July and August are a time when many content sites see a seasonal dip in all forms of traffic, including search engine referrals. Major stories that emerge (such as Michael Jackson or the health care debate) can bring large spikes in search traffic, but it’s common to see the numbers drop after May and not pick up again until September.
This is to be expected, and it’s one reason why year-over-year metrics have more value than month-to-month. The best measuring stick for August 2009 is August 2008, not the months that preceded it.
That said, there are plenty of things that news and content sites can do to improve their search engine referral (and overall) traffic during slow periods.
Here are five ways to mitigate seasonal search traffic declines:
1. Go after hot topics – Regularly monitor the top searches, topics and trend data published by search engines and social media sites for content ideas and opportunities. It’s not easy to chase search trends as there is a danger of always ending up one step behind. But if a particular topic seems sustainable you can gain a share of searches by creating strong, relevant content around it.
2. Bolster your best stuff – Dig into your analytics data and determine which sections and content types tend to perform best in summer. Then make sure you’re doing everything you can to support them on-site, in particular leveraging your internal link structure.
3. Get creative – Develop special features and packages that are likely to garner attention and links. There are lots of good approaches to “link bait” – find the topics and hooks that work for you. Special promotions like contests and giveaways can also be effective.
4. Reach out – You’ve been meaning to get more involved in brand and content awareness building activities such as social media marketing; now’s the time. Research the opportunities and come up with an effective social media strategy. By engaging (appropriately) with your target audiences you’ll indirectly facilitate an increase in traffic and links.
5. Build for the future – Slow seasons are a good time to make improvements to site architecture, update page templates and engage in various forms of testing on the site. Improve the site as a whole so when things pick up again you’ll be stronger than ever.