The number of unique, new, visitors to a new client's community plummeted by 60% between Dec 19 and the time of writing (Jan 16).
The community lives within a broader organization. Most traffic is generated by referrals from the mothership site. On Dec 19, Google made a few changes. This reduced the search engine traffic to the main referral site (the organization's site) by 80%. This subsequently reduced new visits to the community by 60%.
As a result, a community which had a healthy, steady, reliable growth surplus (attracting more members than they were losing through natural churn) is now in a deficit. If this persists for too many months, the community enters a death spiral.
Like investing, you have to diversify your risk.
We might be able to repair the search engine traffic damage (it seems to be a case of integrating with a Google+ account), yet this doesn't fix the core problem. Over-reliance on a single channel for growth.
If you're too beholden to any one source of growth, you're at risk of a sudden switch like this. Deliberately establish many sources of growth for a community in diverse channels. Create multiple inbound links from many sources.
This means allocating your time between direct growth (you individually reaching out to people, converting existing members/traffic), referral growth (social media sharing, group-produced material, naturally being talked about), promotional growth (inbound links, content creation), and (rarely) search engine optimization.
You can spend a few weeks putting together multiple slideshares, interviewing top people in your field and attracting inbound links, creating a community eBook of advice and sharing it on multiple platforms, making material easily sharable, creating a badge which members can share on their own profiles, participating in existing groups/communities (with inbound signature links) on other communities, and organizing plenty of events/activities which naturally attract attention.
Measure you have multiple sources of growth and ensure you have a diversified stream of new members.
From Feb 20 to 21, we're hosting the Virtual Community Summit in London.
This is the first event dedicated to mastering the psychology you can use to increase growth, activity, and the value of any community. Learn more, click here.