Tracking Seasonal Search Behavior
Many products are naturally seasonal in nature. For example, Halloween costumes are generally only sold in the weeks preceding the holiday each year. However, while this seasonal behavior is easy to conceptualize, it can frustrate your ability to measure the progress of your SEO efforts, and the traffic growth you would like to see from those efforts. For example, if the overall market for your product is down 20%, and traffic stayed flat through a normal seasonal decline, you have actually made progress. Your SEO efforts have completely offset a pretty significant market trend.
Tools for analyzing seasonality
Clearly market conditions can impact your ability to measure the progress of your SEO efforts. As a result, it is useful to take a closer look at the various ways you can predict the upcoming market, and/or simply be able to understand market fluctuations that have occurred in the past. There are three great tools for doing just that. Here is a look at the data from Alexa for Godiva.com, a leading manufacturer of chocolates:
Right away some interesting patterns emerge. I had a mental model in my mind that Valentine’s day would be the big spike for the year. There is a spike in February on this chart, but the Christmas spike, as well as the very beginning of each year is larger. One reason for the difference from my expectations is that the Alexa chart is showing global search data. Using Compete.com to compare Hersheys.com to Godiva, focused only on US traffic, tells a similar story, but with some differences:
First of all, the ramp down from the Christmas to January rush is not really complete by the time Valentine’s day hits, and as a result, you don’t really see any bump at that time, where it looks relatively flat. You also see a bit of a bump at Easter time as well. Seems like chocolate is popular on that holiday as well. Last, but not least, let’s take a look at the US based Google trends data for chocolate:
On this chart we see all three bumps: the holiday season, Valentine’s day, and the smaller bump at the beginning of April. Since this is based on Google data, it has a lot more information to work with than the other tools—though they have other features to recommend them. Notice the second line on the chart, which reflects the news reference volume. Much more in line with what I expected, the news volume actually does peak at the beginning of February. Interesting that we talk about chocolate more at that time, but the time when people actually buy it is around the holidays. Another nice feature of Google Trends is that I can break things down into sub-regions. In the US for example, I can see if the trends are markedly different for Massachusetts and California, for example.
The role of rank checking
In general, I am not a big fan of performing rank checking. For one thing, it is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Also, constantly poring over ranking charts does little to change my day to day activities. However, when trying to evaluate how you are doing vs. seasonal market conditions, simple rank checking can offer some valuable insights about the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.
How? Go into Google Webmaster Tools and click on “your site on the web” and then “search queries”. This will provide you a report that shows what keywords you are getting the most impressions on, the number of clicks you are getting, the click through rate, and finally, the average position. Here is a sample of this report extracted into a spreadsheet (the search terms have been anonymized to protect the company who owns the data):
You can make a practice of pulling this data once per month to see how you are progressing. Then for more popular search terms you can see how the impression volume is moving, as well as how your rankings are faring. If you see a traffic decline through the other tools, or an impression drop for key terms in this report, and your rankings have actually improved, then your SEO is actually working.
Being aware of seasonal trends and how they affect your web based business can be an invaluable help when an excited executive believes the sky is falling because they have seen a drop in traffic. The rank checking I suggested above can help you understand how your SEO is doing at a basic level. In addition, once you see the seasonal data using one or more of the tools I suggested above, you can see how your traffic has fared. Is the market has dropped 20%, and your traffic went down 10%, you have in fact, gained market share, and that’s a good thing!
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