I'll let you in on a little secret. My website hasn't been doing as well lately. In fact, performance of the site has been downright poor in the last 3 months compared to the past. Are the glory days over? Has my writing substantially declined in quality? I needed to find out what was going on.
The path to understanding your website traffic, good or ill, is straightforward: audience, acquisition, behavior.
The first step is to understand the audience. Which audience are you losing? I fired up Google Analytics and looked at the two most basic segments of audience, new and returning users. Briefly, if new users are declining, it typically means you have an acquisition problem. If returning users are declining, it typically means you have a content problem. If both are declining, you typically have a structural problem behind the scenes. New users have been substantially down:
But then, so have returning users:
Something's amiss, and I suspect it's structural. The next step is to look at acquisition. Where am I losing my traffic from?
It would seem I'm losing my traffic from direct and organic search for returning users, which means people have lost bookmarks, forgot to type in my domain name as part of their daily reading, or don't find me again through search.
Let's check out new users now. Where am I losing them from?
The same two culprits, but on a much larger scale. I lost half of my organic search traffic. Yikes! I think it's safe to say we found the problem: search. Both new and returning users rely heavily on search to get to my website.
Knowing that there's a search problem, the next question is: what kind of search problem. For that, we head to Google's Webmaster Tools. I looked at the dashboard and it said I have 1,289 URLs indexed under the Sitemaps panel.
Full stop. I know there's more content on the website than that. There are thousands of pages on this site. What gives?
I looked a little more closely. My sitemap wasn't reporting most of the URLs on my site. It turns out that when I updated an SEO plugin, it munched my previous settings for sitemaps, and was only reporting 1 out of every 5 actual URLs. I resubmitted my sitemaps to Webmaster Tools, and you can see the difference:
That's a pretty substantial difference right there. 75% of my work wasn't indexed by Google because it didn't know about it. Now it does, and I'll expect to see an increase in the number of pages crawled and indexed in search results in the near future, which should translate into bringing people back to my website.
When you face a situation where you've got declining traffic, follow the same framework. Which part of your audience is ailing? Where do they come from? What do they do? By following that structure, you'll quickly identify what's broken and the solution to fix it may leap out at you.
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