What to do when your Google traffic dies

Google Rankings Crash Graph

A lot of websites receive the lion’s share of their traffic from the search engines, with Google being leader by far. Losing this lucrative and cheap source of traffic can be a real disaster, so if you find your self in that position what should you do?

This happened to one of my sites on New Years Eve last year, I was on target to have my first 5 digit Adsense month and then when I was $200 away from this landmark and with a day to go my Google traffic abruptly stopped. What made matters more worrying was that this was my last week at work with a guaranteed income and I was hosting a New Years party that evening and had beer to buy.

The first thing you do when rankings go is panic double check stats and SERPs and ensure it’s not just a temporary flux and then if confirmed, PANIC.

Having a quick panic is fine just make sure you don’t start doing anything rash. The next step is to look on forums like Digital Point or Webmaster World and various blogs to see if anybody else is experiencing similar problems, though don’t take what you read as gospel, there are many knowledgeable people on forums but there are many more people that are absolutely clueless and whose advice can do more harm than good. If you read forums regularly you’ll get to know whose advice you can trust.

Next you need to see how serious the problem is:

  • Has the site been completed de-listed (check this be doing a search for site:yoursite.com in Google)?
  • Have you just lost some of the major keywords that you used to rank for?
  • Have you lost traffic to all keywords?

In my case it was the third option, I get my search engine traffic from thousands of different terms (in December and January G sent me ~450K visitors for ~200K different search terms), so what ever my problem was it looked to be with the site overall, great that really narrowed it down.

The next step was to think back and look at any modifications I’d made over the last month or so and see if they could of adversely effected rankings, are all your title tags the same now or something daft like that. In my case the only changes I’d made was posting new content so no problem there.

The next step is probably the most difficult but very important, WAIT! Don’t start making changes give Google a chance to settle down it could just be a temporary thing. Continue updating your site as you would do normally and take the opportunity to start looking at other traffic sources (which you know you should always do anyway). If you have a decent site it will deserve to be found so let Google do it’s job, though if traffic hasn’t returned after a month or so it may now be time to start making changes.

For CG search engine traffic came back just over a week later, I was fortunate with the timing as it didn’t effect Christmas sales and the week it was down I was away at CES which made it easy to follow my own advice of not meddling.

I did eventually work out what caused the problem, my server went down when Google was performing a deep crawl of the site. I discovered this using the site map and Google webmaster tools I saw hundreds of page not found errors a couple of days previous to the big dip, so Google quite rightly knocked all rankings down, in hind sight I should of checked their first.

About Al Carlton

Al quit the 9 to 5 rat race in January of 2007, before then he was a software engineer and systems architect of financial system. Nowadays Al spends the days running his various businesses and experimenting with different ideas and opportunities.
Al can be found on twitter at AlCarlton.


  1. Drops like that are scary. I am no where near the amount of traffic that you get though and do not rely on the income like you were about to.

    I found that I came in on your list in the second place where major keywords were not ranking. A few changes and a bit of patience slowly built it back up.

    That was more of a learning experience for me as I am new to this and am still learning the best ways to run things.

  2. I experienced the same for one of my sites. It was scary and I really didn’t know the cause. However, instead of tweaking my sites, I continued to create new contents and after 2 weeks, it went back to normal. The cause was probably like you mentioned. 🙂

  3. Funny timing on this post Al – I have a ten-year old personal domain (see my signature) that has ranked semi-decently for a variety of keywords for years. On April 10th, it just *disappeared* overnight in the SERP’s.

    The content/layout is mostly static, and no server burps or anything in Sitemaps – was totally weird.

    And then BAMM, this morning a week later, everything is back to “normal” … overnight! Again, no idea what happened … and the entire time, it continued to rank well in MSN/Yahoo.

    Moral of the story: S*it happens – just glad that I’m not an ecommerce site or something.

  4. Wow, a shining example of the need to have a reliable host, and it sounds like yours usually is Al.

    Imagine if your server kept going down.

  5. I do think patience is key when this happens and not run around trying to fix things that aren’t neccassirly broken, It’s good to hear other people have these problems too and better to hear they sorted them selfs out.

    Totally agree Ash, I pay decent money ($300+) for a dedicated server and the only reason it went down is due to a coding brain fart by me, more to follow on that one.

  6. Got a good chuckle on your “brain fart” comment Al as I use exactly the same expression! 😉

    BTW, I have a couple of dedicated 100 Mbps servers which in the non-holiday season aren’t that busy – if you ever need some extra bandwidth for a temporary surge, drop me a note if you want to host some static stuff for ‘ya.

  7. I had this happen to a few small affiliate marketing sites I used to run a couple of years ago. Sadly, the traffic never came back, but fortunately, I had a back-up plan, so didn’t lose my shirt.

    Always make sure you have a fallback, no matter how well you think you’re doing!

    Great blog, btw.

  8. Al good pointers, you are right when you said, if you have a decent site it will deserve to be found so let Google do its job.

  9. Even i have faced this problems several times. Even today my rankings has been dropped for most competitive Key words. I hope it will be soon back

    Thanks for sharing valuable Knowledge

  10. I’m experiencing this right now, all i can do now is wait and see.

  11. Fantastic post. I usually panic first then check stats then panic some more and then see if it happened to anyone else(while panicing).

  12. Good post. This has happened to me before, and things fixed itself after a few days.

  13. I am having this issue past 10 days, still am waiting to get things to turn….

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