4 Reasons Why Your WordPress Traffic Can Drop (And How to Tackle Them)

Posted on July 3, 2018 by in Tips & Tricks | 19 comments

4 Reasons Why Your WordPress Traffic Can Drop (And How to Tackle Them)

One of the scariest situations you can run into while managing a website is a sudden drop in traffic. Most of us work very hard to build up a steady stream of traffic, so watching it disappear often leads to panic.

There are a lot of reasons why your traffic can drop overnight. In this article, we’ll break down four reasons that can impact your website’s traffic and how to deal with them with a clear head. Let’s get to work!

1. Your Website Has Slowed Down

We talk about website performancelot in several of our articles. The reason why it’s such a recurring topic is your site’s performance is one of the most important factors to consider to make your site successful. An increase in loading times can also be a factor in unexpected drops in traffic.

To put it simply, people hate slow websites. Most people have very limited patience for slow-loading sites and if your site is sluggish, people will leave and likely not come back, which can impact your conversions.

There are a lot of factors that can impact your site’s loading times. However, if you’re trying to figure out why your traffic tanked, you need to focus on recent changes. Some common culprits include:

  • Recently installing one or more new plugins. In some cases, plugins can affect your site’s performance.
  • Switching to a new theme or redoing your site’s design. Overhauling your design can have a profound impact on loading times, especially if you don’t use a theme that’s well optimized.
  • Problems with your hosting provider. If your hosting provider is struggling with technical issues, your site may slow down as a result.

We’ll talk more about how redesigns can affect your traffic in a minute. For now, you need to focus on figuring out if a decrease in performance is behind your website traffic drop.

First, you should measure your website’s loading times. If the results aren’t looking good, you’ll need to work on shaving them down in any way you can. Once you have loading times back under control, keep an eye on your favorite analytics tool. If you see traffic pick back up, then you know it was a performance issue.

2. You Just Redesigned Your Website

In a lot of cases, you’ll work hard to redesign your website from the ground up. It’ll come out looking stunning, but all the fancy new elements you’ve added can impact its performance, which we discussed briefly in the last section.

If you made changes to your website’s design recently and you began to see traffic drop, it’s often due to two reasons. These are:

  1. Your new design has slowed down your site.
  2. Users don’t like the makeover and they’re bouncing to other websites.

Figuring out which of these two categories you fall into is simple. As in the last section, you need to test your website’s performance and if it’s not up to par, then it’s time to get to work on optimizing things.

However, if your website’s performance is looking just fine, chances are that users simply don’t like your new design. This can be a hit to your ego, but there’s no reason why you can’t recover from it.

When it comes to design, you want to make sure your pages are as user-friendly as possible. That means keeping navigation simple, ensuring your most important content is up and front, and focusing on readability. If your design doesn’t meet those criteria, it’s probably time to return to the drawing board.

We also recommend you split test changes to your website when possible. It’s a far safer approach, but it only works if you don’t mind updating your site’s design gradually.

3. Your Internal Links are Broken

There are a lot of situations where you may want to move your WordPress website from one hosting provider to another. The process is not as complicated as you might imagine. However, it can lead to some technical issues, one of which is your internal links stop working.

If you’re using the same domain after migrating and you’ve already pointed it towards your new server, you shouldn’t need to replace your internal links. However, those links may still not work for a couple of other technical reasons. If you run into this problem, your visitors may find your website, but they won’t be able to navigate it.

In our experience, there are two potential causes for this problem:

  1. Problems with a WordPress caching plugin.
  2. Issues with your WordPress .htaccess file.

If you’re using a caching plugin on your recently migrated website, go ahead and clear that cache now. This process will vary depending on which plugin you’re using, but it’s almost always simple. For example, with WP Super Cache, you can do this by moving to the Settings > WP Super Cache tab and clicking on the Delete Cache button right on the middle of the page:

Deleting your WordPress cache.

Afterward, check if your internal links are working again. If they are, your site’s traffic should start picking back up gradually.

However, if the problem persists, you’ll want to move on to check your .htaccess file. Basically, your new web host might not have set up a .htaccess file for you, which can cause conflicts if you were using a custom permalink structure.

The easiest way to solve this is to check your WordPress root folder (usually public_html) using FTP. If you don’t see a .htaccess file there, you’ll need to create a new one. You can do this by right-clicking within the directory using your FTP client and choosing the Create new file option. In this screenshot, we’re using the FileZilla client to do it:

Creating a new file using FileZilla.

Name your new file .htaccess (including the dot) and right-click it once more, choosing the View/Edit option. This will open it using your local text editor, enabling you to make changes to it. The file should be blank now, so go ahead and add WordPress’ default .htaccess settings:

# BEGIN WordPress
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ – [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
# END WordPress

Save the file now and say yes when FileZilla asks if you want to update the version on your server. Now, you’ll want to access your dashboard and update your permalink structure to whichever settings you were using before the migration.

If you didn’t have custom permalinks set up, your internal links should be working fine now that .htaccess is set up. Keep in mind, though – it can take a while for your traffic to recover to its previous levels, so don’t panic if you don’t see improvements overnight!

4. Your Primary Keywords Aren’t as Effective Anymore

If you care about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – which you should – you probably target well-researched keywords for all your pieces. The problem is, even the best keywords can fall out of favor.

For example, writing an article targeting the best wordpress themes in 2018 keyword might yield wonderful results today. However, as soon as the next year rolls on by, you can kiss most of that traffic goodbye.

In most cases, website traffic drops won’t be as sudden if they’re related to your keywords. It’ll be more of an gradual process, but your mileage may vary. Figuring out if your traffic is dropping due to your keywords losing their mojo can be a complicated process.

For most websites that face this problem, the main issue is they don’t post content as often as they should. If you want your site to remain relevant, you have to keep publishing new content and targeting new keywords relatively often.

More importantly, you need to research the keywords you use for your content. Ideally, you want to aim for those queries that will keep bringing in traffic even years after you target them. This, combined with a steady stream of high-quality content, will improve your chances of avoiding sudden website traffic drops.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that traffic to your website can – and will – fluctuate. In some cases, you’ll see organic reductions in traffic. However, these can also point towards underlying problems with your website, particularly if they occur suddenly.

In our experience, here are the four most common reasons for website traffic drops:

  1. Your website is starting to get slow.
  2. You just redesigned your website.
  3. Your internal links are broken.
  4. Your primary keywords aren’t as effective anymore.

Do you have any questions about what to do if your website traffic drops? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!

Article thumbnail image by medesulda / shutterstock.com

19 Comments

  1. Nice post, I think you also need to consider new backlinks to your site as well.

    • John Hughes

      Thank you, Shane. That’s a good point as well. 🙂

  2. Great article John. Keep up the great work.

    • John Hughes

      Thank you, Rob! 🙂

  3. Great read John! Awesome tips and recommendations on how to avoid sudden website traffic drops.

    • John Hughes

      You’re very welcome, Dustin. I’m so glad you liked it!

  4. Great tips!
    About the last item, it is good always check how the changes in the google algorithm are, is possible to see this in MozCast site.

    • John Hughes

      Thanks for commenting, Edemar. Great tip. 🙂

  5. Great read. Does anyone else have an issue where their Divi theme has hentry issues?

    • I have hentry issues as well, using Extra.

    • Everyone does. Check the support forums for people inquiring about this. They say it doesn’t hurt.

  6. All true. But let’s not forget that you may just need to post more often and have more interesting content. 😉

    • John Hughes

      That’s a very good point, Matt. 🙂

  7. Be very careful where you’re getting your backlinks from… Ask blogger to remove, or disavow Spam and Strange DS/TS ratios. We dropped 15 spots overnight for our best keyword! We did revamp our website 21 days ago as you mention here but we didn’t drop 15 spots in the SERPs for that reason.

    • You probably did. Every time I have redesigned a site and taken care to keep ALL the same keywords, meta, titles, redirects, etc, etc, etc EVERYTHING, I still end up with a reduction in traffic.

      Despite what Google says, they seem to favour old sites that never change. 😀 The old saying is “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!” haha

  8. Very important points, thank for sharing the post.

    • John Hughes

      Thank you, John. 🙂

  9. Agree all the way – as well as with other comments on algorithm and backlinks.

    Apart from measuring load times I would be surprised if Google does not utilise visitor interaction data as a part of their evaluation and indexing process… e.g. anonymised aggregated analytics data on say… bounce rates and other relevant metrics. After all Google kind of seems **really** be into ‘big data’ 🙂

    Anyway, site speed is definitely key. Add responsive webdesign to the pot. These seem to be the two most obvious ways to climb Google’s index these days – alongside great content offcourse. Guess the ET blog is not doing too shabby in this regard 😉

    However, in terms of traffic decrease a lot of (SEO- )related issues comes to mind. Evidently, bad SEO practice can have devastating effects on visitor flow…

    Huge field though – so in the end I kinda like how you managed to narrow “117 ways reasons why…” down to 4 – well done John! 🙂

    • John Hughes

      Thank you for your comment, Mads! You make many great points, and I’m really happy you enjoyed the article. 🙂

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