Weather Forecast? Don’t Know, Check Google

Snowpocalypse. Snowmageddon. Blizzaster.

For those of us not fortunate enough to live in Miami or Los Angeles, this winter has no doubt pushed our psyches to the brink of insanity. Even a prediction of an early spring by Punxsutawney Phil last week won’t impact our irritation with the soul-crushing deluge of snow this year (ski bums notwithstanding).

With this being the time of year where “the weather” evolves from meaningless small talk into a legitimate current event, there’s no better time to consider the web’s role in our relationship with weather and how search fits into the (wintry) mix.

In December 2010, about 85 million web users visited weather websites, representing more than 40 percent of the U.S. online population. Considering this doesn’t even include those getting their weather from other web sources (apps on their desktops/cell phones, blended search results on SERPs, ski/surf reports, etc.), that’s quite a considerable reach. The days of waiting for your static weather prediction on the back of the USA Today with a high/low are soon to be a thing of the past.

Knowing that visits to weather websites represent a consistently growing part of our everyday lives, it’s rather fascinating to see how much more important search becomes during this time of the year.

Weather Clicks

Visits to weather websites always begin to spike between November and December, this year demonstrating a 7.6 percent bump month to month. But weather related search activity increased 44 percent month to month, and search click-throughs to weather websites increased 56 percent month to month.

With total visits to weather websites increasing by 20 percent month to month, we can see that while winter weather causes only moderate increases in audience visitation, it produces much more sizeable gains in engagement and search activity.

The increased search activity in relation to the modest increases in visitors offers a few observations.

Winter is Clearly a Peak Season

The increased activity amongst the already astute consumer of online weather means more opportunities for weather vendors to engage with their customer base, meet their weather needs, and monetize their websites. There’s no shame in attracting repeat visitors.

Blended Results: Instant Answers for Searchers

Google Weather

A huge search increase coupled with a considerably lower increase in visits means that the blended weather search results on the SERPs are likely doing their job and getting weather searchers their answers without having to go to a website. Not the best news for weather marketers, but the increase in visitation is large enough I’m sure they’ll get past it.

And this is certainly good news for searchers who are able to answer their questions with fewer clicks.

Winter is a Huge Opportunity for Marketers

This crazy winter offers a huge opportunity to engage the U.S. online population that is now interested in weather, but doesn’t regularly visit weather websites. Remember, about 40 percent of the U.S. online population tends to visit weather websites this time of year — a large chunk, yes, but that still leaves 125 million potential visitors untouched.

With such large increases in weather interest, it’s hard to imagine a better time for a weather publisher to invest in paid search to attract a new and potentially sustainable visitor base. Every new visitor to your website represents dollars in advertising sales. As they say, it takes money to make money.

Search Terms for Weather

At this time, less than 1.5 percent of all of the click-throughs to weather websites are paid clicks — an enormous opportunity to own the space this time of year and increase your reach to the non-standard weather visitor.

Bottom Line

Many U.S. marketers often feel like they are dealing with a saturated marketplace, where the online population just isn’t growing like it used to. And while it’s true there may not be as many new Internet users coming online, the real growth opportunity revolves around increased engagement with medium and light internet users and introducing your website to new audiences.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising to hear that search is a fantastic way to do that, but can be problematic for many organizations (reasons I’m sure you all understand: money, expertise, timing, etc). Just remember that even a basic analysis of market data and seasonal activity can ultimately contribute to your bottom line.

Join us for SES London 2011, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place February 21-25! The conference offers sessions on topics including search engine optimization (SEO), keyword analysis, link building, local, mobile, video, analytics, social media, and more. Register now.

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