Summertime ecommerce predictions used to be so easy.
We knew many businesses would face the dreaded “summer slump.” We knew the businesses that sold pool supplies probably wouldn’t meet The Slump. We could use holidays like Memorial Day, Father’s Day and Independence Day as anchor points for promotions. And we could take advantage of the Prime Day halo effect, which spiked Prime Day spending for ecommerce businesses across the board (whether they sold on Amazon or not).
This year, we’re in the Upside Down. From the looming possibility of rolling quarantines to today’s stock market pullback, macro events have caused so much volatility that our new summer sales predictions have all the accuracy of a weather forecast.
Fortunately, the world has Google Trends, a handy tool that tracks the popularity of keyword searches across different regions over time. Because Google Trends analyzes data in real-time, it can help ecommerce merchants make predictions based on historical behavior and what people are looking for today.
That makes the tool a vital ally in gearing up your ecommerce store for the summer. Here are six ways Google Trends can help you navigate the topsy turvy ecommerce landscape of 2020 and drive summer sales.
1. Validate Your Internal Ecommerce Data
As much as we love Google Trends, the best predictor for your website is your own historical data. However, Google Trends can lend your data some much-needed context. If you’ve been scratching your head over a mysterious traffic slump or you have a theory about the seasonal fluctuations in your shop, compare your data with the Google Trends data for key products you sell.
This is especially helpful if you sell a product that you wouldn’t expect to have seasonal fluctuations. It’s pretty cut and dry that bathing suits and winter coats are seasonal items — the former will keep your store hopping through the summer and die down in the winter, and the latter will do the opposite. When products have serious seasonality spikes, you’ll see symmetrical waves like this:
Or a heartbeat pattern like this:
But what if you sell air purifiers?
Enter your search term and toggle the time frame from the default “Past 12 months” to the past five years.
While we’re not seeing the same heartbeat pattern as before, we are seeing points of resistance (peaks) that all hit their zenith in the fall/early winter. The points of resistance turn from mountains to molehills come May, and they stay that way through August.
It turns out to a large extent, air purifiers are seasonal items that don’t favor the summer months. Not what you’d expect, right?
Now say you map your revenue goals for the year by averaging across the 12 months. You’ll miss your goals in the summer only to be left scrambling in the fall, and your data alone can’t fully explain why — it can only give you a theory. Once you validate that theory with search data, you have a way forward. You can:
- Add complementary products to your line that perform well in the summer months
- Focus your promotions on those products
- Turn off unprofitable air purifier-related keywords in Google Ads
- Run your next big air purifier promotion in September
If your data is muddied by homonyms (same word, different meanings), adjust this toggle to your specific category:
This will prevent searches for Apple the computer, for example, from mixing with searches for the fruit. Adjusting the category won’t meaningfully change the information for most searches, but test the view out to confirm that’s the case for your products.
2. Map Top-Selling Products Across the Whole Year
Use the same approach to understand the seasonal fluctuations of every major product you sell. Assess each item individually and try a few common queries for each product, because a) sometimes it takes a minute to hit on the magical word that points you to a trend, and b) your information is much more likely to be accurate if related searches reflect the same pattern.
Add each product to a spreadsheet (or calendar if it suits you better) and note its seasonal peaks and valleys. If some products don’t have an identifiable trend, mark them as Evergreen and use them throughout the year to support your seasonal items or fill in gaps.
The products that perform well in the summer are the ones you’ll shower with love and attention from now through August. You can:
- Plan promotions and offers
- Audit your product pages for conversions
- Push out product-based content now and continue doing so regularly to reinforce your subject authority for those keywords
- Set a target date to adjust your ads and update your social media calendar
A nice benefit to seasonality is that it gives you a plan that stays fairly stable through macro events. Obvious exceptions to this rule apply — if you run a waterpark or throw a summer festival, your seasonal patterns are null in the face of a summer quarantine — but ecommerce is better-insulated. Even if your sales are down this year in general, leveraging your store’s seasonal history will still maximize your profits.
3. Sleuth Out Seasonal Pain Points
Even if your product sells consistently throughout the year, the reason people buy it can change. People need air purifiers in September to combat wildfire smoke, while they need them in the spring to manage allergies. If you suspect the motive to purchase changes for a product throughout the year, test your theory. Identify your top customer pain points and chart pain point-related keywords in Google Trends just as you did for your products.
If there’s an uptick in certain pain points during the summer months, lean into messaging that solves for them.
4. Track the Long-Term Viability of Your Product
Let’s return to the same air purifier search we made in #1.
This information provided us with seasonal insight, yes, but something else is key here: searches for air purifiers have been on a consistent upward slope for the past five years. That’s good! It doesn’t mean air purifiers are a smash hit for the summer, but it’s a sign that we’re still in the right business.
If you see the opposite, it might be time to reassess the product’s long-term market fit and give the spotlight to new/additional products this summer.
5. Discover Trending Products
Grounding yourself in the basic seasonal rhythms of your shop is great, but how is that going to prepare you when your store runs out of hand sanitizer for the first time ever at the precise moment your hand sanitizer sales usually start declining?
It doesn’t, and that’s why the short-term time frames will be our best friend as we warm up for the wacky post-COVID summer of 2020.
Switch your time frame to the past year, the past month and even the past week, then explore different product keywords and pain points. If you’ve had any unexpected best-sellers because of COVID, those are extra vital to check. Note whether they’re still trending up or whether the tides are already receding; and if the tides are receding, assess how quickly.
The information above is telling us, for example, that we’ve actually missed the boat on hand sanitizer. So it’s not a great idea to order a million pounds of hand sanitizer for your store right now, but it’s also not a bad idea to order a higher volume of hand sanitizer than normal. The current search volume is still high relative to last year, and that slope won’t decline overnight. Moreover, Google Trends can’t predict whether a resurgence of the virus will create another spike in demand.
Supply and demand aside, what that downward slope really tells us is that our marketing and messaging should be well past hand sanitizer by now. Keep your marketing ahead of the curve, even if your sales take a minute to catch up.
So what products are trending right now? Google actually has this question covered in their Coronavirus Search Trends report:
That’s…exactly what people search for every summer (except for the sneeze guards). And that’s why you can still use seasonal patterns as a stabilizing force. People want to return to normalcy, and they’re shopping accordingly.
You can also use Google Trends to discover breakout products to capitalize on and sell in your store, but that’s a post for another day. Anything that breaks out now does so in such a strange, small vacuum that you can’t use the information to plan for the future of your store.
6. Find Content Ideas
Want to know where breakout topics do come in handy? Your content marketing. Content is more agile and lower stakes than your product line, allowing you to respond to trends near-immediately without risking too much (just the time).
From the home page, pull up the side menu and select Trending Searches.
That will take you to a list of real-time searches along with the daily top searches for every day in the past year, starting with today.
You can occasionally hit gold this way. If you notice people are searching for something your brand can offer an angle on, fire up the engines and create a relevant piece of content or run a PR push as soon as you can. The timeliness of your response will give you a leg up on the competition.
If the general search trends are too broad to be useful, don’t worry — there’s a more reliable method for mining content ideas.
Head back to Explore and enter a general query like “how to” or “why,” adjusting your time frame and category as needed.
Scroll down the page and you’ll hit a box called Related queries.
If any of these topics are relevant to your brand, you have a hot content idea on your hands.
If they aren’t, harness the full power of Related Queries by entering your brand’s specific products, keywords or customer concerns. As you grow more and more specific, you’ll hit a sweet spot that gives you the most useful content ideas for your brand.
For example, let’s say you sell skincare products. Watch what happens when we look at the related queries for “Moisturizer.”
The results yield 25 queries, at least a few of which make for excellent content fodder. “Sunscreen before or after moisturizer,” for example, is a perfect summer topic. This method can help you plan out content, keywords and emails for the upcoming months.
Armed with information from Google Trends, you can gear up your ecommerce store for whatever may come. Use it now to map out your summer, and continue exploring the tool periodically as new events occur.
Unpredictability? Not on your watch.