Website traffic

Has Traffic to Your Firm’s Website Decreased? Let’s Look to the Source.

It is important to identify what type of traffic has decreased by looking to the Source in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an invaluable tool that helps website owners understand how visitors are finding and using their websites. As you might imagine, one of the most popular numbers to monitor when assessing site performance is how many people are coming to a website, otherwise known as traffic to the site. Similarly to how the stock market fluctuates and people tend to panic when there are drops, when website owners see a decrease in overall traffic to their site, they may also think the worst — something is wrong with their website.

Before panicking, it is important to identify what type of traffic has decreased by looking to the Source (or the channel through which a visitor found his/her way to your site). A decrease in traffic from a specific Source might be perfectly normal and not cause for concern.

Sources include:

  • Direct — visitors put the URL of the website directly into their web browser or from a bookmark
  • Organic — traffic from search engines such as Google and Bing
  • Paid — traffic from paid search advertising such as Google Ads
  • Display — traffic from banner ads on other websites
  • Referral — visitors came from a link on another website
  • Social Media — visitors came to the website from social channels like Facebook or LinkedIn
  • Email — visitors came to the website through a link in their email

Sometimes, the overall traffic metric is lower than the previous month’s because traffic from one or more of these sources is down even though other sources may be up. Below, we explore a decrease in traffic from the different Sources in Google Analytics and what it means for your law firm’s website.

Top channels

Reasons That Direct Traffic Might Be Down

Direct traffic refers to anyone coming to a website directly, either by typing in the URL into their web browser or accessing the website through a browser bookmark.

There are various reasons direct traffic might be down; many of which have to do with other forms of marketing. Offline marketing, such as print ad campaigns, television and radio ads, usually mention the company’s website URL, which might drive direct traffic to the website. There might also be a correlation between offline marketing campaigns ending and a decrease in direct traffic.

It is important to note that most spam traffic will be categorized as direct. This is the channel that is most likely to see large fluctuations that are not cause for concern.

There are ways to track direct traffic so website owners can see if any offline marketing campaigns are bringing in website traffic. You can set up UTM codes or even create domains that redirect to your website. This can help attorneys and firm management get a clearer picture of their overall efforts and more accurately track their direct traffic.

Reasons Organic Traffic Might Be Down

Organic traffic refers to anyone who comes to your website via search engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo and new players like DuckDuckGo and Yandex. Website owners who invest in a digital marketing campaign that includes search engine optimization (SEO) must pay close attention to this metric as it indicates that more people are finding their website and their online visibility has increased. As Google has an almost 90% market share in the US, Google traffic represents the bulk of a website’s organic traffic.

Organic web sessions

There are several reasons organic traffic may be down. First, Google has an ever-changing algorithm which impacts websites and where they appear in search engines results pages. For example, the recent Core Update impacted websites by changing the significance of certain ranking factors. It is important to keep up-to-date with these changes (or work with a company that specializes in this) to make sure that your website is maintained in accordance with Google’s best practices.

Another reason that organic traffic may be down is either a change in the URL structure of your website (going from /about-us.htm/ to /about-us/) or a recent change in domain name ( to Google indexes websites and displays certain URLs in their search engine results. If no redirects are in place, Google will notice that the website and URLs are showing 404 errors. Because of this, Google will either remove the pages from their index or the rankings for these URLs will drop. Website owners can take advantage of Google’s Search Console to see if the website has any 404 errors or any other crawl errors that are impacting its ranking in Google.

There are several other reasons why organic traffic might be down– but the most alarming is the dreaded Google penalty. A penalty from Google can be the result of questionable SEO tactics and can decrease or eliminate all organic traffic. If you suspect this to be the case, it is important to set up Google Search Console. Within the Search Console, you will find a message if your site has been subjected to a manual action. If this is the case, it is probably best to get an expert involved to help fix the website and successfully submit a reinclusion request.

Reasons That Paid/Display Traffic Might Be Down

Paid and Display Traffic are two forms of traffic that come from online advertising, such as Google Ads. Paid traffic refers to anyone who clicks the website’s advertisement at the top of a search engine results page.

Paid ad on Google search results

Display traffic refers to banner ads or image ads on blogs, news websites, mobile apps and videos that are generally purchased from an ad network.

Display advertisements

In the same way that Google has an algorithm for ranking websites within their search engine results page, there are factors that determine the order in which paid search and display network ads are displayed. The first thing Google will look at when determining the placement of the ad is the campaign’s daily budget. If two campaigns have matching budgets, then Google will look at the quality score.

If there is a drop in paid or display traffic this is generally due to an issue with your ads, or a change in the competitive landscape. Issues with ads are often related to payment, for example an expired credit card that forces ads to be paused. Ads may also be disapproved if they violate the ad network’s terms.

As paid search typically involves an auction process, it is also possible that new competitors have started bidding or others have increased their bids. Most ad platforms offer insight into impression share that will highlight the reason for decreased ad visibility.

If display network traffic is down, try switching up the content that is being displayed; ebooks, webinars, white papers or infographics tend to perform better as display network ads than direct links to the website. Also, you might want to switch the way you are targeting the ads. There are targeting methods such as keyword placements, topics, interests, demographics and remarketing. Changing the targeting methods can lead to a higher reach and drive more traffic.

Reasons That Referral Traffic Might Be Down

When someone comes to the website from an inbound link from sources that are outside of Google, this is labeled in Google Analytics as referral traffic. Diagnosing a drop in referral traffic is pretty tricky as there might be numerous websites sending traffic to the website like directory listings, review websites or blogging websites. The most common reason for a decrease in referral traffic is that a popular site has stopped linking to you.

Referral traffic shown in Google Analytics

First, check whether the website has a running ad campaign on any third party websites. Is the firm paying to have the website listing appear first on any online directories like Avvo? Is the firm paying to have a blog post sponsored or featured on a website? Has the practice been featured in a local online newspaper?

If these campaigns have ended, your website might have a decrease in referral traffic, Monitoring which referral websites are bringing in traffic will provide a good indicator of whether this type of investment is worth repeating.

Reasons That Social Media Traffic Might Be Down

Social Media traffic refers to any user who came to your website from a social media platform. Each social media platform has its own set of best practices on how to provide engaging content to your followers and how to drive traffic to your website.

Social media traffic in Google Analytics

Looking at the social media report in Google Analytics will help determine which social media platform has had a decrease in traffic to the website. Look back at previous months and take notes on which dates resulted in the most traffic to your site; this data can be used to help you understand which posts are performing best. This is a good way to see what types of content are helping to drive traffic and how to inform your social strategy.

A dip in social media traffic may also be found if you stop running paid ad campaigns on these networks. While most social media campaigns encourage users to like the company’s page on the social platform itself, other ad campaigns are designed to send people directly to the website. If this campaign has stopped, then that might be the reason for the decline in traffic.

Reasons That Email Traffic Might Be Down

While not every website owner chooses to engage in an email marketing campaign, Google segments this form of traffic. For businesses that send out weekly or monthly newsletters, monitoring this form of traffic can be valuable in determining whether or not their efforts are being rewarded.

Similar to social media, traffic might be down from emails because the content of the newsletter/email wasn’t engaging. The best solution is to take a look at which prior emails drove the most traffic and use that information to determine what to include in future newsletters/emails.

It is also wise to take a look at the correlation between emails and subscribers lost. Platforms like MailChimp or Constant Contact allow website owners to see if their email recipients opened the email and/or removed themselves from the mailing list. If the piece of email marketing caused a huge number of recipients to remove themselves from the list, or there is a correlation between the amount of emails sent and a loss of subscribers in the previous month, that may be the reason email traffic is down.

When There’s No Major Decrease in a Specific Type of Traffic

Sometimes, traffic can be down slightly across all sources. When this occurs, you can use Google Analytics’s functionality of comparing year over year traffic. This will allow you to see if seasonality is the cause. This will also allow you to see how much your overall traffic has grown from the prior year.

Google Analytics traffic year over year

To conclude, if the overall traffic to your website is down, no matter what the reason, there are many steps you can take to rectify the problem. There’s no reason to panic as changes to overall traffic are to be expected and can often be fixed with just a bit of effort.