What to Do When Your Site Hits a Traffic Plateau (Think Traffic Monthly Reports #9)

  • January 17, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 21 Comments

If you’re new here, every month I report on how this site has been building traffic so you can learn from my experience. Well, I dropped the ball last month and didn’t publish a traffic report for the month. This report will be a combination of two monthly reports, covering the period from November 15, 2010 to January 15 2011.

In each monthly report I also like to tackle a topic related to what has happened at this site. This month we’ll be talking about what to do when your site hits a growth plateau.

First, let’s jump right into the report.

This Month’s Traffic Report

Here are the overall visitor numbers for the past two months:

This site received 11,845 visits this month and 11,924 visits last month (vs 15,396 in the month prior to those covered in this report).

Overall traffic dropped two months ago and has stayed at that level for the past two months. The site is in what I would consider a growth plateau.

Here’s how I define a growth plateau: a “peak” traffic month, followed by two or more months with consistently lower traffic. A plateau isn’t the same as traffic recession, which would be two or more months in a row of 20% less traffic month-over-month.

So, if we’ve hit a traffic plateau, is it time to panic? What can we do about it?

Let’s look at some other stats first:

(November 16 to December 15)

  • New subscribers: 229 (-46% month-over-month)
  • New comments (including my replies): 237 (-39% month-over-month)
  • Retweets of new posts: 290 (-8% month-over-month)

(December 16 to January 15)

  • New subscribers: 276 (+21% month-over-month)
  • New comments (including my replies): 272 (+15% month-over-month)
  • Retweets of new posts: 401 (+38% month-over-month)

How to Diagnose and Address a Traffic Plateau

If you’ve experienced a growth plateau at your site, here is how I would analyze things to determine if you should be concerned about the stalled growth:

  • First, look back at a graph of a longer time period. Does the general slope seem to be in the right direction? Here is a graph of traffic to this site since it launched last month. Notice that generally things seem to be moving “up and to the right.”

  • Next, ask yourself, was there any significant event or seasonality that could explain the drop in traffic? In this case, obviously there were three major holidays during the past two months, Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), Christmas and New Year’s. You can see the obvious drop in traffic over the latter two holidays in the graph above.
  • Next, look at your subscriber numbers. Did they continue to grow during the plateau months? If new subscribers dropped off significantly, I would be concerned. In this case, subscribers continued to grow at a moderate pace, and we added 505 new subscribers over the two months.
  • Next, look at your reader interaction numbers. How many retweets or Facebook “likes” of new posts did you receive? How many new comments? How do those numbers compare with other months? In this site’s case, we had our highest month of retweets ever last month, and comments and Facebook “likes” also continued to be strong.
  • Now look at your other vital stats from your analytics package. Did bounce rate, avg. time on site or pages per visit drop significantly? If so, you have reason to be concerned. In our case here, those numbers were all fairly consistent.

Given everything I’ve analyzed for this site’s growth plateau above, should I be concerned? Not at all. I’m definitely taking note of the situation and will watch what happens next month, but I’m not going to do anything drastic here.

I’m especially encouraged by the fact that last week was the biggest traffic week this site has ever seen, thanks to two very popular posts.

Thinking back on the past two months, something else also sticks out in my mind about the content I published here. Because I anticipated that the end of the year would be a slow time, I may have “held back” on publishing really great content until after the holidays. Perhaps next year I should really push hard to put out even better content to make up for the seasonality.

What if your answers to the questions above aren’t so positive? What can you do to get your site back on track?

If your vital signs aren’t looking so strong, you have reason to be concerned. Every site is different, so it’s hard to say exactly what you should do in your situation, but here are some general concepts to understand.

First, think back over the plateau period and try to identify if any of your content quality or marketing practices changed:

  • Did you change the way you create content?
  • Did you run out of interesting topics to cover?
  • Did you change the packaging of your content or use different types?
  • Did you change topics, either inadvertently or on purpose?
  • Did you change how you promote your site, either spending more time at new places or less time at old places?

Pay close attention to your answers to the above questions. They could hold the answers to your situation.

If your content or marketing hasn’t changed, think next about your site’s foundation and the market you serve:

  • Did you change your site’s design, tagline, logo or brand?
  • Did you change how you talk about your site (in your about page, etc.)?
  • Did something significant about your market change (i.e. your market is moving on after the end of some event, like World Cup, for example)?
  • Is it possible you’ve saturated your market and reached nearly everyone you could reach?

Finally, if those questions don’t lead you to the answer, take a look at your traffic sources. Dig in to see where traffic used to be coming from either by type (search, referral, etc.) or by source (specific sites). Which sources are sending less traffic? Is there something you can do to change that?

I hope this helps. If you’re in this situation and have specific questions, feel free to leave me a comment below and I’ll answer you directly.

Now, back to the monthly report.

11 total posts were published over the past two months (vs. 6 in the prior month), including 4 guest posts:

Top Traffic Sources

I’ve been having a blast doing a lot of interviews recently. Thanks to everyone who has invited me to be interviewed for your site. Here are some of the guest spots and interviews I did for other sites over the past two months:

Top Search Terms:

  1. think traffic: 674
  2. unique selling proposition examples: 401
  3. unique selling proposition: 235
  4. thinktraffic: 219
  5. website traffic: 178
  6. most popular blog: 127
  7. most popular blogs: 102
  8. best sales pitch: 88
  9. unique selling point examples: 85
  10. personal introduction: 81

Notice carefully how many of the top referring search keywords here were recently in titles of posts (like unique selling propositions, best sales pitch and personal introduction). Keep that in mind when creating titles for your posts.

Top Content

Goals for This Month (and This Year)

As I wrote last week, my new goal for this year is to write and publish more epic shit. I think that sums up my goals for this month.

Aside from that, I’m putting the finishing touches on Traffic School, which launches next month.

Questions? Feel free to ask anything.

Once again, if you have any questions about this report or about growing website or blog traffic, ask me anything in the comments below. I’m happy to help! Thanks as always for reading and helping to spread the word.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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TrafficColeman January 17, 2011 at 6:15 am

Seems like your moving in the right direction..we all hit walls at an time or two..but we seems to figure it out and kept moving..

BTW..Can you can contact me on my contact page..Its very important..I need your help.

“Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

Corbett Barr January 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hey Coleman, you can email me anytime here: corbett@thinktraffic.net

Cheers.

Hector Cuevas January 17, 2011 at 6:34 am

Hey Corbett. I don’t think you have anything to worry about as long as the content continues to be valuable and useful. I, too, experienced lower traffic numbers around Christmas and New years, but it’s expected. I even put out a podcast episode both Fridays to keep the momentum.

By the way, I see you’re having a blast doing interviews, when are you gonna come on the Business Blogging Podcast to share some knowledge with my listeners? Lol

Corbett Barr January 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

I’d love to do a podcast with you, Hector. Just send me a message when you’re ready.

Dave Doolin January 17, 2011 at 8:23 am

Some people mistake absolute traffic numbers for “viable business model.”

Others are in the “blogging game” as Pro-ams, with no intention of making a living, yet competing vigorously for the same smallish pool of readers as their Pro-am peers.

My traffic has been falling steadily since July 2010 (13.9k iirc)… but my business is growing. So I’m not worried about it.

Corbett Barr January 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

That’s a great topic for a whole blog post, Dave. I continually focus on getting the “right” traffic here, and that’s what has enabled me to build a business around the blog.

Onibalusi Bamidele January 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

Awesome report Corbett,

This is awesome!

I’m also noticing a drop in my traffic this month but it is as a result of me not publishing my posts but guest posts (what do you think?) – I’ve only written 2 posts this month, others are guest posts.

I think your traffic is awesome considering the rate at which you post.

I plan doing some more guest posting in the following months to give my traffic a boost.

Corbett Barr January 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

Cool Onibalusi, let us know how the guest posting experiment goes.

MKR January 17, 2011 at 10:13 am

My problem was publishing substantially less than good content. It was readable and useful, but not quite sharable.

I’ve switched gears a bit and will be posting 2-3 times a month, but each post will get a great deal of attention (both editing and promotion).

Corbett Barr January 17, 2011 at 10:48 am

Good plan. I’ve always said it’s better to publish great content less frequently than mediocre content often. Good luck with the new strategy.

David Cain January 17, 2011 at 10:41 am

Thanks for the inside look Corbett, I love numbers and graphs.

I’m nearing the end (I think) of a loooong traffic plateau. Per-month visitor count has not improved since July, and it really dropped off in December.

I didn’t realize it until just now, but it’s pretty clear what has caused it. Look at the posts-per-month for the last six months:

July – 7
Aug – 8
Sept – 5
Oct – 4
Nov – 3 (!)
Dec – 4

In 2011 so far I’m taking a more aggressive approach to blogging, and I’ve published 4 posts in the first half of the month. Traffic is already more lively than it was in December. I’ve almost got as many visitors as all last month.

Wow, I didn’t suspect such a strong correlation there. I’ve got to get writing. :)

Corbett Barr January 17, 2011 at 10:50 am

Oh cool, it sounds like maybe you’ve found the culprit. It can be different for everybody. In my case here, publishing less frequently doesn’t lead to less traffic, generally because I focus on writing better stuff when I do publish. It sounds like you’re more able to write good articles consistently even when publishing more frequently. Let us know how it goes for you.

Hear Mum Roar January 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I heard from a lot of bloggers that over the xmas period, their traffic dropped considerably, then crept back up afterward.

Rick Byrd January 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Hey Corbett:

Thanks for sharing such detailed information. I really appreciate that you detailed how to diagnose and address a traffic plareau problem. Using your traffic data was really beneficial for me to better understand.

I do not analyze my traffic at all because the amount of traffic is small. That’s just an excuse so yes I am going to go look at my stats now to get a better idea of what is going on.

Thanks!

- Rick

Michele Welch January 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hi Corbett,

You stated, “Is it possible you’ve saturated your market and reached nearly everyone you could reach? ” Very interesting.

When you think about industries such as you and I are in, you wonder how can you have saturated your market?… With such a vast market with hundred of thousands possibly millions. But there are much smaller, specific niches that your reach can only go so far, so it makes sense.

Quite a pickle if you are looking to grow your business,huh?

Great post! Thanks for sharing your stats… it’s been very informative.

Kara February 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Thanks for sharing your personal stats, and helping us along by providing thoughtful points to analyze on our blogs.

I appreciate good ideas grounded in the real world for those of us who sometimes tend to be focussed more on the ethereal!

Kara

Tawni Williams March 17, 2011 at 10:28 am

Thanks for sharing these insights. As I do research into this I wonder of social media as well as blog commenting is better than direct traffic. do you have any thoughts?

StewieG January 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Thanks much to you for the information great article. :)

Jackie Lee January 22, 2011 at 7:27 am

Do you find that you have days when you have a lot less traffic, but when you do post you get more traffic so your numbers average out? Do you worry about your daily traffic at all, or just how you do overall for the month?

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