Properly preparing for the predictable: Peak seasonality
Peak seasonality is here. It’s the time of year when demand – and paid search – accelerates for goods or services that brands provide.
When this happens, queries, traffic, sales and (fingers crossed) your conversions increase noticeably compared to the rest of the year.
This almost definitely will lead to more optimizations, reporting, forecasting, analyzing and the dreaded influx of meetings (many of which could honestly be emails).
Actual peak season for brands varies by vertical. Some of the big ones:
- Apparel/School Supplies for Back to School: August-September
- Ecommerce/Retail/Gifts: Q4 November-December
- Health Insurance/Medicare: Mid-October to early December
- Hospital Networks/Doctors/Pharmaceutical: Mid-December to mid-February
- Retail Banking (Credit Card/Savings Accounts/Checking Accounts): January until mid-February
Peak seasonality shouldn’t be a surprise. It literally comes every year.
If seasonality catches you by surprise, and it isn’t due to macro-based factors, then you probably aren’t doing your job correctly.
Anything that is predictable can be properly prepared for.
Identifying your peak season
This part is fairly straightforward: determine when your peak seasonality is.
You can take many different routes to get there. Which one is right for you depends on the maturity of the brand in the space (i.e. startup vs. long-lasting name in the space).
Startups and their newly-hired staff may need to research their peak seasons. You need to understand when demand for relevant queries spikes (e.g., by reading digital marketing studies and reports or using search forecasting tools like SimilarWeb, Semrush or SpyFu).
Established brands have two advantages over a startup:
- You already have been through peak seasons and know when they happen, based on experience,
- You have historical data that you can look back on to recognize future patterns. (One important caveat this year: you had GA4 properly set up a year ago.)
Understanding peak seasonality impact
Knowing when your peak season is only half of the important information.
The other half? Knowing how peak season will impact your business. This is also trickier.
Please don’t just go with your gut feeling. Your gut is not trustworthy.
If you’re a startup and/or new in the space, and you know the season dates, the best thing to do is use data from your tools to learn the average estimated traffic growth between high season and the rest of the year. Then repeat it for YoY growth during the peak season, for as many years as possible. This will allow you to set anticipated expectations early.
If you’re operating a “mature” brand in the space, then once again, this will be much easier for you. Merely pull in your historical data from years past, to see the impact on traffic and CPC’s.
If you notice that during your peak period, traffic increases 25% and CPC increases 50%, and you plan on keeping the same strategy, then expect to pay at least 75% more during that time period. But more realistically, it’ll be more like 80-83%, as you are forced to calculate in annual growth of CPC’s (because one thing that never happens is search traffic getting cheaper).
One important note: If your business or vertical was positively or negatively impacted by COVID, and it is now back to “normal,” you may want to throw out 2020 and 2021 data (or take it with a huge grain of salt), because it could skew data.
For example, one of my clients (a DTC seller of smoked meat and bacon) saw a 65% jump in traffic in 2020 vs. 2019, where 2019 vs. 2018 saw just an 8% uptick in traffic. The traffic went back down in 2022 to levels more on part with 8% growth.
Peak seasonality planning
Planning comes down to three components: financial, management and delivery.
Whether your brand is a startup or mature – and the number or length of your peak seasons – will impact your plans.
- What I like to do is lay out by budget evenly through the year to start, and back into estimated clicks based on anticipated CPC (don’t forget to factor in the typical annual growth in CPC’s when doing this step first).
- Then identify your peak season (say it is 6 weeks of the year for sake of argument), and note the anticipated growth in traffic and CPC during that time, versus the rest of the year (so going back to earlier notes, let’s say traffic increases 25% and CPC 50% during those 6 weeks). So I would increase investment by 75% during those 6 weeks (remember, this is after you already accounted for the annual CPC increase).
- Alternatively, if you don’t have a growing budget like that (not a lot of operations do), then I lay out the budget evenly during the year, and then I reduce investment at the lowest time of the year, and reallocate to peak periods, to find a happy medium.
- More money means more problems (actually/hopefully it means just more work). Plan out your day parting, bid strategy, and creative assets for peak season.
- If you know those 6 weeks are your bread and butter, and you have the ability to, have a custom ad for the peak period, use enticing creative, and make sure you’re driving to the optimal landing page during then. Moreso, plan on watching this like a hawk.
- This is primarily relevant if you have hard goods, or you’re using personnel to provide a service. If your operation cannot keep up with demand (very common for retailers in Q4), then you’ll have to make decisions. These include:
- Offer discounts for delayed delivery of good or service.
- Let orders back up until you can get to them (this can often lead to a bad user experience).
- Maybe just pull back on investment until you’re no longer drowning.
Beware of outlier scenarios
There’s always an unexpected or inconsistent outliers. Typically, search is impacted less than say Facebook or YouTube by things like mass catastrophes, domestic violence and national elections.
If you run in or adjacent to a hot-button category, you could trigger an unexpected outlier of peak season. Think: dehumidifiers during hurricane season, pharmaceuticals and Medicare during elections, or interest rate hikes at what seems like any given moment.
If possible, have some an emergency slush fund and response strategy for these.
Although peak seasonality can (and probably will) be exhausting and taxing, planning for it will definitely take the edge off.
But predicting and planning for the impending impact of peak seasonality allows you a greater runway of time to prepare. Thus making your paid search performance as optimal as it can get.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.