Seasonality & Cyclical Checks For Analytics Simpletons

We’ve all been there…your traffic and sales are down month on month and you’re panicking that the end of the world is nigh! Is my website broken? Is there something seriously wrong? Am I going out of business? Who do I talk/shout/throw things at?

First off, relax. Admittedly, easier said than done, but even if there is a major problem, it should be tackled with smart decisions rather than knee jerk reactions. Nothing will be fixed in the next 5 minutes after all. But after taking that deep breath, run through these quick checks and you might just find out that there is no problem at all.

Most businesses have a natural cycle which will differ between organisations, but can (and will) have major implications for your sales cycle – make sure your cash flow forecasts reflect this! Each business will be different, but common cycles would include changing consumer behaviour based on things such as seasons, school terms, holiday periods or national events. Something sun cream salesman and pumpkin farmers would be perfectly comfortable with.

Check Your Traffic Against Last Year

It takes just 30 seconds to view your traffic as a comparison against previous years. Even if your traffic volumes are much higher or lower in total, the trends from one month to another are likely to be similar and it is these, rather than absolute figures that we are concerned with.

For example, if you can see that between August and September of last year, your traffic dropped 20%, it’s a good bet that this year’s drop is perfectly natural and in fact, should have been expected. To check whether this is the case…

1)    Select a Date range of 6+ months leading up to the current day
2)    Click the compare to box and choose “previous year”
3)    View the data in the month view
4)    You will now see two lines, one for this year and one for the previous year. If they are both heading south, then you have found a likely seasonal variation.
5)    By clicking on the e-commerce button, and then transactions or revenue, you will see the same time periods but with different data metrics.

How you deal with this will be on a case by case basis. But using this method, the reverse scenario, (ie uncovering periods of high activity) should be the times where you need to be most active in your marketing efforts to maximise the periods of plenty.

Check For Drops in Branded Terms

Direct Traffic

If you do not have historical data, or if your first check is inconclusive, you can always segment your traffic into various types, in particular, your branded and direct traffic.

Direct traffic is people coming (unsurprisingly) directly to your site. This is will be through bookmarks or through the use of browser histories.  This sort of behaviour has nothing to do with variables such as your Search Rankings, your PPC spend or any other marketing channel. These are existing users (no-one bookmarks a site they’ve not already visited) that simply aren’t coming to your website this month.

1)    Choose a suitable period of time
2)    Select Sources > Direct

You will now clearly see the trend in this type of behaviour – if it’s down 20% month on month, it’s a fair bet that every other channel will be down a similar amount. If your existing customers aren’t buying your goods, then neither are the people who have never heard of you.

Branded Organic Traffic

But not everyone uses bookmarks – a lot of the time we all simply Google the name of the business we want and visit the top organic link. Again, this sort of behaviour is driven by existing users of the site and is almost equivalent to a direct visit. There are a lot of caveats with this particular method (eg changes to brand related PPC may affect it) but it still a very useful check that most analytics users will utilise often.

1)    Choose a suitable period of time
2)    Select Sources > Search > Organic
3)    Include only search terms for “Your Business Name”

You will now see the volume of people looking for your business coming directly to your site. This particular metric will usually be similarly up or down, in line with your direct traffic. But it will also get distorted by things such as PR, which can cause spikes in brand related searches.

If these figures are down month on month, it is a fair hypothesis that there is a drop in demand for your goods/service, unless it was the case that the previous period saw a spike based on one off events (eg a radio advert or press coverage).

Still Not Sure?

If your existing loyal customers are still arriving at your site, but traffic and sales are still down, then yes, you may have a problem. But you can still easily find out where this problem could be with a few more clicks. That will funnel you down to the right areas of concern, be it organic, paid, social or email channels so you can contact the right person.

1)    Choose the past 30 days (or week/fortnight as deemed appropriate)
2)    Select

If it’s none of the above is pinpointing your issues, then it could well be a technical issue with your site’s health or one of the services you rely on (payment gateways, servers etc). It’s still no reason to panic (yet) but unless you are proficiently technical (in which case you probably won’t be reading still) you will need to talk to your web developer or digital marketing manager for help.