Why Did Your Website Traffic Drop (and How to Fix It)

Google Analytics

You logged into your Google Analytics account and suddenly noticed that your website traffic has dropped dramatically compared to the previous period.

website traffic drop
Your traffic has plummeted by 65% and you’re in a panic. 😧

Traffic drops are frightening, so whenever they happen you must make sure to inspect the issue further in order to determine whether it’s time to panic or it’s just a false alarm.

Some of these questions might have already come to your mind:

  • Is it a real problem or just seasonality?
  • Did you screw things up and cause this?
  • Did Google decide you were doing something wrong?
  • Or are there any technical problems with your Google Analytics?

So first off, don’t panic. This post will walk you through the process of confirming what actually happened to your traffic, when it happened and helps you investigate the reason why it happened.

When did your sessions start to go down? 📉

First of all, once you realize your website traffic has dropped, you should closely analyze the nature of the decline over a longer period of time.

To do this, log into your Google Analytics account and select Audience -> Overview.

I recommend selecting a 6 month (or even longer) date range to see if those large swings up or down are normal or not.

sudden drop in website traffic
There’s a sudden decline in traffic.

Now, you can select a shorter date range and pinpoint the exact time when your sessions started declining.

website traffic has dropped significantly
Sessions started to go down on the 22nd of May.

P.S. Every website experiences some variation in traffic from month to month. Bear in mind that sometimes a large change in sessions is just business as usual. For example, some e-commerce stores have larger volumes of traffic in December due to the holiday craze.

website traffic dropped
Christmas time usually gives unnaturally high traffic for many e-commerce sites in December. 🎅🏻

What actually happened to your traffic?

Step 1: Look at the Change and Publish History

Look at the Change History of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager for recent tag or configuration changes on the date of the change.

P.S. I recommend looking at these GTM courses if you’d like to learn more about this tool.

Change History provides you a record of changes made to your accounts.

google analytics change history
This is where you can find Change History in Google Analytics.

Google Tag Manager maintains a publish history as well. You can see when different versions were live and who published them. If you want to see the publish history, go to Versions and look for entries with a date in the published column.

google tag manager publish history
This is where you can find Publish History in Google Tag Manager.

Try to figure out what the users with access to your account have recently changed. If someone has changed any settings in your accounts just before the significant website traffic drop, this should be one of those light-bulb moments.💡

Talk to this person ASAP and try to figure out what and why has been done.

light-bulb moment
“A-Ha” moment? 😌 – Image Source

Keep in mind, Change History in Google Analytics maintains a record of activities only for the last 180 days.

Read further, if none of the users have recently made changes in your accounts or you just couldn’t find any insight from the Change or Publish History.

Step 2: Look at your Google Analytics annotations

If there is a spike in your data or your traffic has just flat-lined, it would be nice to have a clear explanation or clue as to why this happened.

That’s why Google Analytics has a feature called annotations.

google analytics annotations
Admin -> View -> Personal Tools & Assets -> Annotations

Annotations are like “sticky notes” that offer a simple way to track notes in the Google Analytics reporting interface by date. They can often be “life-savers” because they sometimes provide insight as to why your data looks the way it does.

But keep in mind, Google Analytics will not create annotations automatically. Every time you change your GA configuration or code, you need to create a new annotation manually.

It requires a bit of extra effort to enter the date of the event and a small note about what has been changed to your annotations but eventually, it helps you save a lot of time later on.

annotation traffic drop
There were multiple instances of the ga.js tracking code on a website.

If you still couldn’t find any insight from your Change History nor Annotations, read on. Let’s dig deeper and figure out where your traffic went.

Step 3: Select and compare date ranges

date range google analytics
Make sure you compare “apples to apples” 🍎<—-> 🍎

1) Open one of your reports in Google Analytics, select Custom from the Date Range menu and choose the desired start and end date.

  • Start date – should be the date when your sessions started to go down
  • End date – should be the date when things got back to normal or if you still encounter this problem, choose 2 weeks or 1 month period
  • Hit the “Compare to: Custom” checkbox to get a diagram that compares metrics during two comparable date ranges of your choice

P.S. Always do date comparisons that are divisible by 7 days and make sure you compare “apples to apples”. I mean “Mondays to Mondays”, not “Mondays to Fridays”.

If you notice that the number of sessions compared to the previous period is constantly lower by 10-30%, you should be suspicious and investigate further.

Keep in mind that your website’s traffic drop can also happen slowly and steadily. You need to choose a longer date range to notice it. Consider a wider time frame (three to six months or even a year) to get a clearer insight into the trends.

website’s traffic drop
Seems like something happened with organic traffic at the end of February.

Step 3: Analyze different reports (3 examples)

a) Source / Medium report 

Could you find any significant changes if you’re comparing your desired date ranges and evaluating the traffic levels by “medium”?

Seems like biggest drops occurred in Direct and Referral traffic.

If you see these kinds of results, you’re probably experiencing some SEO problems:

seo problems
You could be suffering from a Google penalty.

b) Mobile -> Overview report

Do you notice any significant changes if you’re evaluating your traffic by “Device Category”?

mobile traffic decline
There has been a huge drop in mobile traffic.📱

If you notice a huge drop in mobile traffic, use a built-in advanced segment for mobile traffic and head over to other reports to dig deeper and find new insights.

c) Technology -> Browser & OS report

Look at the browser reports and make sure all your tags are firing successfully and you don’t have any compatibility issues.

browser issues traffic drop
Chrome browser? ⚠️

Extra tip: Double-check your Hostname filter

If you’re implementing a hostname filter, make sure you do it properly. The hostname filter will help you automatically exclude all hits from ghost spam but if it’s implemented incorrectly, you’ll also prevent valuable traffic from affecting your data.

incorrect hostname filter
In this case, you don’t include the “www” and “m” versions.

If you want to include www version as well, use this regex: ^(www.)?domain.com$
Here you can read more about Regular Expressions.

Step 4: Talk to your colleagues or agency

If you’ve already figured out the exact date and time your sessions started to decline but you still haven’t found the reason behind it, just discuss it with your colleagues or agency, too.

Maybe your web developer changed something on your website exactly the same time your sessions started to go down or your agency implemented a new filter that prevents traffic from affecting your data.

google analytics problem
Good communication can help you solve problems more quickly. – Image Source

A couple of possible (technical) reasons behind your website traffic drop

1) Analytics tracking code issues

  • Code is missing – Make sure you have Google Analytics tracking code implemented on every page of your website. Use this tool to check your entire site for missing Google Analytics code.
  • Incorrect snippet – Make sure you’re using the correct snippet for your property. Here’s how you can find your GA tracking code: Admin -> Tracking Info -> Tracking Code
  • Extra characters or whitespace – Be sure to copy your GA code snippet and paste it directly onto your website using an editor that preserves code formatting. Not doing this might result in running into a problem.

Extra tip: Make sure you’re not running multiple instances of the classic GA tag (ga.js) on a website. In addition, make sure you’re not running multiple Universal Analytics (analytics.js) codes with the same UA-ID on your website. It can result in inaccurate data collection, processing, or reporting and you’ll have an extremely low bounce rate (less than 10-15%) in Google Analytics.

P.S. ga.js is a legacy library. If you are starting a new implementation, I recommend you use the latest version of this library – gtag.js or just implement GA via GTM.

low bounce rate
A 3.8% bounce rate isn’t actually good, it’s most likely just broken. 

2) Incorrect filter settings – Keep in mind that an incorrectly configured filter can affect the data you see, and can inadvertently filter all of your data from your reports. I recommend testing all filters in the “Test View” first before applying them to the “Master View”.

3) Google Penalties –  If your organic traffic has dropped significantly, you might have got a Google Penalty. If you think that you’ve got a penalty, check your Google Search Console account for a penalty notification. You can read an ultimate guide covering different Google Penalties here.

Wrapping it up

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of which actions you need to take if you suddenly notice that your website traffic has dropped dramatically and you don’t know the reason behind it.

Here’s some additional reading on the subject:

  1. Why Your Analytics Isn’t Working (and How to Fix it)
  2. Why Did My Sessions Go Down in Google Analytics?
  3. Google Analytics Stopped Working? Here are 10 Ways to Fix It.

If you’ve tried to figure out why your traffic recently dropped and you haven’t found the reason yet, feel free to post your question in the comments section below. We’ll help you figure it out.👇🏻

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