My Blog's Organic Traffic Is Falling. Now What?
Written on 27 June 2021
I would always feel anxious before my triathlon races. My coach would tell me, “you did the work. Now trust the process.”
Recently our organic traffic and signups have been on a decline. As I feel nervous about that, I was reminded of my coach’s words. "Trust the process."
But what is the process?
Here is what I’m doing, and I hope it helps you too.
1. Assess the macro-environment
The first thing is not to look at my data but to take a step back and look at things around me.
Many niches, especially e-commerce, had a surge in demand in the past year as people adapted to a different way of living. Many businesses moved online and adopted more tools. We saw a huge uptick in signups at ReferralCandy without doing anything. But it feels like we might have passed the peak, which means demand is now on a downward trend.
That said, while our monthly signup numbers are falling, they are still generally higher than the pre-COVID numbers.
According to Ahrefs, several big blogs have seen a fall in organic traffic this year. I looked at the blogs of companies like HubSpot, Shopify, Zapier, Buffer, and Ahrefs. Shopify’s blog organic traffic growth looks most decent. Even then, it seems to have hit a plateau. There is a hypothesis that Google is taking away organic traffic to make businesses pay for ads. It could be true but I guess we will never know.
Knowing the demand and organic traffic trends, I feel a bit less worried about the recent decline of our organic traffic and signups. But I also want to do something about them.
Since our blog generates the most organic traffic, I looked into it first.
2. Update blog content
My initial thinking was we might need to expand into other topics because we have saturated the referral niche. But when I looked through our blog, I realized we have many blog posts that have not been updated in a while. Some are obvious because the screenshots of Twitter were from years ago.
I'm a strong believer in keeping our content updated—whether it will get more organic traffic or not. My (idealistic) principle is to do what is best for the reader.
- Outdated information generally is not helpful, and it looks bad on the brand.
- Some of our blog posts have screenshots of our product from many years ago. Showing old user interfaces is not a great way to market the product.
- What is good for the reader is what search engines such as Google like because they ultimately want to serve their users the best information.
We are in the process of updating our content, and I believe it will improve our organic traffic and signups. This process is slow right now because we are a small team. (Join us if this sounds interesting to you!)
The best action for your blog might be different, depending on the state of your content. I imagine many content teams have outdated blog posts that they should update. But some teams already have updated content and might want to try other things, such as improving internal links on the blog and consolidating or pruning content.
3. Improve the reading experience
Besides having good content, it should also be easy and nice to read.
Core Web Vitals have recently been a big topic among SEOs because Google is starting to consider them when ranking search results. Many teams, including ours, have been working to improve our Core Web Vitals. But it is unclear how much Core Web Vitals affect rankings because Google also considers many other factors:
We're combining the signals derived from Core Web Vitals with our existing Search signals for page experience, including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines, to provide a holistic picture of page experience. Because we continue to work on identifying and measuring aspects of page experience, we plan to incorporate more page experience signals on a yearly basis to both further align with evolving user expectations and increase the aspects of user experience that we can measure.
While getting good Core Web Vitals is important, understanding the principle behind is more important. The metrics are there to give us a proxy for the less measurable objective—the searcher’s experience.
My non-technical (and again idealistic) perspective on this is: make things better for readers.
We are working to revamp our blog to improve the readability and navigation experiences. It will be a longer term project but it will improve the reading experience by a lot, which feels like the right thing to do.
4. Balance with other channels
Content SEO is probably the most cost-efficient and scalable marketing channel for self-serve B2B software companies, especially those with a small marketing team. My previous and current companies, Buffer and ReferralCandy, both grew mostly through content marketing and SEO.
While I'm biased for content marketing, I think it is important to balance it with other channels.
- Email: An engaged email list is one of the best marketing assets. It gives us more control to reach our audience than most other channels. It is also good leverage for partnerships.
- Partnership: Companies that are in the same industry and are not competitors can usually collaborate to one another's benefit. In my experience, it tends to work best when the partners' brands match one another and the partners are about the same size.
- Paid: I am not a big fan of advertising for bootstrapped software companies because it is rarely sustainable with VC-funded competitors pouring money and raising the cost. But it can be used to complement other marketing channels and give them a boost when necessary.
Trust the process
I cannot guarantee the results but I believe these are the right things to do.
If you think otherwise, I would love to learn from you. Let me know!