Traffic problems? Start here.

by Jim July 24, 2018

Back in Melbourne and problem solving already. I get a lot of queries about why site traffic unexpectedly plummets. I’ll show you some tips and tricks, along with the best tool to use to figure out a solution.

What I learned

  • Seeing traffic drops can be alarming, but there’s no need for panic
  • My favourite tool to get to the bottom of issues
  • The importance of a “URL inspection”
  • Why Google ignores certain pages
  • Have you experienced this Yoast problem?


Hey, welcome back Rankers! I’m back in Melbourne! Back to, well … sort of summer. Dublin is the equivalent in the weather. But, it’s awesome to be home, and … what do you think? Starkey reckoned I should keep it, but I reckon they’re just doing that because they think I look ridiculous and they’re actually being quite mean. Anyways, I’m thinking about getting rid of it very, very soon. So let me know your thoughts.

The Go-To Traffic Solving Tool

Now, I want to tell you, just quickly, about problem-solving drops in traffic. So there’s a lot of great tools, but one of the first tools that I go to, to check why something’s wrong, is Search Console, and Search Console has gotten so much better over the years, and I do love the new version, which is still in beta.

But they’re constantly adding to the tool, and one of the latest things that we’ve just seen over the last couple of weeks is a thing called URL inspection. I’ll get to that in a second. But here’s a site: you can see, here, we’ve got a drop in the number of valid pages. Now, just simple things like that, when you see drops like that and you’re not expecting it, you’ve gotta ask yourself, “Well, what’s going on there?” I know what’s going on with this particular site. I found out what’s going on by using the URL inspection tool.

And what we found out was going on was that this particular site, they were canonicalling their HTTPS version of the site to the HTTP version. Which basically means, they’re saying to Google, “Look, don’t worry about this HTTPS version of the site, all you need to do is go and have a look at the insecure version of it. Because that’s the right one, ignore these pages.” So that’s basically what a canonical does. Now, Google won’t always obey those rules, because it’s not a hard and fast thing with canonicals, but in this case, lo and behold, love them to bits, they actually are honouring that rule.

So, this is the HTTP version of that client site. And you can see here, we’re seeing a steady decline in traffic to this particular site, and we’re seeing an increase in pages. Basically what that means is, is that Google is now starting to ignore the secure version of the site, in this particular case, and they are now indexing more of the insecure or non-secure pages.

One Index is Enough!

That’s a bad thing, and you shouldn’t do that. You should always just canonical … don’t canonical across protocols for the same domain. Crazy. Just have one index. You don’t need to have a HTTP version if you’re on HTTPS. Even crawlable, presenting a 200 OK, which is what the site is doing. They’re not redirecting the HTTP through to the HTTPS, which is what you have to do when you’re switching to a secure site.

So, make sure that when you find that you have a problem … so I had someone ring up the other day in fact, talking to ProBlogger the other day, he said, “Yeah, something’s happened to our site just recently,” and went and had a look. Similar sorts of things, and for them, they got hit a little bit by that Yoast problem that we had a few weeks back, and some of you may have been hit by that. Just, if you’re up-to-date with the latest US version you should be fine now, but what was happening with their site, and once again, we picked it in Search Console, what was happening on their site is that a lot of the attachment pages — and this was one of the problems with the Yoast plugin — a lot of the attachment pages in Yoast were starting to get indexed.

Now, I haven’t had an in-depth look at that site to find out if it’s all clear, and the index is nice and healthy now, but basically the principle is this: you only want one version of a page indexed, and you want that page to be one that a user wants to find.

Now, in the case of WordPress attachment pages, they are not pages you want users to find, because, typically an attachment page, and this is … I’m not even sure why WordPress does it. I think it’s from the days of, “I want to see an image,” so WordPress would display that image in the post on an entirely separate page, so essentially you’d have one page with a big image. Not that useful to a user, and specially not useful to that user if they’ve found that page via a search, and typically, those pages are sending low quality signals, and they can also just be … well, very unhelpful for the user, and they can be very confusing to Google, because what can happen sometimes is those attachment pages, they can have basically the same name as the post that they’re attached to, so you end up with these almost duplicate URLs in the index, which you don’t want.

So, if you have a problem with your traffic from organic, the first place you want to go and look is Google Search Console. Hopefully that’s helpful!

We’ll see you next week. Tell me what you think about the beard. Thanks very much. Bye.

« | »[fbcomments]
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.