In theory, an SEO campaign should yield consistent, predictable returns on web traffic. The longer and more consistently invest in your strategy, the greater traffic growth you should see. The only problem is that little phrase at the beginning: “in theory.”
Even the best search marketers have faced the horror of a stagnant campaign—one that seems to have hit a plateau in terms of growth. They’re applying the same valuable strategies and best practices they always have, but for some reason the number of visitors has stopped growing, and there’s no obvious motivation behind the decline.
If and when this happens to you, it’s in your best interest to quickly assess the situation, diagnose the problem, and apply the fixes necessary to jump start your traffic back to acceptable growth patterns. If that sounds easier said than done, that’s because it is. It’s tough to pinpoint the exact problem when there are so many moving parts, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be in a far better position to form a conclusion:
Just because you didn’t reach your goal for the month doesn’t mean there’s an actual problem with your campaign. Traffic patterns naturally fluctuate, sometimes for trivial factors like seasonal changes or random chance, so don’t take one month of strange data as an indication that something is amiss. First, log into Google Analytics and check out your traffic numbers over the course of the past six months or so. If you’re used to a rate of steady growth but the past three months have shown stagnation or worse—a decline—you could have a real problem on your hands. If the growth is there, but slow, or if the numbers are inconsistent between months, it’s not worth worrying about yet.
If you see an active decline in your traffic, this is almost inevitably the cause. Take a look at your marketing approach and see if there have been any new strategy introductions that were released around the same time the drop began. For example, if you reduced your blog publication from two per week to one per week around the same time that your traffic began to drop, you can pinpoint that drop as the root of your problem. Unfortunately, it’s rarely this easy to diagnose the problem, but make a list and evaluate your position just in case this is the culprit.
Hopefully you’re still logged into Google Analytics. While you’re here, take a look at the Acquisition tab and evaluate your four primary sources of web traffic—organic, which comes from searches, direct, which comes from direct URL entries, social, which comes from social media platforms, and referral, which comes from external sources. If one of these areas shows a drop or stagnation in traffic while your other areas continue to grow, you know you have a problem. Direct could mean the problem lies with your ability to increase customer loyalty. Organic could mean you suffered a ranking drop—likely as the result of a search penalty, which you can then take steps to correct with backlink removal or onsite edits. Social could mean you’re not influencing your followers well enough. Referral could mean your external sources aren’t sending enough traffic your way.
Regardless of the source of your traffic problems, the quality of your content could be at the root of it. Your content could be failing to meet search engine quality scores, failing to draw in external audiences, or failing to make a good enough impression to keep customers returning. Evaluate your content in terms of your posting frequency, the popularity and uniqueness of the topics you choose, the length and detail of your work, and where you syndicate the end results. Any one of these factors could be influencing the total amount of audience-generation power.
If none of the previous steps has pointed you to a potential problem, it could mean that there is no direct problem. Your campaign has become stagnant simply because your strategies have become stagnant. You’ve done the same thing for so long that you’ve reached your maximum potential on this path. The only way to break out of the mold and jump start your traffic growth back on course is to play around with new strategies—ones you may not be familiar or entirely comfortable with. Try writing a new type of content. Try writing for a new target audience. Get more aggressive on social media. Step up your guest posting and find new sources for your articles. Tinker with these additional strategies, measure any influence they have on your traffic, and repeat until you find a new wave of strategies that can support the growth you want.
Fixing a stagnant SEO campaign is more tedious than it is difficult. You will find a way to restore your numbers to an acceptable rate of ongoing growth, but it may take a while for you to explore all the options between here and there. Because technologies, algorithms, and users are always evolving, your SEO strategy has to evolve accordingly, so keep a flexible journey of change at the heart of all your inbound strategies.