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Understanding Seasonality in Search

Josh McCoy
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Arrow ChartThe concept of seasonality may be a little harder for one to discover or understand than the laymen's idea of "if you're an ecommerce site, then site traffic will trend upward in December; if you're not an ecommerce site, your traffic will trend downward in December."

OK, I was joking, there is much more to seasonality than December web traffic trends. Web traffic seasonality definitely encompasses more than holidays or traditional calendar seasons.

Understanding the seasonality of your audience is key for someone new to a company's marketing department or even for a search professional traversing their first year with a client. This is especially true for the latter as you can eat a large plate of crow after gloating upon a phantom organic search spike to find out this happened in years past and should have been expected.

A good analytical tactician should do their homework in year-over-year by month analysis and not simply in month-over month ongoing review.

Over time, those engaged in organic search campaigns expect the line to only move upward month after month after month when in fact it will often show downtrending periods. It is only over a long run of time (yearly) that we can assess for true success.

What is Seasonality?

Seasonality is best described as a predictable movement during a certain time period.

As marketers, our job is to completely understand those who search our target organic terms and when those terms are searched the most in a given year.

From an SEO lens, we see the paid search folks doing this in dayparting and knowing when to advertise. We see the bloggers and content marketers do this with post timing and frequency. Now it's time the organic crowd knew a little more about their audience.

Scoping Your Seasonality

There are several ways to understand your organic seasonality. I usually start by asking a client for direction. However, this isn't always helpful. They know the ebbs-and-flows of their brick-and-mortar seasonality but have hired you to guide them digitally, which may prove to have different trends.

  • Look at analytics year-over-year for the last few years and gain an understanding of when traffic usually tends to show seasonal spikes.
  • You may find some inconsistencies over time if they have engaged in SEO where they may be ranking for additional terms with different seasonal peaks or if they have added different product/service categories to the site that can effect overall seasonality.

The second step above is the kicker. Seasonality can change as you may be attracting the attention of different audiences. So, we want to get ahead of them and anticipate what our seasonal spike may look like this year.

  • Find out which keywords and pages you're ranking for by using the Search Queries section of Google Webmaster Tools or a tool such as SEMrush. Knowing which keywords you're ranking best for can help you understand which keywords you need to analyze for seasonality. Then take this into a tool such as Google Keyword Planner. By searching the targeted terms and their related search queries, you can also assess the monthly search behavior of those queries.

Red Bicycles Google Keyword Planner

  • Want to go a little deeper? You can head into Google Trends and review terms by date range, and more specifically by geography. You can tell that the heating repair demand in Denver starts a little earlier than in Dallas. (OK, that example was a gimme.)

Heating Repair Google Trends

What's Next?

Now you hopefully have a better handle on when keyword search behavior peaks for your targeted terms. What does this mean? You can anticipate the spike but you also know when it is beneficial to launch that digital promotion or what terms are best to be crafted in generated content, posts, and link bait in this time period.

A search seasonality analysis lets us wrap our minds around certain keyword targets and their respective seasonal trends.

In the future Google is molding our minds so that we will begin to think less about the keyword and more about the visitor. You shouldn't totally shy away from the keyword, but begin paying attention to the Google Analytics areas of in Demographic data as well as in market segments and affinity categories. This will allow you to move past organic search query behavior on to actual demographic behavior.


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