If you’ve seen a drop in conversions, revenue, or traffic from organic search, it’s important to understand what’s causing it. Here we outline a few steps that will help you better diagnose the root cause of a performance drop, and how to respond.

It’s widely accepted that consumers and businesses will continue to curb spending in 2023 as inflation continues to impact consumer spending and profit margins.

With consumer confidence at its lowest point since 2008 and demand slowing across categories, we’re noticing that more brands are experiencing downturns in organic performance than in the previous couple of years.

UK consumer confidence vs. Hallam Ecommerce index (2020 – 2023)

When comparing performance to the huge boom in online shopping from 2020 to 2021, many brands are experiencing slowing growth or plateauing. But, diagnosing exactly why that’s the case is more complex than simply pointing to macroeconomic factors.

The two broad potential causes for a slowdown in organic performance are either external market factors or organic website performance (SEO) issues:

The challenge is assessing whether your business is being impacted by one, or both of these potential causes.

Step 1: Review organic visibility and rankings

Assessing your visibility and keyword rankings is the first step to understanding whether you’ve had a drop in organic performance as opposed to a category wide slowdown.

Tools such as Sistrix, Semrush and SEOmonitor will allow you to pinpoint increases and decreases in rankings and, importantly, will allow you to compare with organic traffic and conversions in Google Analytics.

If you’ve noticed a drop in rankings for a page or particular set of pages, look to compare these dips in performance against algorithm updates or periods where you may have made significant changes to the site (like launching a new site, updating copy etc.).

Check whether you’ve been impacted by an algorithm update

It’s unlikely this will be the sole cause of your organic traffic drop, as drops are more often than not related to changing one or more of the following:

  • URL structure
  • Page content
  • Page design
  • Navigation structure
  • Internal linking

If you’ve ruled out changes to the above, there are ways to check whether a drop in organic traffic correlates with an algorithm update using the following tools:

  • Google Search Console – algorithm updates are signposted when looking at clicks and impressions:

algorithm updates are annotated in google search console

  • Semrush – compares keyword rankings beside algorithm updates, allowing you to highlight impacted pages:

algorithm updates in semrush

  • Ahrefs – organic rankings are shown alongside a timeline of when algorithm updates occurred:

  • Sistrix – a useful tool to assess whether your organic visibility has been affected overall due to an update, giving you links to more information, such as 2018’s Medic Update:

sistrix showing site hit by medic update

  • SEOmonitor – allows you to track a selection of keywords and monitors the performance of your site/s against algorithm updates over time:

seo monitor keyword updates

If you believe your site has been impacted by a specific algorithm update, get in touch with our team for additional support.

Have you implemented a new cookie policy?

As we’ve previously highlighted, the first thing you should do when diagnosing a potential drop in organic search traffic is confirm whether it’s a drop in actual organic traffic and not a tracking error or a drop in measured traffic.

Implementing a new cookie policy has been commonplace for businesses due to GDPR regulations, and this will often lead to a drop of approximately 20/30% in reported traffic in Google Analytics:

Step 2: Assess category search demand 

If you’ve ruled out a drop in organic visibility and rankings then it’s important to assess whether overall search demand is down for the keywords that typically drive traffic and sales to your website.

This will help pinpoint whether your site performance is down vs. your peers, or whether the whole category has been impacted by a decline in search demand.

There are a number of ways you can get this information:

  • SEOmonitor will show the change in search volumes over time for your tracked keywords.
  • Google Trends will allow you to assess search interest over a longer period of time for any search term, globally.

  • The Insights page in Google Ads shows real-time search insights and trending search terms related to the keywords in your account. This allows businesses to easily spot opportunities for high growth search terms.
  • YouTube’s research tool allows you to look into topical interest growth.
  • Google Search Console gives you accurate and real time data on search volume and impression data. 

If overall search volume is down, then this will likely explain the drop your brand is experiencing in organic traffic and sales. 

Search demand is declining, how do I react?

For many businesses that are suffering in an economic downturn, SEO can feel like a luxury – a discretionary activity that isn’t contributing to the bottom line. In the short term, cutting this spend may help profitability, but the long-term impact of that can be significant and damaging.

For example. it’s been shown that brands who pause marketing investments experience a long-term decline in sales, making it hard for them to catch up when they start to invest in marketing again.

Source: Ehrenberg Bass

Continuing to invest in marketing (and SEO) is critical if your category interest is declining. This will help your business to position itself for growth when the economy recovers.

When it comes to influencing performance from an organic perspective, I would suggest the following three steps as a starting point:

  • Expand your informational content – if demand for high intent/commercial search terms is declining, it’s time to broaden your reach and gain increased organic visibility through informational search terms.
  • Invest in CRO to maximise every click – if you’re forecasting lower traffic numbers, you need to improve the rate at which your traffic converts.
  • Reduce your reliance on search – think about how you can influence demand rather than mop up existing searches, e.g. PR and advertising campaigns.

Final thoughts

The two broad potential causes for a slowdown in organic performance are either external market factors or organic website performance (SEO) issues.

If you believe your business is suffering from a downturn in category demand, continuing to invest in SEO can help alleviate costs from other channels (such as paid media), and ensure long-term stability.

Whilst your business might feel the squeeze in the short term, as the recession eases (and especially if your competitors have cut back on their marketing spend) research has proven time and time again that you’ll reap the benefits of continued investment.

If you’re struggling with an issue related to your technical SEO performance and would like further guidance and help increasing your organic traffic, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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