Reviewing Last Year’s Trends
First, start by looking at big picture trends to get a general idea of how many more potential customers and sales you should expect during the holidays. Start by looking at the volume of traffic leading up to and during last year’s holiday season. Note the dates when sessions began to increase leading up to the holidays. In this example, we show traffic for the last four months of the year, by channel. We generated this report in Google Analytics by going to Acquisition > Channels. Here we can see when traffic started to pick up and where it came from.
The blue line on top shows total traffic and the colored lines below show the contribution from each channel. To reproduce this chart with your own data, select the Channels that you want to graph and click on the “Plot Rows” button just above the table on the left side.
In this example, you can see that Sessions begin to rise mid-October and reach their highest level point at the beginning of December. Of course, the point in time when traffic begins to rise for holiday shopping will vary for every business, so, zero in on the date range that reflects your trend.
Comparing This Year with Last
Once you have selected the date range of interest for last year, you can compare with this year by clicking on the Google Analytics date selector and checking the “Compare to” box.
Once you have selected the comparison date range, you will have a chart and table that compare traffic for this holiday season vs last year.
When making this comparison, it is helpful to uncheck the selected Channels and click “Plot Rows” again – as comparing across date ranges for multiple Channels makes the chart hard to read. The result shows that, so far this year, this business is running ahead of last year. Sessions have increased by 30.59% and Revenue is up 35.10%.
However, it looks like most of the improvement came in October, and that November’s results are not showing a significant improvement over last year.
As a next step, scroll down and have a look at the table and see if you can identify a particular Channel that is lagging last year’s performance. Click on this Channel and you will get a chart and table with just the data for that Channel. In this case, Paid Search is not doing as well as the other Channels, so we drilled down on that.
Here, you can see that Sessions from Paid Search lag 19.18% behind last year, and Revenue is behind by 16.19%. Next, we want to look at the Campaign level within Paid Search. To do that, click on the “Other” menu for “Primary Dimension” along the top of the table, and select “Campaign”.
The table will now show Paid Search Campaigns from this year and last year. Look for any campaigns that were particularly effective last year and either aren’t running this year, or are not doing as well.
This particular campaign has produced 68.44% fewer Sessions and 51.42% less revenue this year than last year. For a campaign like this, it makes sense to look into why the performance is lagging. It could be because of factors outside your control – perhaps the product being advertised is just less popular this year. On the other hand, it could be because competitors are bidding higher for the keywords used in this Campaign, and you are not getting as good a placement. In that kind of situation, you may want to increase your bids to drive more traffic and revenue.
Use Keyword Data to Improve Your Campaigns
One way to develop new campaigns, and improve existing ones, is to look at the keywords that people are using to find your website as the holiday shopping season gets underway. The Organic Keywords report (Acquisition > Keywords > Organic) will show you queries from organic search. In this example, we’ve looked up the most popular keywords from the last four months of the year for a site that sells survival supplies.
Although most of the keywords are, unfortunately, hidden thanks to “not provided”, we can see that “survival gear” ranks high as a general brand-related search. In addition, “gerber zombie kit” is a top search related to a product available on the site, likely a popular Christmas gift last year.
Similar to the process used above to compare year over year Channel traffic, the next step in your keyword research is to compare this year with last year. Look for new keywords, or keywords with significantly increased Sessions. Try creating new AdWords campaigns around these keywords, or bidding on them in existing campaigns. These new keywords can also help develop content marketing and email campaign ideas.
In addition to the limited organic keyword data available directly through Google Analytics, you should also look at organic search queries via Google Webmaster Tools for more complete keyword data. You can integrate Webmaster Tools with Google Analytics to view searches under Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to looking at keywords solely through Webmaster Tools. First, you can’t see associated on-site data for keywords such as bounce rate, session duration or landing pages. In addition, available data is limited to the past three months, so if you want to preserve data from the holiday season for the next year, you’ll want to export it periodically.
To download current keyword data, log into your Webmaster Tools account, select your site, and navigate to Search Traffic > Search Queries. Choose your desired date range and select “Download this table” to download the search query data in either CSV or Google Docs format. You should then plan to export data regularly (at least once every three months) to ensure you can look back on search queries next year when you begin planning for the holiday season. Don’t forget to export records throughout the year - are you a business that provides products for Back to School shopping? Swimsuits for the start of summer? This same advice applies.
If you use Megalytic, you can simply connect your account to Webmaster Tools, and Megalytic will automatically download the keyword data each day and keep a record of it for you.
Examine the keywords that received the most impressions, as well as those that got the most clicks. Identify keywords that are gaining clicks and impressions as you head into the holidays, and use these in your campaigns. Save this data to help you plan content for promoting products the next year around. In addition, if you see relevant search terms that received high impressions but low click-through rate, look for ways to better work these terms into your copy both to rank and to get people to click through to your site. Consider creating landing pages around these high-impression keywords.
Learning from Content Statistics
Beyond keywords, take time to review how people consumed content on your site during the time leading up to the holidays. You want to know where they first made contact with your site, what items they were most likely to look at, and what pages drove the best engagement.
Look at top landing pages by navigating to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. This report shows you a list of pages that were the first point of contact with the website.
In this example, you can see that, besides the homepage, the Zombie Apocalypse Kit once again shows as a popular product. Based on this data, writing blog articles about this item, as well as featuring it on social media, would help to drive additional traffic to your website, supplementing the traffic going to existing product pages. In addition, noting top pages, such as the camping stove, with less volume but decent bounce rate/session duration indicates opportunity for additional content. Further development of pages can help drive awareness for products that may not currently be as popular but still show opportunity to generate revenue.
As you launch and manage your holiday campaigns, take the time to review how your website has performed in past holiday seasons. Not only will you gain insight into how potential customers were looking for products, but you can identify what worked and what didn’t work from previous online marketing efforts to better tailor content, social media posts and online advertising efforts for a new season.
Furthermore, by comparing with last year, as this year’s results come in, you can identify short-comings and correct them. In addition, keep on top of the campaigns, keywords, and landing pages that are bringing people to your website this year. Be flexible, and respond quickly to trends as they develop by updating your campaigns and content.