A look at seasonality and search activity
Ever wondered how seasonality in Search activity impacts your business? Or does it? We wanted to examine the impact of seasonality on search activity. Of course this depends on the type of website and business that you may have as there may be certain annual events that have a definite impact on the amount of traffic from search engines that come to your site. As we are in the middle of the winter season here in Canada and I was in the market for some new all-season tires, I began conducting my research in September with intent to purchase by late October. If there is one industry that experiences seasonality it would be tire shops. Take a look at the search trends for “all season tires” over the past 12 months (Source: Google Trends):
Obviously a large peak in November and into December as people are looking to purchase all-season tires prior to the severe winter weather coming. So an obvious example to illustrate that seasonality has a definite impact on search activity.
Overall, in the last twelve years that I have been doing organic search, there tend to be three areas of seasonality that have a definite impact on organic search activity. One thing to keep in mind is that in Western cultures Christmas and summer are typically the main holiday seasons, so it is no surprise to see search activity fluctuate during these times of the year.
We tend to see search traffic decline in summer months. It’s no coincidence that we see typical traffic decline in early July and again in August. This makes sense right? The kids are out of school, summer vacation starts (people still do stuff online you know) and in August a lot of people in North America take vacations before the kids return to school. With the increase in mobile activity, this may change slightly as people are plugged in 24/7, but over the past decade we still tend to see trends and fluctuations in search activity after the summer solstice. You can see in this particular example where the blue line represents the summer months of June through August and the orange line represents September through November. Summer traffic levels are slightly lower than what we see in late Q3 and into early Q4. Again this is just a common theme that I have seen over the past twelve years or so.
The holiday season (i.e. Christmas)
Again this depends on the type of site that you have and the industry that you are in. Search activity can fluctuate in and around Thanksgiving. Especially in recent years with the increased opportunity for deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Typically, traffic trends may look something like this where there is a slight drop before Thanksgiving, followed by a spike for Black Friday/Cyber Monday and then traffic tailing off for the rest of the calendar year. This is very typical of what we would see depending on the industry.
Seasonal events (industry specific)
The first two, summer and holiday season, have proven to have an impact on a variety of businesses with regards to search activity. A few years back, as this post communicates, “there was an online study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior where researchers tracked Google keyword searches in the United States for pornography, prostitution and dating sites between January 2006 and March 2011. Researchers wanted to gauge the real-time mood of the nation and found that online interest in the mating game peaked around Christmas and early summer.” So for the North American Search audience there is definitely some fluctuations that occur during summer months and in the holiday season.
Depending on your industry there are other “seasonal events” that may have an impact on search activity for your audience and for traffic that comes to your website. Take the American Red Cross for example. Almost every month of the year this organization supports a given topic. January, for example, is National Blood Donor Month, February is National Cancer Prevention month so you can bet that the ARC feature some seasonality with regards to some of these topics. So there can be seasonality at a topic level as well. Another example is businesses in the health care industry in the US. Typically in October and November are the key enrollment periods for enrolling in health insurance in the US. These websites typically would see a traffic spike for a six to eight week period beginning in early October.
In other industries there may be annual conferences like Consumer Electronic Show (CES) that recently happened in Las Vegas where brands like Samsung, Qualcomm and Kube can expect an increase in traffic to their websites as a result of the annual electronics show.
So yes there is a definite impact of seasonality when it comes to Search. Sometimes the impact can be positive and sometimes it can be negative. Regardless, you must be cognizant of the fact that it is natural to experience the seasonality effect. It impacts your competitors just as much as you.
What then does this mean for marketers and what does this mean for the future? Well, again, it depends on your business and your industry. One thing is for certain; your business needs to be on 24/7. Even if there is seasonality in search activity, you still have an opportunity to connect with those searchers who are coming to your web properties. Right place, right time will always hold true when it comes to the Internet. Regardless of how people search for information, asthis post from Pew Research suggests, experts predict that digital life in 2025 means that “the Internet will become like electricity, less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives…”
Seasonality with online marketing is really not that different than seasonality with traditional marketing efforts. You understand your peaks and valleys and focus your efforts accordingly. If seasonality brings additional traffic to your website then prepare for it:
- Ensure that your website can handle the additional volume.
- Ensure that your call centers can handle the additional volume.
- Ensure that your FAQ section is up to date and addresses all of the key concerns your audience might have.
If seasonality brings a decline in traffic to your website, prepare for this by:
- Building out engaging content that will attract your audience.
- Use this “down time” to enhance your existing content so that you are prepared for the natural uptick that may come after any seasonality that your brand may be experiencing.
- Focus on the traffic that is still coming to your site. While there may be less overall traffic coming to your website due to seasonality you can still work on converting the traffic that is arriving on your site. Each visit to your website represents an opportunity.
Seasonality can be defined as simply as being a predictable movement during a certain time period. That’s it, that’s all. Understanding the seasonality of your business and your industry can be the first step in and prepare for seasonality. From a content perspective that means having an updated content calendar, blog calendar or tweet calendar. If you are doing pay per click, then obviously day parting comes into play. It all starts with understanding the seasonality that impacts your website.
A printable version of this article is also available for download.