May 13, 2021 in Tips by

Each month I produce a report for each of my clients. These reports are an excellent opportunity to see what’s working or what’s not. In other words, we know what we should do more of or work harder on (or even stop trying). 

If we’re working hard and consistently on our SEO campaign, the graph usually goes up and to the right- increasing each month. That’s the point, right? Not really. The point is that the traffic produces more customers, of course. For this article, however, I’m focusing on traffic. Just know that traffic is a means to an end and not the end in itself.

I said that traffic “usually” goes up. Sometimes it does not. Sometimes it goes down month-to-month. Why? 

The Problem with Seasonality

Seasonality is real. Every business ebbs and flows as the year goes on. Every industry has busy times and slow times. We need to consider this when providing SEO reports because organic search traffic can be significantly affected by customers’ demand. If customers aren’t looking for your products or services, your organic search traffic will go down.

The problem is: how do we know traffic is down due to seasonality? It’s easy to suggest this, but how can we be so sure? Are we just making excuses or jumping to conclusions?

Google Trends Shows Seasonality

Let me introduce you (if you’ve never met) to Google Trends. Google provides information about how many people searched for a particular phrase, topic, or even company each month. The data goes back several years. Google Trends is a great way to understand if seasonality is affecting your organic search traffic- objectively.

I’ve started using Google Trends data in my monthly client reports, comparing the client’s organic search traffic with customer demand according to Google Trends data. Here’s an example:

This idea came to my mind in April 2020- with the beginning of the pandemic. Was my clients’ traffic down due to my poor SEO tactics or because of customer demand? Google Trends helped me show (objectively) that it was due to customer demand.

Find Your Industry in Google Trends

Before you start comparing data, you need to find the Google Trends entity against which you would like to compare your traffic. To do this, start from your keyword research. What is the broadest and most relevant phrase that describes what your business offers? Try entering these into Google Trends and see what you find. 

For example, for me, I might start by searching for “SEO.” That’s what I do, but that phrase is too broad: it could mean “what is SEO?” or it could be “how do I do SEO?” That’s not a phrase my customers are searching for to find my services. 

If I pay attention to the automatic suggestions, related topics, and related queries, I can find a phrase that most resembles the services I provide: SEO Professional. That’s me! 

I’m also looking for a “topic” and not just a “search query.” What’s the difference? A topic is the idea around “SEO professional” and not limited to people searching for the specific query. I’m not interested in the interest for a particular phrase. I’m interested in the broader topic of “SEO professional,”- which includes other words related to that topic. When doing this for yourself, look for a “Topic” that describes the core services your company provides. 

You can confirm you’ve chosen the right topic by looking at the related queries in the report. Are these phrases for which you’d like to be found? Don’t forget: you can modify the related topics to not just “rising” interest but “top” interest. “Rising” interests are topics or queries that are recently popular. For this purpose, we’re probably more interested in “top” data- because we want to know ideas that are common and not new.

Yes, most companies provide more than one service or product. For this purpose, we’re looking at overall organic search traffic and one main topic about your company. You could break this down by looking at traffic to a specific landing page against other, more specific topics, but that’s a little too granular for this article.

In some cases, you might want to limit your Google Trends search by geographical modifiers. Let’s say you can only provide your services in a state or a metropolitan area. You can zoom in to your topic by geographical regions to get even more specific data. 

Comparing Google Trends Data with Organic Search Traffic

Once you’ve zeroed in on the most relevant topic that describes your business, you can download your “Interest over time” data and compare it against your organic search traffic. With a bit of excel magic (the averageifs function is very helpful to combine data into months) you can compare the data in one chart.

“Organic traffic” can be an ambiguous number. Google Analytics (from which I get my data to compare) doesn’t even use the word “traffic.” What am I comparing? I compare sessions from organic search- reflecting visits to my website. I could compare “users” (or visitors) from organic search in this graph, but that would not weed out people who have already been introduced to me- and are returning to my website- which wouldn’t necessarily be affected by customer demand or Google Trends data. Alternatively, I could compare “New Users” to my website from organic search as well. The most important point: make sure you’re clear on what you’re comparing, so you don’t compare apples and oranges. 

A couple of caveats to the data: Google Trends shows you a number between 0 and 100 representing an interest in your topic. This number is not the same as the number of visitors. The number isn’t even the same as the number of searches a month (like you might find in Google Ads Keyword Planner). It is simply a scale showing interest. You’ll have to compare data using a different scale than from your organic traffic. 

This client is in a heavily-seasonal industry. Every year we see more traffic in the spring and a significant decline in the winter. Google Trends helps us with objective data to prove this- rather than sounding like we’re making excuses.

What does this data mean?

Next Level: Searching for Your Business

Another thing that can significantly affect organic search traffic is branded searches. After Google removed keyword search query data from Google Analytics, it became hard to determine how much of our SEO traffic resulted from our SEO efforts or the result of interest in our brand. Suppose you have a company with a well-known brand. In that case, your organic search traffic reports might reflect brand awareness rather than actual SEO value- introducing people to your company’s services who’ve never heard of your brand or didn’t know your brand offered that service.

We were trying to understand why organic traffic had been falling for the last year while demand for these services remained high. When we considered demand for the brand, the problem became clear (the yellow line).

You can use Google Trends data to find interest in your brand as well. Follow the same process we did for identifying the topic that best describes our business- but for your company’s name. Again, we’re not looking for a “search query” here as much as a “topic” – or better, Google will identify your brand as part of a topic if you have a very significant brand. We call this an “entity.”

Your brand might not be big enough to be considered an entity. If that’s the case (and you can’t find your brand name outside of a mere search query in Google Trends), you won’t be able to compare your data with demand for your brand. However, if you can find yourself as a brand, this can be an additional and valuable insight into the success of your SEO campaign.

As you can see from these graphs (each from actual client data) I’ve started including this in my monthly reports. My hope is that this prevents me from letting seasonality become an excuse and instead challenges me to be an even better SEO. I hope this does the same for you.

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