Jeff - I'd be interested to see the evidence that freshness has any bearing on AdWords?


08/30/2013 03:54 pm

Like so many things in this arena, Matt, any evidence I provided on the topic would be anecdotal. But I can tell you that I've been doing Adwords for about 8 years now and one maddening truism I've noted and that hasn't changed is that ads that you create and tweak up to Quality scores in the 6 or even 7 range perform better earlier than they do later. GOOG has SOMETHING built into every nook and cranny of the relevance algorithm(s) that puts a premium on new and improved. (of course, unless you have the nerve to actually use the phrase 'new and improved!').


08/30/2013 04:02 pm

Content freshness. Also happens a lot with specific pages that start losing link velocity on competitive keywords. Just my two cents.


08/30/2013 04:29 pm

they just move more and more traffic to own projects. I have seen such graph on many sites (even constantly updated).


08/30/2013 04:31 pm

exactly same thing happens with complete white hat sites. But somebody get this traffic, question is who? youtube or wikipedia or???


08/30/2013 09:43 pm

This is the opposite chart for big brands, that's the answer, they are climbing everyday thanks to the mafia panda penguin algos while small sites victims of collateral damage are going down slowly.

Mr Breakfast

08/30/2013 09:49 pm

I'm a victim of such a graph. I have a theory that it has to do with side-wide penalties initiated by the algorithms. I've been able to determine algorithm updates by trends in my site. One night, I'll get excited and see a noticeable increase in the sharing of my content on Pinterest and other social networks, with a modest improvement in keyword ranking. The next morning, I'm back in the toilet. I'll check Barry's SE Roundtable and, sure enough, there will be a post where he wonders if there was an algorithm update the previous day(s). This has happened at least 3 times now. Has anyone else seen this… an indication that the ranking update process is staggered over the coarse of an update? It's as if I can visually see the algorithms saying… "Panda: His content improved. Ranking up. Penguin: Still has a problem we won't ever tell him about: Site-wide ranking down."


08/30/2013 09:57 pm

That seems to have subsided earlier this month http://www.definemg.com/dark-google-android-4-and-ios-6-passing-search-referral-data/


08/30/2013 10:26 pm

Yeah, I've seen this. This is what happens when you get lazy and don't update the site. Someone else has better content and you're just sitting there watching the money go down the drain. You gotta get off your ass and come up with a fresh new ideas, design, promo, whatever. That is, if your links were natural, otherwise you'll end up with 50 visits a day in a year. Oh yeah, mobile, mobile, mobile. If you don't have a mobile site by end of year, there's no hope. Panic everyone PANIC!

Jan Dunlop

08/30/2013 10:59 pm

Yep I've seen a lot of this too. One site in particular which really surprised me was medicinenet.com, this is a large site with a lot of authority. They starting loosing traffic around November 2012 and by July 2013 had lost around 85% of their search visibility. They recently bounced back around the same time Google announced they had softened Panda.

Jan Dunlop

08/30/2013 11:01 pm

And here's another example of another big site - everydayhealth.com

osman musa

08/31/2013 02:46 am

Mine got hit but stayed stable at half of what it used to be according to webmaster tools. It looks like I am back on track to recovery as search terms are landing me on first page again.

Christopher Meinck

08/31/2013 02:26 pm

I have a large information site, a big part of which are forums. My chart looks identical from September to now. I've seen stabilization in organic traffic since the beginning of August. Still not sure if I've hit bottom. As this chart suggests, the decline is slow and happens over a long period of time. Based on my site analysis, my site had duplicate page titles, thin content (single posts in forum) and a good number of broken links. Site also had large number of off topic content, user profiles that were not set to noindex. For good measure, I saw a 15% drop on May 22nd, so clearly hit by Panda, Penguin.


08/31/2013 05:37 pm

Yep. As soon as the first big update from google hit, that's exactly what my stats did and is doing. It's pretty disheartening actually.

Gracious Store

09/01/2013 04:57 am

It is difficult to pinpoint the reasons why some sites' traffic may decline over the course of time. It is up to the webmasters to try to figure out what is going on with their sites


09/01/2013 05:39 pm

no, problem not in content freshness. let to change all sites, with new ideas/designs, promos, etc. And it will lead to no traffic at all.


09/01/2013 05:41 pm

panda is hungry and penguin need more cash $$$$.

Dont listen to Mutt Cutts

09/02/2013 07:14 pm

Barry the Tool finally touches on this. Well Barry, ever charted Google's ad clicks? They are increasing every quarter by 20+% each quarter. Google is taking clicks from our sites and sending them to ads and to advertisers. Google's goal now is to have users click on ads and to have sites to advertise.


10/13/2013 11:25 am

my traffic decreased...very much

Palla Ramarao

04/23/2014 06:19 pm

same state of affairs with my site: softreadwrite.com.. Somebody please guide me.. Whats wrong with this site? How do I increase traffic for this site?


04/29/2014 09:02 pm

One possible cause is a decrease in search queries for the keywords that usually drive traffic to your site. So it might not be that you are now ranking poorly, rather that people are no longer searching for these keywords. To confirm or rule out this hypothesis, look at the "Search Queries Report" in Google Webmaster tools. If you see your average rank for search results is about the same but the # of impressions has decreased from the previous period, it will confirm fewer people are searching for those keywords.

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