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Managing the Seasonality Playbook – Jordan Koene of Searchmetrics

Episode Overview

Whether you’re in eCommerce planning for the holidays, in media anticipating the elections, or a music venue booking your summer acts—many businesses are dependent on key times of the year. How do you plan for seasonality and develop a SEO playbook to navigate the highs and lows and ensure a profitable year? Jordan Koene of Searchmetrics shares his search strategies so you can maximize each season for SEO success.

Jordan covers:

  • Tips for establishing a seasonality calendar that identifies all key times, whether it’s the Super Bowl or Mother’s Day
  • How is CPC impacted by the Q4 “trickle over” effect?
  • How to use the key indicators like business KPIs, sales trends, traffic trends, and holistic aggregate data like Google Trends?
  • How to manage the content assets most relevant to your category of business and season?
  • What’s the importance of maintaining a key URL and strategies for keeping that content alive throughout the year?
  • What do you do when there is an SEO emergency and content that must go live without the proper planning? What are the risks of taking immediate action?

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Benjamin:         Welcome to Seasonality Month on The Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re going to be talking about managing the ebbs and flows of your SEO calendar. Joining us today is Jordan Koene, who is the Lead SEO Strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. And today, Jordan and I are going to talk about how you can plan your year to maximize each season for SEO success.

Benjamin:         But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic, where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Benjamin:         All right, on with the show. Here’s my conversation about seasonality with Jordan Koene, Lead SEO Strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to Seasonality Month on The Voices of Search Podcast.

Jordan:             What’s going on, Ben? This is going to be a busy, busy, busy month.

Benjamin:         It is going to be a busy month. We’re about halfway through the year, so it’s about time for us to start talking about Christmas. That’s what seasonality is all about, right? Getting ready for the holidays?

Jordan:             That’s what they think, right? I mean, holidays, holidays, holidays. If you’re in eCommerce, I think that’s the only thing you think about 365 days a year.

Benjamin:         In reality, the SEO calendar is actually a lot more complex and it really depends on what your business is. One of the things that we talked about in our pre-recording meeting was seasonality can really be different for different businesses depending on what time of year it is. So for example, we mentioned in Q4 the holidays, right? Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween, depending on what country you’re in. Obviously, all big events that people are focused on, and if you’re in eCommerce, those are huge wins for you. But if you’re a media business, that actually might be the slowest time of the year. So let’s talk about some of the rest of the year. Jordan, what are some of the big events that you think about in terms of seasonality for Q1 and what businesses do they affect?

Jordan:             Yeah, so whether it be Q1 or the other quarters, this is all about a planning process, right? So there’s this planning process that gets instituted around, say, events or holidays. And when we dive into Q1, we’ve got obviously the typical ones like New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. But if you’re in other industries, you might actually come to the realization that there’s seasonal trends that are dependent on actual weather or other regional-based changes that take place as the new year starts.

Benjamin:         Right, like if you’re in New England, you have to get ready for the Super Bowl every year.

Jordan:             That is correct. That’s correct.

Benjamin:         Welcome, Pats fans. Let’s talk a little bit about Q2. We’re coming out of the winter season. Things are starting to warm up. People are by the end of Q2 getting ready for summer vacation, dads and grads, wedding season. What else is happening in Q2?

Jordan:             Yeah, so Q2 typically becomes, again, there are particular holidays and events that take place in Q2 like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, but also we have the seasonal trend that typically takes place with travel and in summer travel. And so there’s typically a spike up in the travel category when folks are looking to go to different destinations over the summer holidays and make their annual trips. That often happens during that time of year.

Benjamin:         It’s one of my favorite seasons. Maybe I’m biased because for me, seasonality is centered around my birthday and Q3, the September of time frame, I get to celebrate my birthday but the kids are heading back to school. What else is happening in Q3 that can impact other businesses?

Jordan:             So there’s the typical Shapiro birthday, so that has a spike for all businesses. It’s agnostic across all categories. Just teasing.

Benjamin:         What do you mean just teasing, Jordan?

Jordan:             In reality, besides your birthday, the Q3 event landscape is one that centers typically for most businesses around the back to school type season, which obviously is very, very relatable to the eCommerce category and sector. But also during this kind of Q3 season, surprisingly and especially for a lot of local businesses and local aggregators, this end of Q2 going into Q3 is oftentimes the time of year where there’s a lot of local events that are centered around, say, carnivals or fairs or other types of activities that because of the weather and the temperature, outdoor activities and highly trafficked local events. And so if you’re in a specific market, this becomes an interesting time of year where you’re producing and publishing content around these local events.

Benjamin:         Yeah. I also think that in Q3, and this is going to be different in every country, but here in the United States, that’s really when election season gets busy. This upcoming year, we’re going to be talking a lot about the political landscape, and that’s when the presidential election happens or the most of the content is produced because at the beginning of Q4, you’re going to get the big election. And lastly, I mentioned before that when you get into Q4, it’s holidays, holidays, holidays. It’s just Christmas or bust, right?

Jordan:             There is that reality, yes, especially for eCommerce. And what ends up happening, right, is that there’s a trickle over effect, right? Because there’s so much focus on Q4, Q4 also invariably increases just ad spend and average cost, so CPCs and other spend because of the heavy introduction of eCommerce budgets during the time of year.

Benjamin:         Okay. So I mentioned this before, that there is seasonality outside of just the holidays and that can impact different types of businesses in different ways, right? If you’re a media and publishing business, you’re going to have a different seasonal calendar than if you are a traditional eCommerce business. But either way, there’s kind of similar playbook. Even though you might be optimizing for different events in different parts of the year, the playbook is relatively the same. So let’s talk a little bit about that. Run me through the managing seasonality playbook.

Jordan:             So yeah, so managing seasonality playbook is one that’s derived from understanding your industry and category. So whether you’re, say, news media, eCommerce, say you’re into music, and maybe you’re even more specifically, and I think this is where it gets really interesting, you’re in the event-based business, right? And these are the folks that understand seasonality in the most, like ticketing businesses, sporting event businesses. These companies understand the immediacy of seasonality. And the best way they’re able to do that is by looking at trending, right?

Jordan:             So one of the things I always love to give folks a chance to investigate and to analyze is Google trends, but then there’s also your own internal business trends. So you understand when, say, the baseball season’s coming up and that there’s going to be a higher demand in those tickets. So you’re going to feature those particular events, say, on your homepage in order to increase the authority to those pages and hopefully the rankings to your baseball pages, right?

Jordan:             So there’s this connection between understanding the seasonality, the trend of that seasonality based on your business and looking at your business KPIs and sales trends, other traffic trends, and then looking at more holistic overall aggregate type data, like, say, a Google trends.

Benjamin:         So once you understand what your trends are, what can you do to optimize the actual performance, right? You’ve got a couple of targets. What’s the way to make sure you’re getting the most juice out of the orange when you figure out what you’re aiming for?

Jordan:             And this is the hardest part I think for SEOs to understand, right? Because SEOs often will sit in a company and they’ll get directed by one of two levers, right? The first one is, “Hey, we’ve got a business unit,” or, “We’ve got a an executive that says we need to focus on back to school or we need to focus on this year’s World Cup, right? So we really need to drive this particular event or we need to drive this particular holiday and we need to be focused on that seasonality.”

Jordan:             The SEO will either receive that directive or inherently identify that directive by looking at data. But then the tricky part is, what do I do with that, right? And the first piece is understanding your content assets. So take a look at what kind of content assets you have that are relevant to that category and industry, and how do you make those content assets more visible. The number one way to drive your success in seasonality is making your content assets more visible and accessible to search engines in particular through your homepage.

Benjamin:         I think one of the other things that we need to mention is that managing seasonality is something that you need to do in advance. And one of the struggles for the SEO community is you’ll get an executive say, “Hey, the World Cup is coming up next month. Let’s do something big. How do we all get behind the World Cup?” And it’s not like a performance marketing channel where you can say, “Oh yeah, let’s just create some ads and we’ll run it on the day that the World Cup starts.” You need to be building those assets far in advance. So how can the SEO community be aware of what the upcoming trends are going to be and not get caught blindsided by their executive team saying, “We need to hurry up and launch a new strategy with little time”?

Jordan:             Yeah, there’s two parts to this. And I summarize them into two buckets. One of them is called defending your turf and the other one is setting expectations. So the first one, defending your turf, right? And this used to happen all the time at eBay, which is, we focused on an event like, say, back to school. The back to school school-season launches. It comes in and comes out. The team that launches this comes to the realization after their post-mortem analyzing the back to school season that the SEO traffic was really low. And so they come to me or my team and they say, “Hey, we want to focus on SEO next year when it comes to back to school.” And what we quickly realized is that all the pages that they had created, all the authority and all the content that they created for back to school was deleted.

Jordan:             And so defending your turf is really important and what that means is protecting the content assets for that seasonal event, maintaining them in an environment and in a structure in an authentic way that helps you recycle that seasonal event in future years. This is something that Amazon did for many years very well, keeping their seasonal event pages up and maybe pointing people to new areas of the site when that seasonal event was finished, but maintaining that URL, keeping that content live so that when that seasonal event takes place in the future, you have something already indexed and ready to go.

Jordan:             And then number two, this is a little bit of a challenge for everybody, is setting expectations, right? I mean, sometimes people are going to come to you with a seasonal event and they’re just not going to give you the adequate time that’s required for Google to crawl, index and place authority for high rankings for that content. So just setting clear expectations on what’s going to happen from an SEO standpoint if you launch a seasonal event with a very short notice period.

Benjamin:         So walk me through the strategy here. If you’re going to be creating, let’s say a back to school event and you know that’s something that’s going to be happening every year, you want to keep your back to school page live throughout the year, right? And even though it might not be relevant when Q1 or Q2, you still want to have that page live to keep the domain authority. What if you’re going to do this every year, if it’s back to school, 2018, 2019, 2020, right? You have to think about what content is relevant for that page. Do you just update the same page or do you create a folder that is your back to school folder and create different pages all the time?

Jordan:             The reality is that there’s no perfect recipe for this, but what’s required is maintaining some kind of authority, which means in some cases keeping a folder available or properly redirecting a 2018 page to the 2019 page and then subsequent years. So there’s various tactics that we can all use as SEOs to keep that authority present. But what’s really interesting is when our business units or partners completely remove that content because the seasonal event is over, it actually is the worst outcome possible for any SEO because you lose all continuity with Google, you lose all continuity with the searchers who identified your business as a back to school business who provides good deals for back to school or provides good deals for the holidays by removing it.

Benjamin:         Right. But the reason why that content is removed is because it’s no longer relevant to the brand. So how do you manage this event is over while wanting to keep the content on your page?

Jordan:             That’s a good question. And I think that it really comes down to having a strong influence and voice in the content and strategy. So determining how you can leverage whatever assets you have today to keep that page in a holding pattern. I wouldn’t necessarily use the word relevant, but keep it in a holding pattern. So maybe featuring deals on that page and maybe featuring other content assets, like an easy one for a lot of businesses, especially they use it sometimes in the travel, travel deals section, is like, “Hey, come back in x amount of days for this deal again,” right?

Jordan:             There’s, I forget the name of it, but the big Chinese event that takes place every year, like equivalent to the Amazon Prime Day, those pages are kept, and way they keep them is by showing a clock with the amount of days until that event takes place again in the future. So it’s just put into a holding pattern, but the content strategy is what determines that. There’s somebody making a conscious content decision in terms of what kind of assets do we want on that page during this period.

Benjamin:         Okay. Now, let’s talk through the other scenario. Let’s actually flip chairs for a second and I’m going to be the boss and you’re going to be the geeky SEO.

Jordan:             Now I’m scared.

Benjamin:         And I’m going to come to you and say, “Jordan, 4th of July is coming up. It’s going to be in a couple of days. We need to do something huge and we need to drive SEO traffic for this event that you have very little time to be able to prepare for.” What’s the strategy to rush and get something out that is relevant in seasonality? How do you make the most out of your executive with a last minute request?

Jordan:             The first thing is, what assets do we already have, right? So a great way to teach executives about this is through the use of, say, market share or share a voice. So every executive is going to understand that if it’s two weeks away from the 4th of July and we own 0% market share, the likelihood of us suddenly owning 10% market share is next to zero, right? It’s just there’s not enough runway. And so this is a relatable-

Benjamin:         But I’m the boss and I want it.

Jordan:             Absolutely. And likely the next recommendation is going to be, “Hey, I have this great counterparty paid search. Please go talk to them.”

Benjamin:         There’s an S in the beginning of it, and it doesn’t end in EO, it ends in EM. Good luck.

Jordan:             Exactly. Go to the SEMD. But no, I mean, I think that goes back to setting expectations, right? So identifying KPIs that are relatable to those executives such as say, market share or what’s our current traffic volume from this, or what is our last year traffic volume during this period, and then allowing them to understand that.

Jordan:             The other thing that you can also do is you can kind of flip the script a little bit here, right? And you can say, hey, we don’t necessarily have assets today, but why don’t we look at our overall brand and the brand exposure during this period of time? Can we lift the amount of visits to our homepage? Can we lift the amount of visits to our, say, core category pages by making those really relevant for the 4th of July, instead of trying to create an isolated only 4th of July set of pages. So let’s just take our, say, outdoor furniture category page and add outdoor furniture 4th of July, right? Or 4th of July sale. Now suddenly our category page becomes relevant for 4th of July and see how much traffic we can generate to that category page, which has already been up. It’s already existed. It already has authority with Google. Can we make that page really relevant for this seasonal event that takes place? I don’t recommend doing that for every single season.

Jordan:             It’s an emergency tactic, right? But there’s some risk there, right? Because you’re taking an entire category and in this example, we’re using an eCommerce page and you’re taking, if we were a home and garden website and all of a sudden we’re taking the patio furniture category of our site and we’re calling it patio furniture 4th of July sale instead of just patio furniture, we’re changing the purpose of that page. And so when we flip it back when it’s not the 4th of July, Google has to reinterpret the value in that page. Aren’t you risking some sort of validity and value from that category?

Jordan:             Absolutely. And again, setting those expectations, right? Going in to explain to executive teams why these types of changes can create volatility to your core business versus your event or seasonal based opportunities is really, really critical. But it doesn’t necessarily diminish the fact that if an executive is saying this event is that important to us, there are levers that you can pull. The answer is not inherently, “Oh, there’s nothing we can do. You didn’t give me enough time.” And I actually don’t think that that’s a good place for any SEO to put themselves because there are things you can do, but those things require you to take a certain level of risk and understanding that risk and making your executives understand that risk help everybody become more knowledgeable around SEO.

Benjamin:         So let’s flip this back and you’d be the executive and I’ll be the nerdy SEO.

Jordan:             You’re fired.

Benjamin:         I haven’t even given you a reason to fire me yet.

Jordan:             Exactly my point. Exactly my point.

Benjamin:         Look, you come back, Jordan, you came to me and you said, “I want to do something for 4th of July,” but right now it’s June 21st and we don’t have the page that exists, so here’s what I can do. I can take our patio page and I can change it to be the patio furniture 4th of July sale page. But there’s inherently risk by changing the purpose of that page when it’s not 4th of July because Google’s going to have to reinterpret the purpose of that page.

Benjamin:         I think the right thing for us to do, we can do that, and then just as long as you understand that there’s risk later in Q3 when we turn that page back because it’ll no longer be 4th of July, what we should be doing is putting together a seasonal strategy. We should be building out pages that are sales or some of these dynamic pages. I want more time in advance and more budget to be able to do that. And we need to think about our content strategy in advance. Can we sit down and put together a seasonal calendar and not just look for the 4th of July, but look at all of the holidays?

Jordan:             Correct. And in some cases, in companies where they live and die by seasonality, take for example the ticketing industry, right? So the Live Nations of the world, the StubHubs of the world, they have no one dedicated to SEO resources but dedicated marketing resources to this type of campaigning because their businesses just rely on that volatility.

Benjamin:         So, you mentioned the SEM team earlier, and I know it was kind of a joke where the executive comes to you and says, “I want something for SEO and I want it now.” And you say, “No, you got the last letter of the acronym wrong.” But if you’re in a rush and you’re able to put together a page, right, I mean, “Hey, you know what? I’ll get my content writers on it. I’m going to build a 4th of July patio sale page. We’re going to figure out what our merchandising. We’re going to write some copy. We’re going to publish it. We are going to put it in our site map. We’re going to tell Google all about it and we’re going to get it up a week before the 4th of July.” Can you use SEM to start driving traffic to that page to let Google know that it is something of priority and will that help you boost the signal that it is seasonally relevant?

Jordan:             Yeah. Great question, Ben, and I think this is a long-debated topic between SEO and SEM, and then obviously there’s the publicly stated position from Google on this topic, which is that SEM does not influence or determine SEO.

Benjamin:         But traffic volume is important, right? There has to be a signal that Google is looking at to figure out how to prioritize a page, so whether it’s SEM or whether it’s Facebook ads, right, whatever it is.

Jordan:             Correct. No, what I fundamentally believe is that all of these other paid activities are great ways to generate both demand to those pages, but also awareness and that awareness impact has an ultimate result on SEO performance. And so being a diligent and effective SEO in setting up those pages for success, even if the window is very, very short, will pay off because that halo effect of awareness through, say, paid search or other brand marketing efforts will ultimately land you with SEO results. And so I don’t necessarily discredit the position of Google on this topic, but I do believe that there is a more holistic impact to the performance of those pages when there’s marketing dollars spent by them.

Benjamin:         I’m going to go back to being the SEO and you be the CEO. I want to put a link on the homepage to the new page I’m going to create. I need more assets. We’re going to get it up. I need some marketing spend to make sure that this page gets aware and we’re going to link to it from everywhere we can. And because we’re going to rush through this and we’re putting a lot of pages at risk here and we’re deprioritizing some of the other things we need to do, you and I are going to sit down and talk about seasonality so we don’t get caught with our pants down the next time there is a seasonal event and we’re going to rush and we’re going to do our best to get something up that’s relevant. I’m not promising that there’s going to be great results because of the amount of time, but let’s get it done and then let’s think more in advance about the rest of seasonality so we can make sure we’re managing the rest of the year. Sound good? Also, can I have a raise?

Jordan:             I couldn’t have done it better myself, Ben. In fact, I think you need to become an SEO because that’s often the storyline that takes place for a lot of SEOs, and I know that it is a curious and challenging place to be in, but that is the boss conversation that happens a lot when it comes to seasonality, and the more that an STO can use a data and set up expectations with that data through a conversation the way you just did, which is, “Hey, we can help out. I can show you the data that we’re not going to have wild, crazy results, but if we can set better expectations in the future and we can plan in advance, I can do better for you.” That is an excellent way to up level the conversation with a boss, with an executive, with a marketing team that’s really pushing hard for seasonal and seasonal based content.

Benjamin:         I’m going to build this page for you and we’re going to repurpose it for next year and then I’m going to go through and we’re going to talk about seasonality. I’m going to build out the rest of the pages for the rest of the year and we’re going to cap all of these pages exist so we can repurpose them. And that’s really the trick to seasonality.

Jordan:             And going back to that data-driven approach here, right, which is there are data tools that can show you what can be produced out of the seasonal lens, whether it be Searchmetrics, in our queue we’re discovering keyword tools, other companies, Google trends, which is obviously free. There are ways to show management what kind of impact can be had, but there has to be planning in advance for SEO to take place.

Benjamin:         Okay. Jordan, any last comments on managing seasonality?

Jordan:             No, I hope that folks took away more than just the seasonal topic here, right, because there’s a big thread here around how we communicate and organize in the SEO field around seasonal events.

Benjamin:         All right, so for the rest of the month we’re going to focus on seasonality. We’re going to have some experts in a couple of different brands that are going to come in and talk about how they’re managing a seasonal time, Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4, for their specific business. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices Of Search Podcast.

Benjamin:         Thank you for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the lead SEO Strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile on our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is JTKoene. If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet @BenJShap.

Benjamin:         If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complementary advisory session with our digital strategies team. And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon.

Benjamin:         Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in data.