I was sitting down doing my weekly reporting for the board (plus the several thousand other people who having discovered I do it decided that they wanted a piece of the action), when it occurred to me that January is great. Great for traffic to your site. Great for your web owners. Great for your web analytics managers who can take all the fame and fortune.
But why are they so great and where does all this extra traffic come from? These are the questions that you need to ask yourself and look into the data to find out why:
January is great because December is generally accepted (bar the e-tailers) to be rubbish. Everybody is out Christmas shopping and far too interested in their Christmas parties and eating turkeys and... Basically everything except going to your website to find the latest news, buy their car insurance, looking for a job, whatever-your-site-does-unless-it-sells-presents. You may be asking 'so what? How does that affect my traffic in January?'.
Here is a graph showing traffic to my imaginary website. It has a 10% increase in traffic each month and I am now getting 3.5 visits (page views, visitors, whatever) a month instead of the 1 I was getting last January.
That is all well and good, but we think that December had a 10% decrease, just because everyone is in party mood. What does that do to our graph? Well, all that happens is that December is 10% lower than November, but January (not affected by Christmas) should remain the same, right?
Now it looks like January has had a real big increase and all I've done is changed one month. January is up 30% on December and is breaking all records. Great - give Alec a raise.
30% increase again next month and suddenly we are away and this is the greatest website on earth. Except one thing. February is a short month. It only has 28 days (except for leap years, etc, and so on - trust 2008 to come back to haunt me). That is 10% fewer days than January. So if we continue our model of 10% increase each month, we'd probably expect February to equal about the same as January (given month ends).
Lets look at this chart again. No increase in Feb? "That raise wasn't deserved Alec. Give it back."
"Woah, hang on, look at March and the mega traffic again - give me another raise!"
Ok - this is starting to get silly now. Lets go back to what we really want to do and find out how to do it best.
Are monthly comparisons working? No.
Why not? Because not all months are equal in size or what is actually happening in the real world
How do we get around it? Giving Alec another hefty raise and getting him to come to the party with a slightly different chart (or do it yourself and get your own raise):
- Use your charts weekly. All weeks are 7 days long
- Some times of year are different. Don't look at week on week trends - look at an overall picture
- Go year on year. You can see if the overall trend is continuing.
- Work out why some weeks were higher than others and label them in your charts (and in your web analytics solution if you can)
- Remember bank holidays, public holidays, Olympics, World Cups, etc
- Remember your marketing, site downtime, etc
Now shorten it to the last 26 weeks. Does it still have the same upward trend? What about the last 13 weeks? 6 weeks? Now you can really tell if January is still going upwards or whether your 10% upward trend is dying off and you should do something critical about it.
Having said all that - sometimes January just is great. How much have you used the web this year? More than ever? So have all the people who have just been given new laptops for Christmas. So have all those people who are trying new websites as a new years resolution. So have all those people who have been given an end of year review telling them that this year they are going to be web first. Your job is to work out why they are using it more often and what they are doing on there (so that you can improve it).