You’re up early, just sitting down to an analytics report with a fresh cup of coffee, when you suddenly see it on your laptop screen – a big ol’ drop in website sessions in your overall traffic report. And not just by a few session counts.

You shouldn’t panic, at least not yet.

Traffic changes for your website or app often happen as you begin reviewing analytic reports over time. But with so many reports and ideas, it can be a head scratcher to know where to start a diagnosis.

While no one set of tactics is the right way, there are a few great ways to get started in analytic reporting. The key is deciding if the traffic change is technical or from marketing influences on traffic.

What Kind of Traffic Decline?

Consider the kind of traffic decline that appears the report. Is the change a sharp decrease or a decline spread over a few days?

A sharp decrease, particularly within a day, is most likely a technical issue. A technical issue can take a few forms, such as a misfiring tag, a poorly modified tag script or maybe a new page that was uploaded without a tag.

In addition, a page may have other scripts that load and interfere with the analytic page tag. Conducting a site audit for a technical concern is the best approach to revealing the technical.

In contrast to sharp decreases, a gradual decrease trend over a few days can come from a number of marketing sources ending campaigns that were once sending traffic.

Changes in search traffic can also produce gradual changes. These are less technical oriented and are a matter of evaluating digital influences.

Dealing with Sharp Declines

If you suspect the traffic change is due to a technical tag, the next step is an easy one – look at Analytics Notification, the warning notes that appear in the upper right corner of the screen when you first login.

I’ve written about the notification features in this CMS Wire post on diagnostic tools. Taking a look at the Analytics Notification can reveal more detail about the technical concerns and permit users to make corrections on the error. 

You may also want to check out forums such as the Google Analytics Google Page. Forum discussions occasionally provide news regarding account-wide technical issues. This will help make the most of tips and highlight concerns that are not be specific to your account.

One additional resource for tag issues that you may want to examine is the direct reports. The data typically represents visitors who have clicked on the URL or have typed the URL in their browser.

But analytic solutions tend to identify campaigns as direct traffic when campaign tags from emails, social are not recognized. So ending campaigns can appear as a shop drop off. Audit campaign-related traffic to make sure all your campaigns are being tracked.

Dealing with Gradual Changes

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To gain some insight on gradual changes, start examining the Channel reports to gain a comparison of basic traffic sources – search, direct, and referral. If referral seams to be a considerable makeup of the visitor traffic, use the referral reports to highlight referral sources that may be a culprit.

It is possible for a site to no longer contribute traffic, so basic reviews of these reports can narrow the potential cause and save diagnostic time.

Once the influential traffic type is highlighted, consider the analysis value to your strategy.

Is the traffic type important to an overall marketing strategy or digital objective? More influences may be involved – for example, a search-related traffic trend may not fit within a 30-day period and could exist over a longer period.

But examining search when it is not a strategic concern makes an analysis academic instead of an urgent need. The important take away from this kind of reflection is to organize the next actions that are meaningful to your business presence.

Is It Recurring?

Some changes in traffic are recurring. For example, you would expect overall weekend website traffic on a B2B website to be lower than that during the workdays.

Compare date ranges over longer periods to reveal potential patterns. Consider 30 day, 60 day and 90 day periods according to your best judgment on the digital marketing for a site or app. This approach can be used while examining the Channel and Referral traffic sources

Depending on the influences, give yourself or the analyst investigating the pattern some time to gather clues and to review influences.

In my early years with analytics I took two and half days to work out an increasing trend among a client’s search traffic. The hang up for me was reviewing search over a long enough period – essentially a year – from content being regularly added to the site.

Consider Site or App Influence

Marketing campaign changes can also be a source of diminished traffic. Make sure a change in traffic is not just a change of marketing. Marketing changes are easier to address, so identifying them will avoid wasting time investigating technical concerns that were not the root cause.

These tips won’t give a complete answer to all traffic woes. But they will help direct   an analyst on where to start a deeper analysis, and allowing managers to better articulate influences on a potential technical concern. If you find yourself in that position, you’ll discover new ways to keep traffic arriving to your site or app.