Google Analytics Traffic Declining? Here's What You Look At

By Paul Berry

We've been working with publishers a long time and we frequently hear from clients panicking at a sudden decline in Google Analytics traffic. (Btw, you may also be seeing the decline in Chartbeat, if that's your preferred analytics tool -- we love clients that rely on Chartbeat's real-time numbers and know where they should be at any hour of any day of the week.)


In my experience, 99% of media traffic problems come from ad tech and third party JavaScript calls. JavaScript calls are what stitch the web together. That's awesome, but the reality is that the Javascript fiber is no Kevlar, or even a good sturdy cloth. It's frail and easy to break, and the tangle of JavaScript libraries being called together in a page can quickly conflict with each other.

When those numbers drop, that directly impacts your business. So it's important to understand what to look at when this happens. Here is how you keep a cool head, take steps to diagnose the problem, and be prepared to fix it.


Check Platform Health on RebelMouse

You can check status.rebelmouse.com or check in with an Account Manager. If your website is loading normally and your real-time analytics and GA traffic are showing a decline, then there's something more to dig into. If RebelMouse is having some type of issue, we'll pro-actively provide you with email updates.

While you may want to blame the platform, it's actually very rarely a RebelMouse problem. We find that we're typically helping our clients untangle the way their ad tech, analytics and any custom JS combine together. Ad tech is always breaking the delicate Javascript mesh that keeps the internet together (apart).


Check Your Network Tab and Javascript Console in Chrome While Loading Your Website

If you want to actually understand what's happening this will tell you. It is the first thing our team would do. You can actually read way more than you thought. We know, it's really nerdy, but it's the year of the nerds, right? So try looking at this link and reading through it, you would be shocked how much power this information gives you:

https://developers.google.com/web/tools/chrome-devtools/console/

BONUS: Use it in mobile mode where, almost surely, all your traffic is. Find out what's breaking your sites.

GUESS WHAT? The ads broke it. They always do. See if that conflicts with any core analytics calls or if it's creating issues with Facebook etc.


Chase Down Bad Ads

Some ads that are served through the networks are really horrible. They do things that will get you banned on Facebook, who has no way to know the difference from you, innocently trying to monetize your content, and the horrible scammer spammer. So that bad ad that traps a user - it's on you. You have to talk to your ad networks. Think of it as talking to an airline in the Denver airport on New Year's Eve, when all the flights have been cancelled. Be charming and determined and relentless. Maybe use more reputable ad networks. But remember, even the best networks get hacked and spammed at times.


Review Ad Blockers

Some people get fancy activate ad blocking in their Google ads manager. Ask your ad ops team if they have played with those settings. You can check it yourself through the JS console and in view source:



Review Your Lazy Load and Load Priority Settings

If you have been playing with page load optimization settings (i.e. figuring out which components to lazy load and how to prioritize JS components) then suspect any of those changes are responsible. Where you place the Google Analytics code and how you prioritize it on the page will 100% effect the reporting totals.

It's always better to load the ad scripts in a sync mode so they're not blocking the page rendering and you have a great page score in Google PageSpeed Insights. You can always check your page score here at https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights

e.g.:

-OR-


Check If Facebook Instant Articles Is Activated and Works

In Google Analytics, in real-time, you can go to Traffic Sources and see Facebook Instant Articles. Is it a healthy number? By healthy, I mean a significant portion of your traffic?

Because that where the audience is. If you are doing it right, you have a lot there. If you don't, then get a little paranoid about whether you should be turning it on. And if you thought it was on, check your articles on your phone - do they have the lighting icon and go to Instant Articles. Check in with an Account Manager if not.


Find Your Google WebMaster Tools and Run a Systems Check

If you don't have access to and aren't set up to own your Google webmaster tools, then welcome to the best (or the worst) part of the Internet .

This is webmaster tools:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en

You might need this:

https://support.google.com/webmasters/?hl=en

Run through to check if you are being indexed, crawled, if there are errors and if AMP is registered / working.


Reading Your Real Time Better

1 - Check your traffic sources. Anything missing? Some big normal traffic source suddenly gone? Find out if you have a particular source that has gone down. Normally it's seen as a decline in Facebook because Facebook is the biggest source of traffic.

2 - Check Facebook insights and messages and notifications. Did you get a bad ad that blocked you? Did a viral post get banned because of copyright reports? Go dig into any Facebook messages and your Facebook insights.

3 - Check your top post. Check them in developer mode in Chrome, and in mobile. Is something off? You can isolate craziness there quickly.

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The key to unlocking user retention lies completely in site performance. Currently, publishers are trying to build optimized websites that translate easily across devices and platforms, but fail to deliver an experience that checks all their boxes and prioritizes their readers. It takes less than a second of delayed load time to turn away a user. This is why Google has made page speed a top ranking factor on search, and shepherded the entire open web's newfound prioritization on site performance.

Game Changer: Google's Core Web Vitals Announcement

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Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A website's LCP is the time it takes to load the main content on a page. Google wants LCP to happen within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID): This metric quantifies a user's experience when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. This usually occurs between First Meaningful Paint (FMP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) (more on what these two mean below). You want your FID score to be low to prove the usability of your site. According to Google, pages should haven an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift Score (CLS): CLS determines how often your users experience unexpected layout shifts or changes on a page. To ensure visual stability, you want your CLS score to be low. Google wants pages to maintain a CLS score of less than 0.1.

From Google.

Google says Core Web Vitals scores will be considered across every page, and will be a ranking factor in its Top Stories feature. While relevant quality content will always be the most important, the page experience ranking is now a make-or-break metric for your site's survival.

"A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search."

—From Google's page experience announcement, May 2020

Core Web Vitals will determine every site's performance score. You can see your site's Core Web Vitals specifically via Google Search Console, but your website's overall page performance is measured using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools.

At RebelMouse, we guarantee a performance score of 90 or higher via PageSpeed Insights. To do this, we've built out a platform infrastructure that exceeds industry standards on Google's key metrics, particularly its Core Web Vitals, outperforming most industry leaders.

You can read more about how we've mastered Google's KPIs here. But the truth is in the data. Below is table that provides a snapshot into how RebelMouse-powered sites score:

And here's what the scores look like for some of the biggest sites on the open web:

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First Contentful Paint (FCP): This metric measures the time from click to the time when a user's browser renders the first bit of content from the Document Object Model (DOM), which is your site's HTML structure. According to Google, this is an important milestone for your readers because it provides signals that your page is loading.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements," to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric helps determine your site's usability.

Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This is a critical point when slow load time can occur, usually because JavaScript or other complex content hasn't fully rendered. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load in its entirety.

Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures a page's load responsiveness to quantify how long a page is non-interactive prior to becoming interactive. You want your site to have a low TBT to maintain its usability.

Speed Index (SI): SI is the measurement of how quickly the contents of a page are populated. You want your speed index score to be as low as possible.

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Click here to read more about our modern approach to web performance. If you want to make performance a priority, request a proposal today. We can easily transform your site into one of the fastest on the web, giving you increased user retention and better conversion rates than ever before.

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If I had more time, this website would have loaded faster

In the first months of 2020, we've focused at RebelMouse on page speed and performance. We worked very hard and found ways to take 90% of the sites we power to 90+ performance scores via Google's PageSpeed Insights tool — even with sites that are loaded with ads, embeds, third-party analytics, and other typical slow-loading elements. You can read more about our victories here.

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Here are some surprises we found when doing this: If you want truly exceptional performance, none of the JavaScript and CSS frameworks that developers love so much make the cut. We thought the React version of RebelMouse was going to be the huge page speed breakthrough, until we realized the only way to achieve this goal was to write the code carefully and refactor it endlessly until it was as short as possible. As any author will tell you, like editing a book or a blog post, the revision process is never really done. By stepping away from frameworks, and methodically shaving vanilla code, our customers continue to see major improvements in performance.

As we announced this to our site network and rolled it out publicly, many of our clients asked me personally, "How did you do it?" The answer is easy to understand regardless of how technical you may be. It's perfectly summarized in this wonderful quote attributed to Mark Twain:

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
—Blaise Pascal, 1657 (and later, more famously Mark Twain)

The universe is sometimes very beautiful, and especially when you keep it simple. If you would like to start publishing on a site optimized for both speed and sustainability, request a proposal and let's start working together.

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