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How I tanked my organic traffic then brought it back up again

organic traffic drop

I intentionally tanked my organic search traffic, then brought it back up again within a week.

Have you ever made a few changes on your site, simple changes I mean, things like changing a URL or the site hierarchy by adding a category? If you have, perhaps you have encountered a loss of organic traffic to your website shortly after.  

This happened recently to me on a website I operate as a pet project.  The loss of traffic was not critical since it's just a site I test various SEO experiments with.  In a nutshell, I decided I wanted to change my site links to a better overall structure.  This is something I should have done with the site initially, but the site is over six years old, so I may not have been following best practices when creating it.

Fully knowing what could happen, I made the change regardless.  I added some categories and changed my wordpress post type to show a custom structure:

%category%/%postname%/

As a result, many of the posts I had created in the past had their URLs changed.  I knew by doing this it would create a bunch of 404 errors.  To combat this, I could have added some redirects to those pages, but instead I wanted to see how quickly my traffic would take a hit.  I made the URL structure change on Nov 5th, and as early as Nov 8th I started to see a massive drop  in my organic traffic.

 

I wanted to see how quickly I could recover my organic traffic after fixing the URL structure back to the way it was, by submitting a report through the Crawl Errors section of Google Search Console

On November 9th, I changed the URL structure back to the original state they were in. I then logged into Search Console and went to the section Crawl Errors under the Crawl drop down.  On this page, you will see any existing errors your site might be generating.  You can check 404 errors (soft & hard) as well as any other errors (usually 405).  

It should list all the pages that are generating errors.  In my case, since I changed the structure back to the way it used to be, I was confident I could mark off all the pages as being fixed. To do this, select the pages which need to be fixed and click the big Mark as Fixed button.  It is interesting to note that the consensus thought (according to some forums I frequent) about this button is that it does not actually do anything other than remove the dead link from your list in Search Console.  I suspect there is a little bit more value to it than just a cosmetic list cropper, but with all things Google, we may never know.

Now to see if it actually worked.

After waiting a few days, I noticed a climb back to the previous rankings I originally had.  Before I had tanked my organic search rankings, I wasn't really sure how long it would take to fix.  I was actually expecting something closer to 2-3 weeks, but to my surprise it was a matter of only a few days before my rankings were corrected.

In conclusion, I have a few takeaways from this minor experiment:

  • Google WILL detect errors and punish your site quickly - it only took a couple of days before I saw my rankings plummet 
  • Search Console is a great tool for monitoring your broken links 
  • Use the "Mark as fixed" button to remove fixed links from your Crawl error report
  • Just as fast as my rankings dropped, they went back up after addressing and fixing the situation

Although this was a calculated experiment, this could easily happen to an unsuspecting webmaster. As a preventative measure, always do the following:

  • When creating your site initially, use a proper link/menu structure to create site links that make sense in a top down format
  • If you DO decide to change your linking structure, make sure you apply redirects to those links which would come back as a crawl error
  • If you aren't sure about changing around your linking structure, ask an expert
Search Engine Sherpas
Search Engine Sherpas
Search Engine Sherpas is a Toronto SEO and Web Design company located within the downtown core.

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