Website Traffic Down? Maybe It’s Not Your Fault

word-image-173198-1 Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

If your site has lost traffic, it’s natural to wonder what you’re doing wrong. But what if it’s not your fault?

Let’s be real. Most of the time, it’s likely that it is your fault in some way. You may have site or content quality issues you were unaware of or low-quality links dragging down performance.

However, assuming it’s always your fault can be harmful. If you try to “fix” issues that aren’t really there, it can backfire and do more harm than good. Sometimes, losing traffic is truly not your fault and is genuinely out of your control.

Here are the top three reasons for traffic losses that aren’t your fault and how you can respond to them.

Many people use the same phrases but are looking for different things. When this happens en masse, it could trigger an intent switch where Google changes the layout and types of results returned.

For example, let’s look at the topic of “conservatorship.” Before Britney Spears’ legal drama became a popular topic for gossip magazines, people mainly searched for this term looking for legal definitions and advice.

The top of the SERPs looked like this:

above-the-fold-search-results-on-google-for-the-ke Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

But when Britney was going through her legal drama in 2021, the top of the SERPs looked like this with the Top Stories feature taking priority:

qdf-affected-serp-results-for-the-keyword-conserv Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

The Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) model is responsible for this. It’s a re-ranking model that changes SERPs at the last minute to deliver the most current information.

In situations like this, if your site remains on the SERPs and the content is relevant to the new intent, you may see a temporary traffic spike. However, if your content is not relevant to the new intent or it’s dropped from results altogether, that’s where you may experience traffic losses.

So, how do you respond if there’s an intent switch on your keywords?

  • If you think it’s a QDF event that will pass: You could just wait it out until the rankings re-stabilize.
  • If it’s a minor intent change or something that still aligns with your brand: You could update your content to reflect the shift.
  • If the new intent does not align with your brand: There isn’t much action you can take. It’s best to be transparent with stakeholders about why traffic was lost and how reclaiming it is beyond your control. Instead, show where the new strategic benefits lie and how you’ll be pivoting the strategy.

Here’s another reason intent switches can happen: Google’s understanding of what users want improves

This is actually what happened in the gardening example I used above. Between both dates I checked, there’s been a predominant informational intent in the organic listings. However, Google shifted the features above the fold from prioritizing local services and gardening news to showcasing ecommerce products instead.

annotated-version-of-the-year-over-year-analysis-u Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

As Google gets better at understanding what people want, it will continue to make changes like this.

In this scenario, as it isn’t a QDF event that will pass, you either need to update your content to reflect the shift or admit defeat and communicate reasons for your traffic loss to stakeholders.

As users become more tech-literate and adept at using other platforms, their search behaviors and expectations change.

More people these days are bypassing Google and turning directly to other platforms like:

  • ChatGPT for conversational searches
  • YouTube for video content
  • Reddit for user-generated responses
  • TikTok for snackable, entertaining content
  • Amazon for product searches

If Google wants to stay relevant, it needs to make changes that keep younger audiences engaged. As such, these changes can also lead to traffic declines that are beyond your control.

A prevalent example of this, taking place in SERPs right now, is how Google includes user-generated content and forum sites in prime organic positions. There was an announcement in 2022 launching the “Forums and Discussions” feature, but many changes have since been made to include more UGC content in SERPs.

googles-announcement-launching-the-forums-and-dis Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

Sites like Reddit and Quora are now pinching traffic from digital publishers and niche site owners in millions of SERPs where they were not featured before.

Let’s look at Reddit’s traffic trend for the last two years in Ahrefs:

reddits-organic-search-traffic-trend-in-ahrefs-s Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

Overall, Reddit has seen a:

  • 24.5% lift in organic keywords
  • 81.5% lift in organic traffic
  • 47% lift in its Top 3 keywords
  • 87.2% lift in Traffic Value (this one blew my mind)

And Quora’s performance follows a similar pattern:

quoras-organic-search-traffic-trend-in-ahrefs-si Website Traffic Down? Maybe It's Not Your Fault

Quora has seen a:

  • 16.7% lift in organic keywords
  • 72.3% lift in organic traffic
  • 26.7% lift in its Top 3 keywords
  • 85.5% lift in Traffic Value

Unless Google makes a change, there’s no chance that publishers and brands that lost traffic will be able to reclaim it easily.

Now, it’s not always going to be the case that absolutely nothing can be done. I encourage you to think outside the box here and find creative ways to make winning content in the face of such changes.

For example, many SEOs are now posting on Reddit and leveraging Reddit’s existing rankings to get more eyeballs on their content.

Changes in user behavior can also often bring about opportunities for new content formats that are untapped and have very little competition. The aim of the game here is to adapt and show up where your audience is searching, even if that’s beyond Google.

SEO in its purest form is platform agnostic; it’s not just about Google, and I think many SEOs have forgotten this.

Final thoughts

In general, it’s best to hold off taking action until you’re certain of the root cause of your website’s traffic loss.

Tweaking your content or throwing links at a site rarely helps recover traffic you lost for any of the above reasons.

But if you feel like there’s more you can be doing, check out our guide on how to recover if your traffic has dropped dramatically.

If you’ve got any questions or have examples of other reasons why sites have lost organic traffic when it’s not their fault, feel free to share them with me on X or LinkedIn.


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