HomePostsFeb 26, 2010

Seasonal web traffic: what to expect and how to improve it

December 2009, I looked back through the analytics of several busy content sites I help manage and saw a serious traffic drop-off. It’s no fun being the bearer of bad news and the news was pretty bad. Most sites were seeing close to a 40% decrease in overall traffic starting on the first week of December. It was ugly.

A little internet research, typically the cure for any random issue you can’t seem to explain on your own, did not do much to allay our fears that something – something terrible – was happening. There were a few anecdotal reports of traffic drops but I could not find anything that allayed our fear. We crossed our fingers, took some time off, and hoped for the best.

Turns out that the significant down-turn cleared itself up by the first non-holiday week in January. Here are the visitor graphs to illustrate:

As you can see, the sites saw a big dip in traffic that came on slowly and recouped immediately after the last holiday weekend. We were quite relieved.

But, still, there was the question of how to potentially prevent this problem in the future. I wanted to figure out if there was some kind of obvious pattern that this dip was following so I looked at the traffic sources for one of the sites (the last graph above). It confirmed my suspicion that we were just seeing an overall decrease in web use:

Visitors from direct trafficVisitors from referring sitesVisitors from search enginesThe fact that the drop was across all three (actually four; our campaigns showed a similar pattern) was bittersweet. Sure, we weren’t doing anything wrong or suffering some sort of Google penalty but there also wasn’t any obvious recourse. We were prepared for next year with an explanation but not a way out.

I read a Chris Brogan article (or was it a video? I’d link to it if I could find it again) that made me feel bad (which is rare) but I got his point. He said that everyone slows down around the holidays so that’s the best time to kick ass and take names. While everyone drinks and eats and gets their merry on, he’s making videos, writing blog posts, and generally crushing it. I felt bad because I think I watched/read on vacation.

Point being, we slow down during the holidays and we should slow down if we need to. Incoming content slows down, traffic decreases, people spend time away from the glowing screen. This is a good thing from a human standpoint but is there a way to mitigate it? I see a few options:

In the end, if you’re starving for work, you can find it. Just make sure you understand the limitations of the season and set your expectations accordingly.

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