How seasonality affects the SERPs and what it means for SEO

How seasonality affects the SERPs and what it means for SEO

As we head into another seasonal period, it’s time to prepare our holiday strategies to maximize client visibility for the deal-getters and the peak shoppsouing period.

During the next quarter, many of us acknowledge that we’re likely to see a change in traffic levels as we attribute this to seasonality. 

This does not affect all business models. Still, for some (outside of the ecommerce spectrum), interest begins to slow down as consumer focuses are laid elsewhere, and company priorities change.

One thing that may not necessarily factor into your SEO strategies – as a threat and an opportunity – is how Google’s search results pages (SERPs) behave to the changes in both user search frequency and search intent.

Google’s end goal is to provide a high-quality SERP that caters to user needs and supports a query by presenting high-quality results.

Google determines if a query requires a seasonal or temporary change to how specific value propositions and beneficial purposes are presented in the SERPs. They might consider: 

If Google detects changes in these user patterns, it may choose to begin experimenting with the SERP and rotate results and source-types – or even introduce new source-types and SERP features altogether.

This isn’t something new. In 2018, JR Oakes tweeted his observations on how rankings changed month-over-month, with major changes around December 2017.

Over time, Google will learn these patterns and refine future SERP adjustments over time.

With seasonality, most marketers have an almost predictable data pattern used for planning marketing activities, content, and onsite messaging. Often, this is where the assessment stops.

Many strategies I’m privy to don’t go one step further to assess how the SERPs will change during these seasonal periods. Yet, it is important to understand so we can inform our SEO strategies (including content type and publishing frequency).

A lot of ecommerce SERPs we are familiar with will experience some form of seasonality, and we can usually predict and identify these through experience and common sense.

But what if you start seeing a change in traffic and rankings for particular URLs? How can you identify whether or not your SERPs are beginning to fall into a seasonality experiment?

The answer is through data. Understanding what your SERPs look like during "normal times" is important, and comes from:

Several third-party tools record this information and retain it historically. 

Let's take the search term [beard oil]. It is a query with more than one dominant interpretation, as I could be looking to make a purchase, research different brands, or even research different oils.

This query has already changed several times over the course of this year. This October, it is beginning to show signs of changing to a seasonal SERP:

As we get closer to peak ecommerce periods and more users are searching for the term, Google's SERP features are favoring and introducing commercially focused elements with Shopping Ads and the Map Pack (to cater to those wanting to buy both online and in-person).

We can also see a change in which source types are being ranked highest for the query.

So if we look at the top 5 ranking URLs for July 2022:

And we compare them to October 2022:

Looking at third-party metrics, one would argue that websites like Dr. Squatch don't have the same backlink profile, brand, or content levels as the likes of GQ. But they're a different source type, so the threshold required to rank is lower.

As Google is altering the SERP with a heavier commercial focus, the only thing that GQ can do in this scenario is to try dislodging Men's Health as the second result or wait it out for Google to determine that a different source type is required.

This, of course, is not taking into account that October 2022 also has a Map Pack and Shopping Ads taking up SERP real estate and clicks.

Looking at data from 2021, the SERPs followed a similar pattern before reverting back around March.

If we look at Google Trends data, we can correlate these SERP changes with the peaks and troughs of [beard oil] searches in the United States (outside of an increase around the time of the first pandemic lockdown).

Not all SEO stakeholders who receive reports and updates are au fait with how search engines work. Changes in rankings and traffic can unnecessarily set off alarm bells and lead to poor short- and long-term decision-making.

Identifying if your key traffic-driving search terms are susceptible to seasonality changes, or have been so in the past, is vital. Ensure that tags or classifications are in place and monitor them more closely around seasonal periods. 

This is especially useful if the organization you are working with has a turnover of VP and C-level. They might not know the vertical as well as the previously established person in that position.

Creating awareness of how rankings and traffic may change will mitigate the conversations when it does happen. It also helps build a business case for different content types to maintain brand visibility. 

This might involve a strategy in which the brand is made visible through a different source type or adjacent search queries that aren’t as affected by the seasonality changes. 

Investing in brand or digital assets outside of your website is an important consideration for creating an SEO strategy that can weather Google changes.

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