What is traffic flux or fluctuation?
There’s a lot of talk on the SEO forums about ‘traffic flux’, but like many areas of SEO, there can be different interpretations of what it means.
Traffic flux is a catch-all term used to describe fluctuations in organic traffic levels, particularly during and shortly after a Google update. Generally, webmasters will observe unusual traffic patterns as rankings shift and attribute potential factors to the changes.
This article looks at some of the causes of traffic flux and what it means for your site.
#1 Your website’s load time
The faster your website is, the happier your customers will be.
If your website takes a long time to load, then your users are likely to get frustrated and go elsewhere.
“The average time it takes to fully load the average mobile landing page is 22 seconds. However, research also indicates 53% of people will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.” - Think With Google
With more people using mobile to browse the web over desktop, it is extremely important your website is mobile responsive and your page speed is up to high standard - less than 3 seconds if possible.
Having a fast, mobile-friendly website increases your chance of conversions as it provides a better user experience, and your customers are likely to return and use your service again.
Some top tips on how to optimise your loading time include:
Reduce your HTTP requests
Enable browser caching
Optimise your images - we have a nifty guide on how to do this!
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) and external hosting platforms
Fix broken links
#2 Seasonal Events
Seasonal events can affect the fluctuation in your traffic, and the reason is simply obvious - they’re holidays!
During seasonal periods such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Black Friday, Halloween and Christmas, you will find that searches for “gifts” or “ideas” will increase, and generally if your content is non-seasonal-related or you don’t sell themed products/services, your traffic will decrease.
As a result, it’s important you create a marketing calendar and include all the seasonal events in the year. You can then brainstorm your ideas and decide what you think is suitable and will be the most effective for your business type. A few examples include gift guides, campaign ideas, trends, or even using associated words like “creepy,” “scary” or “shocking” to title a blog post on Halloween.
A key factor when producing seasonal content or selling products/services is to be prepared for the increase of traffic to your site. We wrote an article ahead of Black Friday last year where we discussed the importance of making sure your website is ready and doesn’t crash if too many people visit.
#3 Zombie Traffic
“Users that act like Zombies. They are dwelling on the site, not converting, slowly moving from page to page, like Zombies would travel around time and they come from Google is swarms.”- SEO Round Table
The term, zombie traffic was created by WebmasterWorld users. There’s speculation that Google (or someone else) is faking the traffic via some kind of quota system. I.e. they are allowing a site to rank well for keywords but denying it any “real” visitors.
However, this unlikely to be the case. In situations like these, people can often draw erroneous conclusions based on limited data. There are a number of very simple explanations for “zombie traffic,” some or all of which could cause the effects that people describe:
It could be bots - there is an increasing number of monitoring, measuring, aggregating, scraping and other services that could be crawling your website.
Browser autocompleting searches into domain names could result in people visiting your site that hadn’t intended to.
E-commerce sites could see an increased number of ‘window shoppers’ - people who may have converted in the past, but now are going elsewhere to purchase (e.g. a shopping app).
Poor mobile experience could result in more visitors leaving your site.
Google made a mistake! It happens, and as a result, they could be sending less relevant traffic to your pages.
#4 SERP layouts can change frequently
It’s tough to measure why traffic flux occurs because SERPs change so often, and this is normal.
“We see SERP fluctuation as being quite high, quite common and consistently so. Rankings bounce around like this in most search results, especially in the sort of bottom half of page one and especially page two, three, four, or five quite a bit, a tremendous amount in fact.” - Moz
When you see this happening, it’s important to remember it’s normal for SERP layouts to change frequently - don’t panic! Measure your rankings over a 4-6 week period rather than every day. This way, you are able to see if there is a clear flux, which is most likely not the case. Also, measure against your competitors. Are they changing ranking every day as well? If so, you know you’re not the only one. And finally, look at your page traffic. Are you still gaining regular hits daily and weekly? If the answers yes, you don’t need to worry.
The only cause of concern is if you have a sudden drop in traffic over many of your pages after stable periods. You might have done something wrong, or Google may have devalued some of your links. Do your research and figure out what might have happened.
Overall, traffic flux is normal in SERPs. Don’t panic!
“RankBrain is Google’s name for a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that’s used to help process its search results” - SearchEngineLand
RankBrain is a component of Google’s search algorithm which is intended to move away from direct keyword matching of search queries and more towards understanding the intent behind the search.
Take a Google search for “gecko,” for example.
Here we can see that Google is returning the Wikipedia page for the reptile, a knowledge graph for the reptile, local map results which includes our listing (as I’ve Googled from Edinburgh) and organic results which include a theatre called Gecko and our organic listing.
This is a fair set of results and is also RankBrain in operation. It has determined that they are different intents behind the search and returned a variety of results to best accommodate them.
However, if we search for “gecko agency”...
Here the results are much more focused - it’s our organic listing and knowledge graph, along with a couple of other agencies with “gecko” in their name. Those businesses aren’t local to us - if they were, we might also see a local map pack in there too.
Prior to RankBrain, both those sets of results would have been dominated by the better-optimised pages - i.e. those that had stronger “keyword optimisation”. So the theatre may not have ranked as highly for the first term, as it wouldn’t have performed as well as Wikipedia, or be as well optimised as agency websites.
As RankBrain is relatively new, Google is likely still fine-tuning how it works - this could easily result in fluctuating traffic as pages rank for terms they didn’t before (and vice versa).
It’s tough to determine the cause of traffic changes - there can be a lot of educated guesswork when it comes to these things. But it’s important not to react to quickly to sudden changes, and instead, measure your website’s performance over time.
- Gillian, @wearegecko!