It’s your worst fear come true: revenue from your online business has suddenly, inexplicably tanked. The site is still functioning, but something has changed for the worse, and the dollars, euros or rupees aren’t filling your coffers like they used to. The cash flow from your site looks awfully anemic, and you need to diagnose what’s going on so you can get the patient healthy again. Whether it’s slow site speed, busted redirects, or weak calls to action, you need to asses and address the illness so you can get your site back on the road to recovery. This post is your field guide to quickly diagnosing what has crippled your site’s cash flow.

Tools of the Trade

Every doctor has their tools, and you’ll need your own for the diagnosis. We use these to ferret out changes to our various sites’ performance. Keep them close and you’ll be able to triage any issues quickly and effectively.

Pingdom – First things first, is your site up? Pingdom will let you know when you’re down with SMS, email or push notification alerts. Plus, Pingdom will track your site speed, letting you know when your site is lagging. Since most people bail after waiting three seconds, making sure your site is up and snappy is a must.

Google Analytics – The gold standard of free Web analytics. Having Google Analytics (GA) set up on your site gives you powerful reporting on what is going on with traffic to and through your site.

KISSmetrics – Your purchase funnel is the carotid artery of your website. It’s always a big deal when something goes haywire here. KISS Metrics will give you reporting insight that can help you pinpoint trouble spots that are causing people to fall off and not convert.

KISSinsights – When the analytics don’t tell the whole story, KISSinsights can give you qualitative data direct from customers. This quick on-page survey tool lets you get insight straight from the source: what are your visitors seeing/missing/wondering?

Olark – Get on-demand one-on-one live chat with your site visitors at the point of conversion. It’s a great way to get feedback from visitors with the added benefit of helping you convert them to customers at the same time.

CrazyEgg – If you’re trying to determine user behavior, click maps are a powerful way to understand what is capturing user attention and where they’re clicking. Click maps can help you redesign page elements to give visual priority to those that matter most.

Common Sense – Sanity check time! Is it a major holiday in the country where most of your paying customers live? Are your product pages’ linked correctly? Are your third-party services (e.g. Paypal) experiencing temporary downtime? Perhaps you’ve just launched an A/B test where one of the pages isn’t performing well? Is there an Apple keynote for the iPhone 6 due tomorrow? Don’t spend hours pulling out your hair and navel-gazing if the answer is potentially an obvious one.

The Diagnosis

Step 1 – Review your site traffic

It’s probably your first instinct to check your site traffic when revenue starts to drop, but do you know what you’re looking for? Start by looking for material changes in the source, volume and conversion rates of your traffic. Did organic search suddenly fall off a cliff? Did your social channels dry up? Did direct visits fade? Is email traffic not converting like it used to? Each of these scenarios requires a different prescription to get things back on the up and up.

Here’s how to find out. Hop into Google Analytics. (If you’re using New Google Analytics, go to Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic; for Old Google Analytics, go to Traffic Sources > All Traffic Sources)

All traffic sources tab in Old Google Analytics

Set a date range, and then compare it to a past date range. For example, this and last month. When selecting date ranges to compare, try to match up days of the week and use time periods of equal duration. Account for holidays and other factors to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. For example, your weekend sales may be lower than mid week, so be sure to account for that in your analysis.

Align your dates, to make sure you're comparing apples to apples

You’ll be able to see by traffic source the number of visitors that came from each and their change compared to the previous time period. Go one step further and click the Ecommerce link to view transactions, revenue and conversion rate (Note: You’ll need to have ecommerce reporting setup in Google Analytics to view this information). Seeking out big changes in these metrics can give you big clues as to where the source of your problem lies.

Check your ecommerce metrics for significant changes to identify the source of the problem

Repeat this analysis for Direct and Search traffic. Try longer date ranges for more context about changes to your traffic sources, composition and value. There’s a chance you could just be having an off week, or maybe your sales traditionally dip around this time of year. Also check your site referrals – did an influential or lucrative link from a partner site get accidentally taken down, or was it perhaps removed? Performing a thorough traffic analysis will give you actionable information on which sources you need to restore or augment to get revenue flowing again.

Step 2 – Analyze the Funnel

This is where the rubber meets the road, and a place where small changes can have out-sized impact on your site revenue. When digging into your site conversion rate you’ll want to look back at any site changes that may have inadvertently impacted it. From button colors, to where you present shipping costs, to whether your phone number is visible in the cart. The smallest changes can send your revenue spiraling down to earth or skyrocketing into the stratosphere.

Make it a habit to use Google Analytics’ annotation function you can look back to see what changes you’ve made right within the reporting interface.

Use Google Analytics' annotations to keep track of the changes you make to your website

KISSmetrics also comes in handy here by allowing you to see where users are abandoning their purchase & identify which pages need help/optimization. This helps you prioritize which pages to focus on. We all have limited resources, and identifying where your work will have the most impact can help you find big fixes and win fast.

Funnel analyses help you identify where you're losing conversions, and focus your efforts

Sometimes, the numbers just won’t give you a meaningful answer, in which case, go straight to the source, and ask your users for direct feedback. KISSinsights (from the same folks that brought you KISSmetrics), and Olark are both great for this – in a couple minutes, you can have a single-answer survey, or live chat box on your checkout page that allows your visitors to tell you why they’re choosing not to convert.

Using surveys and live chat can give you great insights into the obstacles your customers are facing

Step 3 – Evaluate Your Design

Everyone knows design is important to conversion, but sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly why a design element helps or hurts revenue. Maybe that splashy new homepage graphic is taking people to a page that is notorious for its high exit rate. Maybe the Cart is buried in a jumble of freshly-added social network sharing icons. Whatever the case, analyzing what your visitors are clicking on is a great way to diagnose revenue drops due to changes in click pattern behavior.

Crazy Egg is an excellent way to see how, what and where people are clicking on your site. Simply add the Crazy Egg code to your site and you’ll immediately get data on the different hot spots on each and every page of your site.

By looking at click data you can begin to reprioritize design elements to get users focused on getting into and through the funnel.

Using a heatmap overlay can help you identify where your page design can be tightened up for conversions

The Fix

Once you’ve identified the culprit, you can begin to immediately take action to address a drop in revenue and start restoring it to it’s former glory. There are too many scenarios to address all potential fixes here; but here’s a comprehensive list of some of the most common issues related to sudden drops in your site’s revenue, along with possible fixes for each of them – your mileage may vary, but consider them a jumping off point for your triage efforts:

Symptom: drop in revenue/conversion from a particular SKU

Symptom: drop in organic traffic volume/conversion

Symptom: drop in conversion from particular traffic source

Symptom: drop across multiple traffic sources & metrics

Symptom: low average transaction amount

It’s possible that you’re reaching a saturation point where everyone who is going to purchase your product already has. Consider including other things to increase the value proposition for your products – bundling product SKUs together, or adding discount offers for other related products during your checkout process will help increase the total your customers are spending at any given time

Symptom: declining dollar index for your pricing page

The dollar index is a good indicator of the value an individual page is contributing to your overall revenue. If this metric is declining, it means your content is becoming less effective – consider A/B testing this page with a new design iteration, or honing the content for a more effective call-to-action. Visitor surveys as to the usefulness of this page will definitely help guide you in your optimization efforts here

Symptom: low upgrade conversion rate

A well-structured autoresponder email campaign to new customers can help upsell your users to higher service/product tiers. They’re a lot of work to set up and get just right, but once you’ve invested the time, this can be an automated campaign that reliably brings in significant revenue, and enhances the overall value of your customer base

Wrapping Up

Across all circumstances, the key is identifying the problem quickly so that you can stem the falling tide of revenue and begin to put corrective measures in place. Whether that means ramping up your email program, instituting 301 URL redirects, or changing the copy on your call to action buttons in the funnel, you’ll be able to focus your efforts to get your site headed back to generating the revenue you’ve come to expect.

Bookmark this article, and if you ever find yourself in the unenviable position of having to diagnose a drop in revenue, break the glass and get to work finding the root cause of the problem, so you can get to work on the fix.

Have other areas, or tools that you look to when there’s trouble on your site? Share your triage techniques with us in the comments!