For the Win Wednesdays 1 – Seasonality and other Cycles

In our For the Win Wednesdays, I’ll be covering 1 new report or style of reporting in Google Analytics every week. While the GAIQ test is great for learning the inner workings of Google Analytics, I felt like there’s a shortage of help on what to look for. Basics like what a visit is will not be covered. If you need help on the basics, checkout Google’s beginner courses.

Seasonality and Other Cycles

Let me paint a picture: you go to the Google Analytics site, login, and are presented with this trend of visits:


If this was your website (it was mine), you might be pretty pleased with yourself. Going from 1700 visits per week to 3200, an 88% increase in traffic! Maybe it was a combination of those last few fantastic posts, some SEO, or Google loved your fabulous hair. Or maybe it was just seasonality and it had nothing to do with you.

To best understand seasonality for a business, it really helps to have a Google Analytics profile that spans multiple years of data so that you can see the variation year to year. I typically run the trend over the longest possible span of time, set the view to week, and look for common bumps or troughs. Anyone want to guess what event I have highlighted in this trend is?


Well, if you’ve been looking at your Analytics for a while, you might have noticed the precipitous drop in traffic around Christmas. Most businesses experience this and it’s pretty clear to see on a trend. It’s a bit tough to see seasonality in this trend beyond that. .. maybe it gets a bit busier after Christmas, sometimes it gets busy before. . .tough to tell. In these cases, you may want to use the “compare to previous period” or “compare to previous year”. The previous year option, in particular, makes it a lot easier to root out seasonal shifts in traffic. This year over year comparison makes it a bit easier to find busy or slow periods.

year over year

If you trend by day, you might notice another type of cycle: Saturdays and Sundays are slower days for most businesses. Note that if Saturdays and Sundays are slow for your website, other civic holidays will likely be slow too.

days of the week

Beyond simple trending on visits, you can filter traffic by source or by using advanced segments to get an even better picture of what’s going on. If you’ve experienced significant growth due to SEO or PPC, but brand awareness has remained consistent, you could look for seasonality by filtering for branded searches (search phrases where the company name is mentioned directly) or by using the “direct” trend, depending on how clean it is. Take note that recent changes to how browsers such as Safari on iOS 6 devices has clouded “Direct” a bit.

Seasonality and cycles can be difficult to root out, but understanding them will give you better awareness of why your site does what it does. And, it might keep you from giving yourself pats on the back too soon.

What are “For the Win Wednesdays”?

For the Win Wednesdays is a weekly series of posts tackling 1 technique or strategy of analysis in Google Analytics. These posts are created for intermediate users of Analytics, those who are familiar with the interface but are unsure about different application methods. For the full series, see the For the Win Wednesday tag.

  • Peter Jaffray

    Thanks Adriel! You can factor out seasonality to with some basic stats too if you are trying to compare items which are seasonally different, but comparable otherwise.

    • Yup. I find branded search to be a pretty solid seasonality metric, barring any crazy outreach or offline programs.