We are all connected to each other in a circle in a hoop that never ends
-Pocahontas, from the film Pocahontas (1995)
Several years ago, when I was a brand new digital marketer, I was helping work on an e-commerce AdWords account. It was around September, and my line manager at the time told me during our weekly catch up that we needed to start thinking about Christmas as we were nearly out of time. I grew concerned.
To the average person, thinking about Christmas in September is like thinking about writing your will when you’re 18. Well, maybe some people look forward to Christmas planning more than I do. Maybe it’s more like planning what you’re going to have for lunch three Tuesdays from now. I guess you could call it super organised, but it could also come across as, shall I say, pathological?
But what I didn’t know at the time and what I would be delighted to find out is that search traffic can be outstandingly predictable. Month after month, year after year, humanity is driven by cycles and as search marketers, we can harness that power for our clients. In this post, we’ll be looking at how digital marketers use search trends to guide our marketing, how we can see users reactions to marketing, and why content marketing is worth more of your time and effort than you think it is.
Gift buying panic
Google trends is a wonderful tool which helps to convey this idea of search cycles. Consider the following graph displaying search interest for the keyword “gift ideas”.
These are worldwide statistics, and the spikes throughout the year coincide with Valentine’s Day, American Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. And the giant jumps? That’s the week before Christmas, every single year. If we take a closer look at just the last twelve months, we can see what my previous line manager meant by “we were nearly out of time”.
The slope does indeed begin to increase the first week of October. If we had waited until what felt like a reasonable time to launch our Christmas campaigns, we would have missed out on every early bird who likes to get their shopping done before Halloween. You may be thinking that must be quite a small population to be worried about. But remember, this is search traffic, not actual gift purchases. With Christmas gifts, research begins early (I mean, I just showed you the graph). If a search marketer can grab a potential customer’s attention early in the research phase, they’re much more likely to ultimately make a sale.
The re-engagement tools in a digital marketer’s arsenal are practically magic. There are dynamic display ads reminding you of products you’ve viewed, search remarketing lists that can push for better positions on second time searches, and emailed discounts for items left in an online basket. The list goes on! But all this is only possible if a user has already interacted with your ad or website. And if they start that process in September and you start your Christmas campaigns in late October, you’ve potentially already lost the sale.
The next graph I have for you may trigger a variety of emotions. Laughter, intrigue, and dismay at modern culture are all perfectly acceptable reactions.
The pumpkin spice latte. While a relatively new entrant to the UK market, the American fascination with all things pumpkin spice has seen the flavoured latte become a staple of the autumn season. But when does this peak in search fervour actually happen?
Right smack dab in the middle of summer. While this might suggest the average consumer is unable to relish the season they’re in, it’s probably more indicative of heavy marketing campaigns by Starbucks. This year, they released the drink on September 5th, a week after the last large spike seen on the graph. What is also interesting to note, however, is the second and third surges that occur in mid to late October. It’s as if customers, already blind to the marketing of the autumnal beverage, have a last minute panic when they realise it’s actually now autumn and they aren’t sure whether or not the drink is already off the menu. Smart marketers will remember this and keep marketing materials for the drink readily available.
The simple egg
My last example of cyclical search behaviour is perhaps my favourite. I’ll let the graph do the talking.
One of the easiest culinary feats: the boiled egg. And yet every year there is a predictable and massive spike in search traffic. Does the entire Western world suddenly start craving hard boiled eggs on a yearly basis? Of course not. These massive spikes with absolutely no run-up are the result of Easter Sunday every year.
If you’ve ever wondered about the value of content marketing, this is a prime example. You may feel you’re wasting your time writing a blog post on the top ten ways to boil, dye, and paint an egg. It may feel like a flash in the plan social media tactic that is only going to get you a dozen clicks at the most. But search patterns say otherwise. That type of content is not only evergreen, it has huge search potential every year. The content creation may take a few hours of your time initially, but it will continue working for you year after year in the future.
(By the way, I don’t love this graph because I love laughing at those who can’t boil eggs. As someone who rarely boils an egg to eat but feels absolutely at home in the kitchen, I can never remember how long to keep the eggs in the water. What I love is that it reminds me of the timeless advice from Albert Einstein – why memorise something when I can easily look it up?)
Have I somehow managed to argue that digital marketing is not just the practice of stimulating online sales and engagement but also the in-depth study of human behaviour and therefore a branch of sociology? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’ve just waffled on a bit about funny things people tend to ask Google about. I’ll let you decide.