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Organic Traffic Drops After I Stopped Adwords

6:18 pm on Jul 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I don't know what happened, but it is destroying my business quickly. My company specializes in a specific service. People search for companies that repair their widgets, and it's a very niche market. Our traffic dropped quite a bit in 2011 or so, but it has remained constant since then.

My site is 11 years old, and has always ranked fairly well for a lot of different keywords in my industry. I will tell you, it is an older html site that isn't updated very often, and for the last 6 months or so I've been working to build out a completely upgraded version. With more up to date content, built on WordPress, fleshing out some of the thinner pages, optimizing it for super fast loading, creating much higher quality information, etc. etc. Our old site has just been performing well enough that I didn't want to just make a huge change and risk losing traffic.

Anyway, I wanted to run some Adwords a few weeks ago just to see if I could get some extra traffic. I also wanted to see what kind of work I'd need to do to build up a good Quality Score so that we can run some bigger campaigns later on.

The ad performance was just OK. Only a 0.5% CTR, and my QS was an 8 out of 10 for nearly all of my keywords. So I just paused the campaign having seen that I had a good starting point to build from later.

I stopped the ads on the 26th of June, and I immediately noticed a drop in organic traffic. My referrals from US based Google searches started to drop. For the rest of the day it seemed like I hardly got any of my normal traffic.

The following day was even worse. Where I typically get 80 to 100 uniques a day, I only got 55. And it continued to plummet. Here are my last few days just to show you what I'm talking about...

6/25: 104 (only 3 of these were Adwords clicks)
6/26: 68 (paused Adwords campaign mid day and Google traffic slowed dramatically)
6/27: 55
6/28: 45 Only 14 visitors from a Google search in the US
6/29: 39 Only 1 visitor from a Google search in the US
6/30: 36 Only 2 visitors from a Google search in the US
7/01: 16 (as of 1pm) Not a single visitor from a Google search

I also noticed that in Webmaster Tools my impressions went from around 1,000 to 1,300 per day down to 800 the day after I stopped my ads, and then they went down to around 300 the next day.

I have some other sources where people find out about our services and call, even without visiting our website. So at least that keeps us from being completely dead.

I know that whether you run Adwords or not should not have any impact at all on impressions or search rankings. But this is really really weird. Did I finally get hit by an algo update and it's just pure luck that it kicked in when I stopped my ads?

I don't know what else to do right now. My traffic can't get any worse than it is, so I'm just going to expedite my transfer to this new site I'm building and see if that helps.
9:28 pm on July 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I don't think AdWords has anything to do with it. Probably just a coincidence in the timing. It sounds like a Google penalty. Do you have any manual actions in your Webmaster Tools? If not, its probably an algorithm update. You mentioned thinner pages, are all of your sales pages pretty thin on content and how many are there? It could be pointing to a Panda penalty. I'd also take a look at your link profile within WMT to generally see how clean it is. There are a lot of different things to look at if this is penalty related.
10:05 pm on July 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Thanks a bunch for the reply.

No, there was never any indication of any penalty or issues at all. There's 232 pages that are indexed. I say they are thin on content, mainly because they are just so blah in appearance. They still tend to be between 300 and 500 words.

What's even stranger is, I still seem to show up in the same positions I was in before, but I'm getting way less impressions. I'm starting to think maybe all of these algo updates are finally catching up to me. I'm hoping to have this new site completed in the next few days, and then redirect my old pages to the newer versions and see how that does.

If that doesn't work, then I may change my company name altogether and just start from scratch with a brand new site. That is a last resort obviously.
12:20 am on July 2, 2014 (gmt 0)

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"What's even stranger is, I still seem to show up in the same positions I was in before..."

How are you checking your ranking positions?

Is webmaster tools showing that you are getting the same impressions but that your clickthrough rate has dropped dramatically?
8:03 pm on July 2, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Any chance you were using "tracking URL's" for your Adwords campaign?
2:34 pm on July 8, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I check some of my rankings manually from different computers, in a private instance of Firefox or Chrome, so that cookies aren't an issue. I'll also customize the search so that it gives me the results from different locations in the US. I also used webmaster tools to verify search rank movements. I didn't notice any major drop in overall impressions there.

I did use a separate URL just for my Adwords campaign. Just a cloned copy of my home page, which I instructed not to be indexed in my robots.txt file to avoid any duplicate content issues.
6:15 pm on July 8, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Welcome to the forums, and sorry your first post here is because of a bad situation.

People have long talked about an AdWords/organic conspiracy, but I've never seen anything that proved it, and I've never seen any problems along those lines myself. I often kick-start sites with AdWords campaigns (albeit small ones) that are then stopped, and it never affects rankings.

Have you seen this thread - [webmasterworld.com...] - about traffic drops on 28th June? It's not the same exact day, but might be relevant.
6:49 pm on July 8, 2014 (gmt 0)

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A couple thoughts on this:

It seems like there have been quite a few posts about "snap reactions" by Google lately, so even though I know correlation!=causation, I think it's worth at least entertaining.

I also wonder if this has anything do with the "double exposure", which has been shown to increase organic clicks over what they would be without ads, and the subsequent decline in organic clicks to "normal levels" when the ads are cancelled might have something to do with it?

Basically, what I'm thinking is: Organic clicks are at say 100/day. AdWords campaign starts and organic clicks increase to 120/day. AdWords are stopped and the organic clicks drop back to 100/day -- The increase then sudden decrease could plausibly indicate "not as hot" any more to an algo and cause some type of ranking adjustment for some users on some queries.