4 Causes for Search Traffic Plateaus (and How to Fix Them)

flat traffic

Every marketer and business owner would love to see a search engine traffic graph that never stops rising.

And if you’re an expert SEO, you can manage that in many cases.

But likely, your search traffic will plateau at some point or another.

Month after month, it’ll stay about the same, rising or dropping an insignificant amount.

Sometimes it is your fault, but sometimes, it may be out of your control—at least initially.

At that point, you have two options:

  1. Find additional sources of organic traffic besides the standard search result listings.
  2. Determine the root cause of your traffic plateau, and take corrective action.

I’d recommend using both options, but since I’ve written about the first one before, this post will focus on the second.

I’ll go over the four main reasons why search traffic plateaus and how you can get your content and business back on the right track. 

Possible cause #1 – Fluctuations in keyword volume

The first thing you want to do is make sure you’re not having a knee-jerk reaction.

It’s fairly common for rankings to improve but for overall traffic to decline because of seasonal fluctuations in keyword volume.

Here’s how you check for this.

Start by heading to either your analytics or Google Search Console (former Webmaster Tools). Look for the top 5-10 keywords that send you organic search traffic, and write them down.

In Search Console, you do this by going to the search traffic, search analytics section, and sorting by clicks.


With that list, head to the AdWords Keyword Planner, and enter those keywords (you can do all at once or one at a time).

Once you click “Submit,” you’ll get the standard search volume for each keyword. Make sure you have the right country and language selected if it’s different from the default.

Next, hover over the little graph icon beside each keyword to reveal the search volume of the term over the past 12 months:


This tells you whether there are significant variations from month to month for your main keywords.

If most of the keywords indicate that search volume should be expected to be low during the previous few months, your search traffic probably hasn’t actually plateaued, and it’ll pick up in the more popular months.

What if those keywords didn’t reveal any significant fluctuations? There’s still one more possibility to consider.

Next, consider trends: If you’re getting 30% of the search traffic in your niche, what happens when your niche becomes less popular?

Even if you increase your share of the search traffic, your overall traffic may stay the same.

To check this, head over to Google Trends.

Type in a keyword that describes your niche and content. I suggest trying more than one if possible.

That will generate a graph showing whether more people or fewer people in general are searching for terms in your niche compared to previous time periods.


If the terms’ popularity is going down fast, you’re actually doing a great job if you have a plateau in traffic.

If the trends are fairly stable (not going up or down) or trending up, there is a problem that needs to be fixed if you want your traffic to start rising again.

Let’s move on to other possibilities…

Possible cause #2 – Plateaued rankings (near the top) or declining rankings

Now it’s time to examine your existing content—more specifically, your older content.

New content from the previous month, sometimes two, isn’t expected to drive a ton of traffic (it’s always a nice surprise when it does).

Instead, there’s often a 2-6 month delay, depending on a bunch of different factors.

I’m assuming you’re tracking your keyword rankings; otherwise, this is going to be difficult. If you aren’t, find a good keyword tracker, and start as soon as possible.


For all the main keywords of your older content, note whether or not rankings have increased, stayed the same, or declined over the course of the plateau plus a few extra months.

For example, if your plateau has been going on for 2 months, look at the rankings over a 4-month period.

A decline in a single keyword doesn’t mean anything, but if you see a decline in more than 25% of your keywords, that tells you that your old content is losing its rankings, and it’s a trend.

There are three common reasons that cause this type of loss.

Reason #1 – Link decay: In an ideal world, when you earn a link to some of your content, it stays there forever, and you can just build upon it.

But the Internet goes through a lot of change on a regular basis. Domains go in and out of registration, and pages are continuously created and destroyed.

Even huge websites go through big re-designs that involve merging and deleting content.

All of this leads to one thing: link decay. Links become dead or missing.


You can see this by using a tool such as Ahrefs. Enter just about any URL with links pointing to it, and you’ll see that in addition to gaining links, that URL also loses links.


That’s what my advanced guide to content marketing looks like.

And this is how you’ll check for this cause.

Enter your content URLs that have lost rank, one by one, and see which links they lost in the weeks leading up to any drops they’ve had.

If you notice that most of them lost important links, it’s likely the cause (or at least part of it) for the traffic plateau.

Reason #2 – Algorithm change: Google is constantly updating its algorithm, and these updates can cause small (or big) shifts in the search results.

Big sites aren’t usually affected by these too much, mainly because of link diversity.

One of the things that Google is constantly tweaking is ways to discern between high quality and low quality links and ways to weigh them correctly.

To speak in very general terms, forum links are low quality, while blog post links are high quality. Although there are many situations where that’s not true, accept it for this example.

So, if Google is able to detect forum links better, or at least the spam forum links, it can devalue them. As a result, content that relied on forum links will tank.

Link diversity refers to the number of different types of links you have. Ideally, you want a healthy mixture. In that case, even if Google devalues a specific type of link, it will only affect a small portion of your links.


Big sites build up a healthy diversity naturally.

However, if you’re dealing with a smaller site, you may have purposely gone after certain types of links, which leaves you vulnerable in case Google makes a tweak that targets those links.

If you’ve done that (targeted specific links) and saw consistent drops across most of your keywords, this is likely the problem.

You’ll need to expand your SEO skill set to build a more diverse and reliable SEO strategy.

Reason #3 – More competition: Sometimes, losing rankings doesn’t have anything to do with you; it has to do with someone else doing better.

If your average ranking drop was pretty small (a spot or two), there’s one final likely reason: someone created better content.

Pull up the current search rankings for each of the terms that dropped a few spots. Next, look for the date when each one was published.

If it’s not in the search results, check for the date on each page itself. If that’s not an option, enter it into the wayback machine to find the earliest recorded version.

Like I said before, it usually takes at least a month or two for a page to start ranking highly (and stay there) on any somewhat competitive term.

That’s why you’re looking for a page that was created just a month or two before your first ranking drop.

If you’re using a really good rank-tracking tool, you may be able to see the SERPs from before and determine which pages surpassed you.

If you establish that this is the issue, you need to step up your SEO. Put more effort into link building (perhaps learn more while you’re at it), or edit and improve your content so that it’s clearly better than the results above yours. Ideally, do both.

Possible cause #3 – New content is not driving traffic

The next scenario is that your old content is ranking just fine and is still driving traffic.

However, you might be able to see that your fairly recent content (1-4 months old) is not ranking well or driving much traffic at all.

That may or may not be a serious problem, and the question then becomes “why?”

Reason #1 – You’re going after more competitive terms: I highly recommend starting any SEO campaign with trying to rank for easy terms and getting quick wins.

If you do it well, you will see impressive growth in your search traffic.

However, this naturally leaves you with harder keywords to go after. These may take more link building work than before, which will, of course, take longer.

If this is the case, having plateaued traffic for a few months isn’t a big deal because if you keep up the work, you should break through and see some big spikes as you start to rank for those harder keywords.

Reason #2 – Your SEO strategy has become less effective: If you typically do the same promotion for all your content, that means you’re consistently getting the same type and quality of links.

In the past, those links may have ranked your content with no problems.

Once you were ranked highly, you naturally gained other links from people seeing your content on the first page and referencing it. That’s why your old content may still be ranking fine.

However, if those links are not sufficient anymore, in quality or quantity, you’re not going to find success.

Take this opportunity to upgrade your SEO strategy and improve your link building skill set.

Reason #3 – Have you been slacking? Quality is always an important part of SEO, but so is quantity.

If you’re not publishing as much content as you have in the past, of course your new content won’t produce the same growth that your old content did.

There’s no special solution here. Take an honest look at how much you’ve been publishing in the past few months. If it’s not enough, revise your content schedule, and start publishing more to get on the right track.


Possible cause #4 – You’re nearing a limit for your specific niche

It’s the right idea to target a very specific niche with your content marketing.

If you target one with low competition, you might be able to rank #1 or #2 for all your main keywords.

After that, most marketers start targeting long tail keywords.

This is fine, but you need to understand how it affects your search traffic.

If you’re ranking for a term that gets 4,000 searches a month with one piece of content, it would take 100 pieces of content ranking for searches that get 40 searches a month to equal the search traffic you get.

So, if you rank for bigger terms quickly, your traffic is going to explode. However, since you can’t keep targeting terms with the same level of search volume, your growth rate will decline.

Your traffic may not have even plateaued; it may just be increasing at a much slower rate.

If this is the case, you’re doing an excellent job at SEO.

However, your growth rate will continue to be slow if you target keywords only in this specific niche because there are only small ones left.

What you need to do now is branch out to a closely related niche and repeat your entire keyword research and SEO strategy.

Continually keep broadening your scope as you dominate each new niche.


A plateau in search traffic happens to all SEOs and marketers and one point or another.

What’s important is how you respond to it.

By now, you should understand the four main causes for a plateau, ways to fix them, and the next steps to take.

If you have a unique situation that you have a question about, let me know about it in a comment below, and I’ll try to clear things up.


  1. Thank you for all your great article, Neil

    Today I receive an email you survey about what topic you should guide more over few months

    And I hope that’s about SEO and traffic for small business or affiliate marketers. Because I can feel that SEO is becoming more & more difficulty.

    Again, I’m so respect and forever be a big fan of you.

    Love you, Sir!

    • I don’t know what do you mean 🙂

      But, what I want to talk to Neil Sir is my mean.

      If you can’t understand me, please don’t say anymore about my problem.


      • Neil Patel :


      • Anil Agarwal :

        We all know how hard it is to boost search engine traffic.

        It’s especially true if you are in a competitive niche like marketing or SEO.

        Responding to the penalties and search traffic plateaus is what really counts in the long run.

        Even if you are not getting enough traffic you deserve, it might be mainly because your site is suffering from site issues. So make sure to fix them all by using tools like SEMrush.

        Thanks for the share Neil!

        • You’re welcome and thank you for the additional tips. SEM’s a great tool that will help you understand a lot.

    • Neil Patel :

      Wonderful to hear Liwu! Yes, if you’re subscribed, you’ll get content from those topics and more!

  2. Alvin Tube :

    Thanks for the information

  3. Bill Portnova :

    Thanks Neil, very informative article. Plus your suggestions are very easy to implement.

  4. Great Info Neil! thanks for sharing.

  5. Nice information really interesting.

  6. Darwin Leonardo :

    Could Your traffic also be slowing down because of your website speed? I know that if a site takes too much to load I immediately leave and try something else. We have to be aware of not adding every plug in known to man and check our speed from time to time no?

    • Neil Patel :

      Plugins shouldn’t slow things down unless they are crappy plugins. However, in reality, you don’t need a ton of plugins

  7. Nice overview, I think the main point is to stay focused and keep on doing what you are in order to get better rankings.
    Quality vs Quantity is a big debate! But one must carry on with the work.
    Be social, updated and learn new techniques and methods from people like you..

    Follow others and find out what they are actually doing .

    • Neil Patel :

      While you definitely want to have numbers, having both quality numbers is possible, but it takes hard work

  8. Rohit Kumar :

    Thanks for sharing these insights, Neil! Leaving aside Issue #1, do you think Skyscraper technique for content creation can address the remaining issues?

  9. Very smart article! Don’t have time at the moment to read in full, but it looks meaty and useful. Thanks much!

  10. Hello Neil,

    Thank you for the detailed overview. You mentioned “Google’s Algorithmic Change” can cause the plateaus, I think this has happened to me now as buzz is that Penguin 4.0 is on real test, well I have slipped to 4th page from 1st page for the keywords attracting around 800,000 traffic from a single country, I am trying to get them back and I am sure I will, I would like to ask for your invaluable suggestion over it, please?

    I wonder why you haven’t mentioned “Disavowing Links” using webmaster tools to recover from bad links.

    One more thing please, how you got the Webmaster tools insights for shoutmeloud?

    Thank You,

    • Neil Patel :

      Do you know and understand why you slipped from the first page? When did this happen?

      • Hey Neil,
        Thanks for the reply.
        As of now, I don’t know the exact reason as I have always seen those articles of mine getting better and better in rankings and this has happened just a few days back, not more than 12 days.

  11. Very useful information for those who want to promote my site on Google

  12. Cavakia Therlonge :

    Thanks clarity! You not only helped me identify possible problems with my SEO practice but most importantly provide solution. Question: If YOU were to blog about jewelry, would you break the blog down into subcategories like engagement rings, handmade jewelry, etc.. Or do you recommend creating a blog model similar to NUTRITIONSECRETS (no subcategories)?

  13. Curious Neil,

    Are you working for backlinko? 🙂

  14. Shubham Kumar :

    As usual, great info Neil.

    My blog is also seeing increase in traffic since last month and that’s awesome.


  15. Hi Neil. It was great to learn stuffs like this. I had always confusion about why my daily traffics are fluctuating, rather decaying to be specific and each time I used to end up with different speculations. Thanks man. Keep up the superb works.

  16. Steve Gardner :

    Hello Neil,

    Thanks a lot for your invaluable article. I have read it completely and carefully. But I still have questions for my https://BinaryBrokers.club site. I have built the site nearly 8 months ago (domain registration 15-Sep-2015) and I have added:

    * dedicated ip
    * ssl certificate
    * premium dns

    My Google site speed is good enough as 85% for the desktop and 75% for the mobile. But I could not get the desired results up to now. I have x38 +1,500 words reviews + x36 +2,500 words posts and 11 sectional pages live. I did not buy links from any of the seo company.
    + I am regularly making social media reach campaigns.

    Here are my facts:

    * 3-4 daily unique organic search (Mainly from Google and also from Bing, Yahoo and Yandex)
    * 95 indexed Google pages.
    * 432 ranked KWs (According to Google Webmaster Tools).
    * 6.42m Alexa Rank
    * Only 1 archive in the wayback macine and that is on 15-March-2015.
    * Shows my site’s domain age with https:// as “unable to determine” and with http:// as “0 years 1 month” although i have registered the domain and built the site around 8 months ago.

    What should I do to see rankings and traffic dear Neil? Shall I buy links from a reputed SEO company. If yes, which one do you recommend?

    Thanks a lot for your invaluable recommendations and analyses in advance.

    • Neil Patel :

      I think you need more content. Also, I’m not completely clear about the purpose of your site

      • Steve Gardner :

        Hello Neil,

        Thanks a lot for your response.I will be uploading more quality content. Purpose of the site is offering the categorized reviews of Binary Options trading brokers. A quick question: is the extension of .club important for ranking? I mean should it be .com .net or .org to rank better?

        Thanks a lot

  17. Bhuboy@WealthStrategiesPh :

    I also encounter this before when I have use KP to search for keywords to be use in my article, but haven’t actually use it, and when recently I did a search again when I am ready to make my article I see a difference between the old monthly searches and the new one.

  18. Thanks for the great Post as usual Neil.
    Its normal to experience a plateau with traffic from search engine. The main thing is for us to be at the top of our game and be everly searching for other related keywords to our niche

  19. Neil,
    It’s the little golden nuggets of information like :
    ‘New content from the previous month, sometimes two, isn’t expected to drive a ton of traffic (it’s always a nice surprise when it does). Instead, there’s often a 2-6 month delay, depending on a bunch of different factors.’
    that are so helpful. I thought it was just my blog that experienced this. It always seemed that customers were searching for fashion items 3 months after they were seen on the celeb I write about – but this piece of information explains why! At least I know now it’s not because I’m doing something wrong!


    • Neil Patel :

      Glad this was helpful Elle. Let me know if this was helpful and keep me posted on your progress

  20. Susan O'Dea :

    Your article is excellent as always Neil. I have a client struggling with their traffic plateauing and they keep wondering why. You have listed many things she can look at to see if one of them is a problem. I know her consistency of writing new content isn’t good, and she has a lot of competition. At least know she can stop wondering and find out why! Thanks again.

  21. Great article. Thanks for listing these problems. Now I found some mistakes around my websites.

    • Neil Patel :

      Glad you found this helpful Shais. Keep me posted on your progress and let me know if I can help with anything else

  22. D Designer :

    I do agree with your point of reaching the market limits of a niche – that’s definitely happened with one of my projects. I guess, when starting out initially, you really need to research the potential that your niche has so that you don’t reach its limits quicker than you anticipated.


  23. Timothy Gagnon :

    Really interesting article!

    My website is too new and I’m not even ranked well for any keywords at the moment, but I’ll definitely remember these tips when I start to get more traffic. I’m working on targeting specific keywords now, waiting for the articles to get indexed, should be soon. Long tail keywords are what I’m looking for and each month I do receive a bit more traffic so that’s cool.

    Anyways, thanks for these tips, I’ll use them to expand my business!

    • good, this is an important part of the process. Getting clear with this will help make everything easier.

  24. Little Blogger :

    I have been wondering why I was touring the whole internet when I can get almost all necessary tips and guidelines here. Thanks or such a useful post!

  25. Cause #4 – Your website has technical issues or it’s been hacked! This happened to one of our client two weeks ago. Rankinkgs suddenly dropped. We started digging into the issue and found some weird pieces of code in WP files which basically were making redirects based on who visits the page (cloaking).

  26. I have been trying to boost my incoming traffic in many ways for one of my blog but I haven’t seen any results for a long time. Now reading your article I came to know about the things that i have been doing wrong. Thank you Mr. Neil.

    • Neil Patel :

      You’re welcome Amyt, glad this knowledge was helpful. If you get stuck or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask

  27. Farhan Khan :

    Nice information Neil. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  28. Much obliged to you Neil, I am confronting a sensational drop on my site, and its been a bad dream of a week. Much obliged you called attention to a portion of the issues I was confronting and am dealing with tackling it.


    • Sorry to hear that Anderson, I know how it is. Glad to hear you’re on top of it. Let me know how it gets resolved

  29. Bruce mesnekoff :

    Thanks for Information about 4 Causes for Search Traffic Plateaus. Your Article is impressive and very informative. I am now regular visitor of your website and bookmarked it.

  30. Great post on split testing.

  31. @AdlerIrene4 :

    Wonderfully portrayal of thoughts and ideas. Quite insightful!

  32. Thank you for sharing sir. If I use up many pages link to Djuzz it okay sir?

  33. Nice information really interesting.

  34. Jibran Qazi :

    Hey Neil, do you think it’s possible that a Plateau is occurring because although we are getting tons of backlinks, the link juice is not being maintained due to tons of ‘dofollow’ external links?

    • Yes, I think that’s possible. It all depends on the quality of those links, where they are coming. The velocity of those links is something to keep in mind as well

  35. I’ve been trying to focus on long tail keywords at the moment. Definitely a great post.

  36. Very nice post..
    Its normal to experience a plateau with traffic from search engine. The main thing is for us to be at the top of our game and be every searching for other related keywords to our niche.

  37. Thank you Neil, another really top quality article. I don’t know how you manage to deliver such great content so consistently. I’ve become a dedicated reader/fan since finding your website a few hours ago. Please keep it coming.

  38. Quality articles or reviews is tthe crucial to be
    a focus for thhe pople to visit tthe web page, that’s what this site is providing.

  39. Thanks for this great article Neil, I’m thinking of entering a coupon niche, I’ve done the keyword research as listed by quicksprout but I’m having headache with Backlinks what’s the best way foward to this

  40. I noticed that for few niches the traffic goes down for busy days and get’s back on weekend. Pretty cool.

  41. Neil Please let me know how can i increase search traffic without Content

  42. plastikiniai langai :

    Need to upgrade my SEO 🙂

  43. Nice article. Thank you for teaching me

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