Wanna see something scary?
That, my friends, is what I would call a definite downward trend — and for a post that, at its high point, received 10,000 views per month.
Maybe it looks familiar. And maybe it doesn’t, but it looks like something you want to avoid at all costs.
Either way — if you’re a marketer that plays any role in managing your brand’s blog — read on.
We’re going to go over some of the ways to avoid that big, scary traffic trend above — or to prevent it from happening again, if you’ve seen it before.
First, we’ll begin with the questions you should ask if you’ve noticed your SEO rankings drop. Then, once we’ve covered all those bases, we’ll get into how to proactively stay on top of your rankings, to get into good habits that can help you maintain your blog’s SEO health.
Ready to get into diagnosing those problematic blog posts? Let’s get started.
To demonstrate how this works, I’ll be diagnosing “40 Sales Interview Questions to Recruit the Best Reps in 2017,” which got nearly 24% fewer views in September than May.
1. Is the search term itself losing traction?
Go to SEMrush and enter the post URL into the top search bar. Google Analytics (GA) doesn’t pull the “https://” part of a URL, so make sure you manually enter it.
Find the highest-volume keyword the post is ranking in the top five for. It should be fairly general; for example, in September 2017, “40 Sales Interview Questions to Recruit the Best Reps in 2017” ranked #2 for “sales interview questions.”
Go to Google Trends and enter that keyword. The default time range is one year.
You may need to change the date to see more micro trends; I went with 5/1/2017 to 9/30/17 to see the May through September changes.
If interest in the term is steady — or up and to the right — it’s the post, not your audience.
2. Has the post declined in the rankings for a major keyword?
Go back to SEMrush and enter the post in the top search bar again. Change the date range under “Live data” in the top right to your highest-traffic month. (It should update to say “Historical data.”)
Export this list as a CSV. Don’t exit the SEMrush page with the rankings for the post you’re analyzing – you’ll be coming back to it in a bit.
Open the spreadsheet, and rename the tab “[High-Traffic Month] [Year]” (for example, “May 2017”.)
Delete Columns D-K.
Pull up the SEMrush window again. Change the date range to the most recent month.
Export this list as a CSV.
Delete columns D-K. Copy and paste the contents of this spreadsheet into a tab on the first spreadsheet. Rename the tab “[Most Recent Month] [Year]” (“September 2017”).
Go to the first tab. Add a Column D titled “[Most Recent Month] [Year] Rankings”. (For example, “September 2017.”)
Insert this formula into cell D2.
Click the small box in the lower right-hand corner to apply the formula to the remaining rows.
Add a Column E and call it “Up or down?”
Insert this formula into E2:
Highlight Column E. Click “Apply Conditional Formatting” → “Highlight Cell Rules” → “Less Than” and insert “0.”
Now every negative rank change is highlighted in red.
Notice any particularly high-volume keywords you dropped in rank for. In this case, we went from #1 to #2 for “sales interview questions” (2900 monthly search volume) and from #1 to #3 for “inside sales interview questions” (720 monthly search volume).
3. How recently have you updated the post?
If you haven’t touched it in over six months, a fresher and more comprehensive link might be winning.
Action item: Update the post with additional content, more recent links, etc.
4. How recently have you promoted the post in an email?
A big bump in traffic from our email subscribers usually lifts rankings:
Action item: Include the post in an email
5. Are the posts that have surpassed it in the search engine results pages higher-quality; e.g., more comprehensive, more examples, better graphics/visuals?
That probably means their time-on-page is higher and bounce rate is lower. They may be getting more referral traffic than you as well.
Action item: Do whatever your competitors are doing … but better. If their guides feature a subject-matter expert, feature two subject-matter experts. (Because this is a time- and energy-intensive technique, don’t use it unless you’ve exhausted all the others, or this is a really competitive and important keyword.)
6. Are you getting fewer backlinks than your competitors/has your number of backlinks declined?
As websites disappear or change, you naturally lose backlinks.
You can find this information on SEMrush by entering the post URL in the top search bar and scrolling down until you see this:
Action item: Quote one or more influencers — either by pulling from something they’ve published, or reaching out for a direct quote — then, ask them to share the post with their audiences.
7. What if your ranking hasn’t dropped?
See if the keyword now has a search feature.
Search features include:
- Featured snippet (FS)
- People also ask (PAA)
Here’s an example of how a carousel result would look for a topic related to sales:
… and for the FS and PAA boxes:
These typically appear in what’s known as the “position zero” slot, meaning everything below is bumped down. Suddenly, the #1 ranking is in second place.
Action item: Try to improve upon the current FS. Can you provide the same information but with less jargon? With more detail? Greater accuracy? This obviously changes on a case-by-case basis, but usually, the snippet isn’t perfect.
See if there’s an ad — or several.
Paid results can also — sometimes simultaneously — be at fault.
Take a look at the results for “How to use CRM”:
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about these paid results — except to just accept the dip in traffic.
Use Google Search Console.
Google Search Console can also help diagnose the issue.
In the left sidebar, choose Search Traffic → Search Analytics:
Next, click “Pages” → “Filter Pages” → “URLs Containing”, then paste the URL of the post you’re analyzing.
“URLs Containing” is preferable to “URL is exactly” because you don’t want to miss any modified versions of that URL, i.e. one with UTM parameters.
Then, click “Dates” → “Set date range” → “Last 90 days” — that’s as far back as Google will go.
Here’s what those top checkboxes mean:
- Clicks: The raw number of clicks from the SERPs
- Impressions: The number of times the page showed up on the SERP
- CTR: Clicks divided by impressions
- Position: Average ranking for all the different queries this page shows up for. (Take this metric with a grain of salt — if you’re #1 for a low-volume query and #9 for a high-volume one, your Position will be 5, even though one rank is far more valuable than the other.)
It may be helpful to look at the changes in Clicks, Impressions, and CTR individually, as checking all of them gives you this:
A little overwhelming, no?
First, let’s look at clicks. (I’m still analyzing “40 Interview Questions.”)
Looks like clicks are going down slightly. (The valleys are the
Impressions are fairly stable.
Aha! Here’s the issue. In late September, clickthrough rate (CTR) started falling.
- If impressions are steady, but your clicks (and therefore CTR) are dropping, your rank is dropping and/or a search feature is pushing your result farther down the page.
- If impressions are decreasing, but clicks and CTR are constant, seasonality/declining search interest is probably to blame. Verify with Google Trends.
- If impressions are increasing and CTR is dropping, meaning clicks aren’t growing proportionally higher, check if you’re ranking for an image. You should also check whether your post has started ranking for more long tail keywords — ranking for more keywords, while a good thing (topics/over keywords), will always lead to higher impressions, but clicks may suffer as you may not always rank highly for those longer tail keywords.
Now scroll down and look at the most common queries leading people to your page. Does the content on the page reflect what they’re looking for?
I’ve highlighted the queries this post will not answer.
Decide whether it’s worth updating the post to address these content gaps. Since this one is about interviewing salespeople, not marketers, I’m not going to add marketing interview questions – that’d be too out of left field. And since “sales interview exercises” sounds like an entirely separate post, I’m not going to add that in, either.
However, sometimes you find a relevant angle that’s missing from your post. When that’s the case, by all means, go ahead and include it — it can only help.
How to Stay on Top of Your Rankings
If you’re a blog editor, writer, or manager, I recommend running a report at the end of every month to see which of your property’s top URLs have lost traffic.
Periodically reviewing these:
- Helps you rescue pages before they permanently slip in the rankings
- Reveals search trends
- Gives you a sense of your audience’s interests — both stable and changing
The first time you do this analysis, pick your highest-traffic month from the past half-year. Using a medium- or low-traffic month will give you a more conservative estimate of which URLs have declined in organic traffic, which may disguise pages in trouble.
In GA, go to the left-hand sidebar and click “Behavior” → “Site Content” → “All Pages.”
Add your segment and select your date range.
If you’re analyzing a property that doesn’t have a given segment, click “Advanced” and apply this filter:
“Include” “Page” “Containing” “[Property URL]”
Scroll to the bottom and change “Show rows to 500.”
Click “Export to CSV.”
Open your spreadsheet, name the first tab “[Month] [Year]”, then rename Column B “Views [Month] [Year]”, and delete all other columns.
Go back to GA. Change the date range to the most recent fully completed month (i.e. if you’re doing this on October 30, the date range would be September 1, 2017 – September 30, 2017.)
Your filter and the number of rows from the previous month you pulled should still apply, so all you have to do is click “Export to CSV.”
Open your spreadsheet, rename Column B “Views [Month] [Year]”, and delete all other columns. Copy the contents of this spreadsheet, then paste it into the second tab of your highest-traffic month spreadsheet. Name the second tab “[Month] [Year]”.
Go back to your first tab. Name Column C “Views [Month] [Year].”
In cell C7, insert this formula:
=VLOOKUP(A7, ‘Sept 2017’!
Click the box in the right-hand corner of the cell to apply this formula to the remaining rows.
Rename Column D to “15+% decline?”
Insert this formula into D7:
=IF(C7<(B7-(B7*0.15)), “YES”, ” “)
Apply the formula to the remaining rows.
Click “Conditional Formatting”, “Highlight Cell Rules,” “Text that Contains…” and set “Specific text” “containing” “Yes” to red.
And So, If You Remember Nothing Else …
Here’s a recap.
1. Every month, run a report to identify the top posts that have declined in traffic.
2. Determine whether the search term is declining in traffic (nothing you can do) or whether the post itself is dropping in rank (lots you can do).
3. If it’s the latter, diagnose the specific issue(s) using SEMrush and Google Search Console.
Yes, this process is a time- and energy-intensive one. But it’s easier to fix your car than buy a new one — and hope you haven’t gotten a lemon).
Performing maintenance on your blog’s greatest hits takes fewer resources than writing a net-new one … and is usually far more successful.