• Dan White

ASSESSING A BRANDED ORGANIC TRAFFIC DROP


Today we’re taking a look into why a client’s branded organic traffic is dropping. It’s a bit of a head scratcher but I thought it would be useful to share my thinking if it helps anyone else in a similar position. This is the kind of thing I really enjoy working on so, - shameless plug - if you’re in need of similar help in diagnosing a similar problem then here’s the SEO services I offer.

I recently started working with a client who flagged that organic sessions were down YoY for a specific section of their website. Some of them by as much as 20%. My job was to explain why - and what could be done about it. So, we’ll go through:

THE CLIENTS BACKGROUND

  • The client has around 30 physical locations across the UK

  • Each location has a unique name

  • Branded searches dominate each location

  • Each location has always ranked in the top positions for their brand name

Let’s assume we’re talking about a chain of pubs and the pub website has a page for each of their locations. We’re not really talking about pubs of course because - NDA’s.


HOW THE ORGANIC TRAFFIC HAS DROPPED


Diving into Google Search Console we can go back to a maximum of 16 months to see each pubs data. When I started to pull the figures it confirmed it that yes, clicks were down but impressions remained high which was weird. So that rules out a drop in demand. CTR however was all over the place but dropping slightly over time. Here’s a screenshot of just one of the pubs and its CTR.


A single pubs page CTR (16 month view)

THE BRANDED ORGANIC TRAFFIC DROP CHECKLIST


What I try to understand is what has changed over time. The questions I ask myself are - what’s changed with the indexed page, what’s changed within the SERP and what’s changed with the audience?

WHAT’S CHANGED WITH THE INDEXED PAGE?

  • Has the URL been dropped from the index (even temporarily)?

  • Has the title tag or meta description been changed which could deter people from clicking?

  • What other onsite elements have been changed which could affect ranking?

WHAT’S CHANGED WITHIN THE SERP?

  • Has the avg. position for the page definitely fallen?

  • Has another competitor come along – confusing the results and stealing traffic?

  • Are there Ads running which may be stealing traffic from the organic result? If so, when were these running?

  • Are there 3rd party websites for the same location which may be stealing traffic from the organic result? If so, when did these appear?

  • Has Google adjusted the SERP layout of existing features between the two time periods? Is the first position somehow less prominent?

  • Has Google added in any new features (such as People Also Ask, Videos or Featured Snippets for example) which could take the click away from the organic result?

  • Does the Google My Business listing give a positive impression of the business (dissuading people from clicking through)

WHAT’S CHANGED WITH THE AUDIENCE?

 

THE ANSWERS


WHAT’S CHANGED WITH THE INDEXED PAGE?

  • Has the URL been dropped from the index (even temporarily)? No. The URL has been there throughout generating impressions.

  • Has the title tag or meta description been changed which could put people off from clicking?

The drop happened before any changes were made to the title and description so there’s nothing to explain it here.

  • What other onsite elements have been changed which could affect ranking?

Nothing had been changed during the time we’re comparing so again, no clues here. We also ran an SEO Audit on the site a few months ago and everything came back fine.

WHAT’S CHANGED WITHIN THE SERP?

  • Has the avg. position for the page fallen? Kind of, but not for all pubs. The average position has fallen over time meaning but that slight drop translates to a huge drop in CTR. This has happened enough times across enough pubs to influence the drop in organic traffic.


  • Has another competitor with the same name come along – confusing the results?

Not that we’re aware of. Every one of the results on Page 1 references the pub in some way or another.

  • Are there Ads running which may be stealing traffic from the organic result? If so, when were these running?

Possibly, Ads are running. However, the Ads have been there since the pub launched, so there shouldn’t be a drop (unless the Ads were massively improved, but still it wouldn’t provide such a drop)

  • Are there 3rd party websites for the same location which may be stealing traffic from the organic result? If so, when did these appear?

Yes, there’s pub review websites (which in turn link through to the pub to book) but these have also been live since the pub launched.

  • Has Google adjusted the SERP layout between the two time periods?

No. Everything has remained the same.

  • Has Google added in any new features (such as People Also Ask, Videos or Featured Snippets for example) which could take traffic away from the organic result?

No. As a branded SERP there’s no new relevant features besides Google My Business.

  • Has the title tag or meta description been changed which could put people off from clicking?

No changes here during the times we’re looking at.

  • Does the Google My Business listing give a positive impression of the business (so isn’t preventing people from clicking through). It’s not great. The avg. review rating isn’t great, so it may put people off but still doesn’t explain why there’s such a drop in traffic and CTR.

WHAT’S CHANGED WITH THE AUDIENCE?

  • Has the intent of the query changed? (Are people searching the same term for a different reason?)

Possibly. Searches for a new pub would mean people want to see what it looks like inside and what the menu is. However if you’ve visited once and want to go back then you may search for the same brand name but are instead for things like opening times which would be answered via Google My Business).

  • Has the general CTR for the industry dropped between the two time periods?

No, branded search terms have maintained anywhere between a 40%-44% click through rate throughout the entire time period.


THE ACTIONS


So, what’s the plan? From working through this there seems like there’s two main things going on:

Avg. Position has slipped on more than 1 occasion, sending CTR crashing which in turn has affected organic sessions. The good news (kind of) is that because these are branded searches Google should be ranking another website promoting the same pub which would be receiving the attention instead, so in terms of end results everything should still remain fine.

Note: The drop from Position 1 to Position 2 for a branded SERP is huge. UK figures for Jan 2022 show a branded CTR goes from 40.79% to 19.08% when it goes from Position 1 to Position 2.


Branded vs Non Branded CTR in the UK during January 2022 across all devices. Data from Advanced Web Ranking.

The avg. position argument doesn’t apply to all the pubs though. A lot of them have still seen a decline in organic traffic but no change in Avg. Position (impressions have remained the constant or higher in the meantime). This keeps me coming back to a change in intent - although this is hard to prove. The type of information people want when a pub launches is going to differ from those folks who become repeat customers. The search term remains the same but the information a user wants can be gained without clicking on the website.


In terms of practical actions the next steps would be to:

  • Set up rank tracking for specific brand terms to see which 3rd party websites occasionally outperform us

  • See if we can diagnose what caused the page to drop in avg. position in the first place - and whether this can be restored

  • See what the performance is of other 3rd party websites - and if it’s feasible to outrank them

  • Look at removing ourselves from from the 3rd party websites, leaving our site to rank unopposed (this may not be wise as their performance may be better than our own, but it’s worth considering)

  • Naturally, there’s also the question of how much time, effort and investment it may take to achieve this - vs allocating that resource elsewhere

But all of those actions are for another day. In the meantime it’s been useful to get this written down. If you think I’m missing any other considerations for how to diagnose a branded organic traffic drop then give me a shout.