SEO can very quickly get bogged down in chasing algorithms. But there are plenty of other factors that influence how much traffic a site receives that are unfortunately beyond the control of marketers, or anyone else for that matter.
For example, this year, more than ever, many brands and businesses are seeing skewed monthly YoY Google Analytics data following the pandemic. We were all shut away at home and whether by choice or not, were wedded to our tech.
It’s therefore so important that when we review any data, that we seek to understand the factors that influenced human behaviour at the time.
Here are some of the top factors that can have a significant impact (good and bad) on search volumes:
Extreme weather patterns are generally a big distraction from tech as a whole, including online searches. Exciting, unexpected weather is often the biggest diversion – a hot Easter weekend or late snowfall can disrupt search volumes entirely. Of course barbeque and paddling pool retailers will rub their hands together in glee at a heatwave but on the whole, sunshine means fewer searches for non-essential products and services.
What is essential and non-essential is difficult to define and will differ from person to person but on the whole, if a search is not time-critical and can be postponed, it can be said to be non-essential. Some of these searches may be delayed and may appear in the following week’s/month’s traffic but many spur of the moment searches (and the associated revenue) will never be resurrected.
If the weather patterns hold for a prolonged period of time however, search volumes do tend to return to normal as the excitement of building snowmen or sunbathing wanes.
Most bank holidays are set in stone so have little or no impact on monthly YoY search volume comparisons – but the exception to that rule is Easter. Easter can drop at any time between 22 March until 25 April, so Good Friday and Easter Monday can both fall into March’s search data or April, or straddle both.
Obviously, the most extreme impact on search traffic will transpire when both occur in one month and then in the alternative month during the following year.
Bank holidays will affect some brands and businesses more than others depending on what products and services are being offered but those who see a decline are generally those that are non-essential. Particularly if the weather is playing ball over a long weekend, searches for menial items or tasks tend to be lower as people prioritise other things.
An additional reason for a drop in traffic is that many people will tag additional annual leave onto this, the first bank holiday of the year, extending the four day weekend to five or six days. Of course, some people will use the time to catch up on online activities but the general trend is a decline in searches – except for those that are related to bank holiday activities, much of which is also weather dependent as above.
The same principle also applies to other public holidays around the world too.
Major events on a national or international scale, such as a much-anticipated Wimbledon, Olympics or Royal Wedding, will also have an impact on search. Clearly not all searches stop entirely but during the Euros, Googling an England bunting supplier may take priority for some people over looking for a solicitor to write a will, for example.
It is true that we are all fairly accomplished at multi-screening and mutli-tasking so our media consumption is not a solus or even binary choice any more and whilst keeping one eye on SERPs and the other on the British BMX results in Tokyo, the latter is usually going to the win the battle for our attention.
Politics is the really big factor here but anything that makes headlines can take our minds away from superfluous searches – especially when the news has the potential to impact our daily lives, is hugely sensational, or shocking.
Some brands successfully tap into the news agenda when their products or services align well but others are left lacking when the gap is too big and the marketing looks forced. Social media clearly allows brands and businesses to piggy-back the new agenda quickly but if they’re not first or unique, it’s often not worth the effort.
It’s impossible to write without covering the overriding issue that has affected our lives for the best part of 18 months – the pandemic.
Whilst almost everyone had concerns about their virus itself, the fortunate ones were enjoying more time at home and working without a commute. The increased pressure on our properties led to an increase in searches for many home improvement related terms. Literally no-one in search, or any other form of marketing for that matter, could have predicted that a respiratory virus would lead to a rise in demand for replacement windows through to standing desks!
Sometimes things just happen. It’s pretty clear from this graph when Wayne Rooney’s first hair transplant created headlines and gave rise to an increase in search activity which presumably helped the industry somewhat…
And at other times, it’s a mixture of all of the above… As reported in the Financial Times, since skateboarding’s addition to the Olympics was confirmed five years ago, sales of skateboards increased noticeably in Japan and now with Sky Brown’s bronze medal, the same will probably be true here – especially as her win occurred during school holidays.
Whether this is an ‘event’, ‘news’, or ‘luck’ matters little, it’s just a very current example that SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
There are of course two sides to most stories – one company’s gain might be another’s loss. And whilst our industry is quick to point out that the internet has no geographical boundaries, people do (especially at the moment!), and local or hyper-local factors can influence search in one area or country in a different way to another. For example, as a nation obsessed by weather, our search patterns may be more affected by a period of high pressure than somewhere where sunshine is all but guaranteed.
Some of these factors could also impact the quality of the traffic and not just the quantity. Take male hair transplants as an example. Searches may have been high in 2011, leading to an increased number of sessions and visitors on relevant sites, but given the cost of the procedure, many of these searches will not have resulted in actual bookings. Bang go your conversion rates!
Making good use of the annotation tool in Google Analytics is the best way to ensure that key events both in and outside of a brand or business’s control can be taken into account when comparing the following year’s search data. This cuts both ways – a drop in traffic in April 2021 could make April 2022 look successful when levels have simply normalised, and an unprecedented rise, can make the same month in a subsequent year look like a big failure, when it’s not.
Short term changes in demand and therefore search volumes are to be expected as we must remind ourselves that it’s real people behind the searches. Therefore, SEO must take human reaction to non-digital factors into consideration when analysing traffic and not just Google’s algorithm alone.