Google Analytics: Year Over Year Traffic

I’m working on our clients’ analytics reports. One of the things we look at is year over year increase: the increase in traffic for this month or this quarter compared with the same period of time last year.

Year-over-year traffic can give a more accurate picture in some cases than month-over-month or quarter-over-quarter. Seasonal businesses may show predictable increases and decreases around specific seasons or events. Here are some examples of situations in which your website traffic could show seasonal patterns:

  • You see a drop in visits during the summer, but an increase when families get ready for back to school sports physicals.
  • You get spikes in traffic when you hold events such as a Breast Cancer Awareness Day or a New Parents Fair.
  • An annual fundraiser sends lots of social media traffic each year.

In each of these cases, traffic spikes can give the impression that there are problems with the website, when it’s actually a seasonal pattern.

It’s easy to check year over year traffic. When you set the dates you want to examine at Google Analytics, check the Compare box and choose “Previous year.” All your reports will now show the date range you’ve chosen, in comparison with the previous year.


What should you look for in year over year comparisons?

  • Increased traffic Not that absolutely everyone sees an improvement in their data from one year to the next, but if you aren’t seeing an improvement, you should know why. Sometimes the data isn’t actually comparable. For example, if you just filtered out internal traffic, last year’s numbers may still show that internal traffic and show you an apparent drop. Sometimes you’re seeing the results of having stopped sending a newsletter or a change in the business climate. I’ve read claims that traffic just goes up and down randomly, but I don’t see that. Some sites see slow improvement in traffic and some see faster jumps, but every site should look for a reason if numbers are falling.
  • What’s working and what needs work It isn’t uncommon to see very different figures for different traffic sources. Generally speaking, your search traffic results tell you how well your SEO efforts are working. Direct traffic, assuming it doesn’t include your workers, generally shows the people who come to you with bookmarks or by typing in your URL directly. If your URL is short and memorable, this will include new people guessing at your web address, while a long and hard to guess URL with plenty of direct traffic is more likely to be bookmarks or strong traditional marketing of the website (for example, a URL in a print ad or on your business card). Scrutinize those referral traffic sources: they might show successful social media, effective ads, or hardworking links. Whatever’s sending you traffic, do more of it.
  • Conversion You want to know what kind of traffic converts. For most of the sites we look after, search traffic and direct traffic convert best. If you see changes year over year in what kind of traffic is converting, and especially if you get surprises, you should incorporate that information into your online marketing strategy. In general, though, it makes sense to focus on strategies that bring traffic that converts.

Get some perspective.

Sometimes spikes aren’t neat seasonal patterns. It can help to look at a longer time frame and see whether there are underlying patterns. Just drawing a diagonal line along the traffic can help you see whether the website is showing growth or just variations around a mean. If spikes correspond to paid ads, for example, they won’t affect your general trajectory for growth. In the example above, we can see the effects of paid search advertising. Obviously, those ads brought in significant traffic above the ongoing organic growth. Just comparing the numbers year over year might not show that pattern as clearly.

If you can tell that this kind of data mining and analysis isn’t the best use of your time, we’ll be happy to help you with it. Contact us to discuss your needs.


One thought on “Google Analytics: Year Over Year Traffic

  1. Pingback: Google Analytics: Year Over Year Traffic | Haden Interactive |

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