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Google Analytics Traffic Dropped in February 2016 – Don’t Panic Yet!

Webmasters and Site Owners are in a panic this month! Google Analytics is showing a traffic drop by as much as 30% when comparing February to January. Everyone is freaking out and close to meltdown. The phones at marketing companies and SEO companies are ringing off the hook and keyboards are receiving an awful lot of abuse as frustrated people bang out emails one after another. What the hell happened? Why did traffic drop by up to 30%? Whom do I need to fire?

Believe me, I’ve been in these shoes before. I’ve been the one pointing fingers asking questions, and I’ve been on the receiving end of the emails and phone calls. As in any business, clients generally don’t call to say “Everything is wonderful!” usually they’re searching for answers. For us, we’ve been lucky to get the “all is well” phone call, but this week was different. Had I not known everything that has happened to our clients SEO Campaigns over the past year or two, one could very easily chalk it up to a Backlink Campaign that got caught, or some Blackhat SEO techniques that finally caught up with the site owner. However, that wasn’t the case this month!

My Analytics Dropped – Oh No!

Our goal as a Search Engine Optimization company is not to just drive 10,000 visitors to a website, heck, most of the clients we work with have less than 10,000 visits in 3 months, let alone one month. Our goal as an SEO is to drive the right kind of traffic. More often than that, they would be buyers rather than shoppers, and people looking for answers to specific questions. They are what we refer to as qualified visitors and quality traffic.

Unlike the YellowPages, a billboard or a television advertisement, our goal is not to get thousands of eyes looking at something, but rather a buyer who is ready to purchase. That’s the biggest advantage when it comes to correctly optimizing and building website traffic. As an SEO Company, we would much prefer to see 10 visitors looking to buy rather than 1,000 visitors just clicking on pages and leaving. For a return on investment (ROI), SEO is an excellent option.

The clients that we work with often have a much smaller traffic funnel than informational websites, so when there’s a drop, it’s noticeable! So when there’s a 30% drop in traffic, that’s a big chunk! Something must be seriously wrong.

It’s Probably Google’s Fault

It’s been an interesting year for 2016 so far, and it’s only March! Over the past two months, we’ve seen some significant updates by Google. Everything from a change in the display results showing only 3 listings in the local pack the removal of Pay-Per-Click ads on the right side of the search engine results pages and even the addition of a 4th Pay-Per-Click Ad at the top of the page.

These were easily spotted, but then there’s the looming Panda Update, which was to happen in the first quarter of this year, and later a statement by Google’s Gary Illyes that he’s not going to give projected Penguin 4.0 dates anymore either. This would be an update that the general public would not notice, but your SEO and Webmasters are on the watch to see if there are any site penalties issues by Google (usually because of Blackhat SEO or poorly implemented SEO).

However, none of those are to blame for this latest drop in traffic. There’s something else happening, and it has to do with Ghost Spam and Ghost Referrals.

Ghost Spam and Ghost Referrals

Spam is a word that pretty much everyone is familiar with and often experience severe frustration when getting it on a website. Most people associate this with the junk mail that they receive in their Inbox. It’s annoying, but there are enough people that actually click on those spam links that make the process of spamming millions of people still very cost effective. It’s the same reason that we still get Direct Mailer pieces in our physical mailbox from DirectTV, or COX or the local Dentist. The return on investment is higher than the cost of the campaign, so they continue to do it.

When it comes to Ghost Spam and Ghost Referrals, however, you’ve probably never heard these terms before. It’s possible that even your webmaster has not heard the terms, but your SEO person undoubtedly has heard them and has hated the mere mention of them. In a nutshell, it’s fake traffic.

The way that Google performed tracking of Google Analytics means that you insert a UA-XXXXXX number code on your website. Every time that number is called, Google marks it down as a visit. The problem, however, is that Google does not validate the number call against a domain name to see if it was actually a visitor.

Over the past two years, there’s a number of places that have popped up in Analytics reports that are spamming the analytics numbers and accounting for traffic. You may have seen links to “ilovitaly” or “share-buttons” and domains of those natures. These were all spam.

We wrote an article on how to get rid of referral spam using segments in Google Analytics. Adding a list of domain names to the Segment and then filtering reports through that system. It is not a hard task, but it’s time-consuming to have to keep adding to the list and then filtering reports.

Thank You, Google! We’ve Been Waiting!

In March 2016, Google finally came up with a solution to getting rid of domains listed as Ghost Spam. From what we understand, Google is now maintaining their list of domains that they consider referral spam. They haven’t blocked referral spam, but rather they’re filtering the data before their nightly compile of analytics. If you view the Analytics in Real Time, you can still see those junk domains showing up, but it’s removed before the end of day processing.

This is big news! It’s also something that just appeared out of nowhere. Google had stated that they were working on a solution, but that was almost a year ago, so now that it’s released, everyone is happy – or, at least, everyone who knows about the release!

The other item to be aware of currently is that the filtering of those Ghost Referrals, so far, has only been done in February 2016. When you compare the information against the previous month or year, you can still see a dramatic drop. It is unknown if Google will be updating previous months data, but our hope is that they will do that at some point.

It Wasn’t Google – PANIC!! – No Really, Just Call Big Red SEO!

So, that brings us up to today. The drop in traffic wasn’t actually real traffic at all. The numbers were actually inflated as we couldn’t catch every possible domain out there. Google, however, has a much wider pool in which to pull their spam domains from, and they’re adding to their list as a result.

So, don’t panic. Everything is Okay! The traffic drop was probably normal. However, what if it wasn’t Ghost Spam? What if there really is a decline in site traffic?

Big Red SEO has you covered there too. Our team can parse through your reports and give you a clean bill of health, or a list of actionable items. We specialize in SEO Disaster Recovery. Many clients will contract with us just to review their site, reports, keywords or competition and then build a game plan that the client can implement themselves.

If you need some SEO Guidance or a review of your site and Analytics, just fill out this contact form, or call us at (402) 522-6468 and we’d be happy to help. We not only help individual clients, but we work with SEO Agencies too, so they can get the right answers for their clients.

12/7/2016 Update:

If you’re seeing a massive amount of Language Spam, which is similar to Referral Spam, check out this article: Referral Spam Causing Problems In Google Analytics

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