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.








3 responses to “Google Analytics: Year Over Year Traffic”

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

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  2. Mark Landry Avatar

    I noticed that you’re on blogarama – unrelated question:
    I’ve been on blogarama for a week but hits from there aren’t showing up in Google analytics. They’re showing up in my wordpress stats but I have no idea of session time, bounce rate, etc.
    Have you had any issues with blogarama and GA?

    1. Rebecca Haden Avatar
      Rebecca Haden

      What an interesting question! Blogarama sent me a few visits a day for years and I really don’t pay much attention to that traffic. We have literally never had a client tell us they found us on Blogarama. So I had not noticed that they haven’t been showing up in my Google Analytics for several months. I went for a visit after reading your question. I found that, even though I still get emails saying that my new posts have been indexed, new posts are not actually showing up on Blogorama any longer. I do see some Blogorama traffic in my WordPress stats. It may be that the traffic we’re seeing in the WP stats is the Blogarama bot coming to index posts, and that GA is recognizing that as bot traffic and not tracking it. Blogarama is looking a lot less respectable these days, and it may be that a traffic source I haven’t missed for several months is not really an important traffic source — at least, not for me. If I find out anything more, I’ll let you know. I’ll be interested if you discover anything, too.

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