It starts off innocent enough.

You're in a marketing meeting with your team, discussing SEO performance of your site and you're asked about what to expect in the next year.

You panic.

You freeze.

You start to sweat.

You know SEO can change at any time - how can you be expected to give any measure of what to expect in the next year, let alone the next few months?

Look into the past to find the answer. Seasonal or cyclical SEO can help you answer these questions, and more, while giving you the insight you need to plan for what's ahead. It's not impossible to anticipate what might happen - you just need the right information.

What's Seasonal SEO Anyway?

Seasonal SEO is all about optimizing for the changes in user behavior you know or can usually predict based upon what you've experienced regularly in the past.

These changes tend to happen at regular intervals throughout the year, usually coinciding with major events or holidays. That traffic spike you noticed on pages with green merchandise near St. Patrick's Day? The uptick in leads for tax preparation services in February? Those are all actions that could connect back to what's behind seasonal SEO.

But wait - what if my industry doesn't operate on the same seasonal calendar as everyone else?

Don't worry - you're not alone. Every industry follows its own unique calendar, so the first step in understanding what you're likely to see in terms of user behavior changes starts with looking at the right information.

If you're not sure of what your season is, there are a lot of tools you can use to get a closer look, including Google Trends and Google Analytics.

Take a look at these resources and take notes. What keyword phrases relating to your business or industry saw increased volume during a specific period of time? Is this consistent year over year? Do you have an internal promotional calendar that you rely on for other marketing methods? Do you see any changes in your traffic in a given period of time at a regular interval?

Taking this information into account, you can get a rough idea of what your calendar might look like. Here's an example from my own experience.

Let's say you organize a local blogging and social media conference and it's usually hosted in the fall each year. You open up ticket sales in the late summer and throughout the year, you do some small get-togethers here and there.

Looking at your Google Analytics account, you see clearly that there's an uptick in traffic around those times.

clip_image002

And you see this is consistent year over year. As the event draws closer, you see increased activity to and on the site. People are looking for information about sessions and speakers. They're registering. They're getting the info needed for the day. Then, the day arrives and your site is THE place to be on the internet. It's got everything.

clip_image003

Afterwards, people check back for post-event updates, like copies of the presentations or photos taken on the day. As the conference date passes and people return back to their non-event lives, the traffic stabilizes.

You then might draw the conclusion that you can expect to see a boost in traffic in the late summer (when people are beginning to think about attending and are anticipating ticket sales to open). And you plan your marketing and SEO calendar accordingly.

For most websites, seasonal SEO falls in line with certain holidays or regular occurrences. Everything from Tax Day to Christmas is up for analysis when it comes to SEO, but for our purposes, let's just take a look at 10 of the most common seasonal events that can affect your SEO strategy and when they fall, based on Google Trends data:

1. Holiday Season: Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza fall into this window, which kicks off directly after Thanksgiving and runs until New Year's Day, but the activity around holiday searches actually starts to pick up in late October, right around or after Halloween. From there, it sharply spikes as retailers start marketing their holiday season deals and merchandise. Following New Year's, the season drops off again.

clip_image005

2. Valentine's Day: February is a prime time for gifting, particularly for those who sell food, flowers, or jewelry items. The window for Valentine's Day search activity is a small one, beginning in January, peaking in the two weeks up to and including February 14.

clip_image007

3. Easter: Either falling in March or April, Easter season can be an important one for religious organizations and retailers. Activity around Easter-related searches starts in late February and continues strong into March and April, peaking during the week of the holiday.

clip_image009

4. Halloween: October 31 may be the date for this holiday, but the activity around it starts earlier. September is when you'll start to see an increase in searches for Halloween related items and resources. Recipes, costumes, decorations - it's all in the mix. After October 31 passes, the activity drops off sharply, with maybe less than a week of persisting activity (maybe they're looking for Halloween clearance sales?)

clip_image011

5. Back to School: With the end of summer comes the urge to start shopping for school supplies. Small businesses who offer products or services relating to students will see an uptick in their sales a bit earlier though, as back to school activity starts in late June and continues into September and even a bit of October. Just as school gets out, parents and students already start thinking about going back!

clip_image013

6. Wedding Season: The wedding industry has some varying estimates of when this season actually is, but most agree that it peaks between May and August. Wedding season is a bit of a unique animal, as it's a phased occurrence. Wedding planning search terms see an uptick in January (post-holiday season engagements!) and you'll see terms relating to items like wedding favors and wedding dresses rise in the spring, a few months before the most popular wedding months. Sites that offer services that pertain to last minute wedding items will peak in May through August (as brides wrap up last-minute tasks!)

clip_image015

7. Summer Vacation: When school gets out in June, you can bet that there's increased activity around travel and hospitality industry sites. People love to enjoy the nice weather of summer and begin their travel planning as early as January. Rising activity can be seen in April with the peak in June, falling gradually as we run into September and October.

clip_image017

8. Tax Season: April 15 may feel like doomsday for some, but for online retailers with big ticket items for sale, tax season can be a springtime bottom line booster. When those tax refunds hit bank accounts, people exercise their purchasing power. Additionally, if you offer tax preparation or assistance services, don't be surprised if you see an uptick in business beginning in January/February, when W-2 statements begin getting issued.

clip_image019

9. Graduation Season: May and June are graduation season in terms of the actual event, but activity around graduation searches starts to rise in April and runs through July.

clip_image021

10. The Big Game: Super Bowl season is a popular one for football fans, so expect to see your activity around The Big Game peak the week of the event, with a strong lead up in January and February (depending on when the game falls).

clip_image023

Armed with this knowledge, your industry Google Trends information, your Google analytics - and maybe your day planner with holidays marked - you can predict what might happen with your site and plan accordingly.

In the meantime, here are some best practices to keep in mind for optimizing for seasonality, no matter what your industry.

Anticipate shifts in user behavior. Seasonal SEO takes a lot of planning to implement correctly, so it might not be a bad idea to lay out a general SEO calendar for the next year to think about when your "season" starts and end. In that time, outline the tactics you'll be using and plan to get ahead of the curve by at least a few months.

Look at Google Trends data regularly to get a sense of any behavior shifts experienced in your industry. Everything from what's in the news to what's happening with the stock market can affect user behavior, so look at what's happening now and what's happened in context. Remember: context is everything with seasonal data.

Try leaving seasonal pages live. If you look at some of your favorite ecommerce stores, you might notice that they still have their holiday season pages up. That's not a mistake on their part - in some cases, this is what powers their seasonal SEO efforts. You may want to test having your seasonal content pages live year round so that they maintain consistent visibility and authority (so you're not starting from scratch each year). However, make sure that you're still giving people a good experience.

Update the content to reflect the current year or the passage of time so that they aren't confused. Or, direct people toward something that could be of interest to them - even if it's not relating to the season. It all depends on what your industry is and how your users interact with your site (and that's where those GA stats come in again!)

A word of caution: don't keep creating new holiday or seasonal content resources and stacking them one on top of another (e.g. having a page for Christmas Specials 2013, Christmas Specials 2014, and Christmas Specials 2015 all live and indexable at the same time). Multiple landing pages will usually start to compete with one another and you want to try to drive users to the most relevant and current page possible. It gets confusing for search engines and users if you're not giving them a clean experience.

Go evergreen. Seasonal SEO can have elements of being "evergreen", or less timely, and still be successful. For example, you might want to instead have site.com/halloween instead of site.com/halloween-2015. Not using specific dates can give your pages additional longevity.

Give yourself enough time. Keyword research can start as early as 8-12 months out from the occasion, but make sure you give search engines - and users - enough time to adopt your seasonal landing pages or content. 2-4 months for seasonal content to be live prior to peak is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Additionally, plan time for content sharing/distribution/promotion.

Test, test, test. Seasonal SEO isn't an exact science. What may work for you in one year might not in another, so as with all SEO efforts, test and measure your results to determine what's right for your website specifically. A/B testing is your friend. Use seasonal cues for your industry as a benchmark and go from there.

How do you practice seasonal SEO for your site?